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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Joe Bromley

‘Fashion cares more about billionaire bile than those on the breadline’: Fashion academics react to Kanye West

When Ye (Kanye West), stepped out wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘White Live Matter’ on Monday evening, he shocked the room at his YZYSZN9 Paris Fashion Week show.

Jaden Smith was amongst those who walked out, before a social media maelstrom commenced. The following day, Ye took to Instagram targeting Vogue editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson. Post-show, she wrote she was “fuming” and that "the t-shirts this man conceived, produced, and shared with the world are pure violence. There is no excuse. There is no art here." It prompted West to upload two now-deleted photographs of Karefa-Johnson mocking her appearance and stating she is “not a fashion person”.

On Tuesday, Gigi Hadid spoke up callying Ye a “bully”, before Vogue Magazine put out a statement in defence of Karefa-Johnson on Wednesday. Since, the rapper posted a further photograph of the editor writing “Gabby is my sister,” but has doubled-down on the ‘White Lives Matter’ message.

One photo of the slogan t-shirt posted on Instagram yesterday comes with the caption: “Here’s my latest response when people ask me why I made a tee that says white lives matter… THEY DO”.

He has also screenshotted a Daily Mail Online story with the headline ‘Kanye is not alone’: Black academic claims rapper’s views ARE supported in African American communities’, accomapined by the caption: “BLACK ACADEMICS ARE ON MY SIDE.”

Here, six minoritized fashion academics share their take on the t-shirts:

Harris Elliot

Senior Fashion Lecturer, Race and Identity, Central Saint Martins

Harris Elliot (Harris Elliot)

“On the radio yesterday I heard about a woman who couldn’t afford to heat milk for her baby, and it made my heart sink. Then I look at my phone and the media world and all the naysayers have time to prioritise rants from media icons and provocateurs, it’s definitely fashionable, as fashion seems to care more about billionaire bile than those on the breadline. 

“I don’t care about capitalist dreams; I care about my country on the brink of recession and women murdered by authorities who believe their dress is inappropriate. I think it’s grotesque that we are giving Ye’s capitalist taunts airtime, shame on us.”

Rahemur Rahman

Joint First Year Leader, BA Fashion, Central Saint Martins

“When we talk about the intersections of black identity within fashion, Kanye West will always be in that mix. His viewpoint; whether it is satire, whether it is serious political alignment, has to be discussed from the viewpoint of allowing different perspectives of the black experience to be documented in history. However problematic it is. Now whether we engage with it or not, is for me, truly the question we should be asking.”

Pascal Matthias

Senior Fellow, University of Southampton and co-founder of FACE (Fashion Academics Creating Equality)

Pascal Matthias (Pascal Matthias)

“Fashion’s relationship with racial, environmental or ethical issues is troubled and Ye’s controversial SZ9 slogan tee shirts stating ‘White Lives Matter’ is hugely isolating for those that identify with BLM and racial inequality.

“Ye is a divisive and a provocative artist who rightly challenges diverse opinions. However, on this occasion as a huge admirer of his music and artistry I feel disappointed and disillusioned. The power, privilege, position and purpose Ye possesses seems too often to side in contradiction of the most marginalises and minoritized. He has stated in post interviews “He is at war”, I urge him to seek peace with the power, positon and privilege he ultimately possesses.”

Benita Odogwu-Atkinson

Senior Lecturer, University for the Creative Arts

“Ye thinks he is now a supreme creator above worldly matters. I truly believe his fall is coming, maybe not today. His ego has become uncontrollable, fed by those around him, the modus operandi of a dictator. No consequence, no care just simple self-gratification.”

Sharon Lloyd

Course Leader, School of Art, Design and Fashion, Southampton Solent and co-founder of FACE

Sharon Lloyd (Sharon Lloyd)

“Are we surprised that any of this landed? We saw it coming. The silence from those who facilitated this broken human is deafening.  Anna Wintour knew what she was doing. She just sat in the sidelines and waited for it to unfold. But will this be the undoing of Ye? I doubt it.

“He’ll just wait until the next opportunity to outpour his poisoned ideologies. His ex-business partner, Jason Lee summed it up as “gaslighting black people and empowering white supremacy”. I do question whether he is out of his mind, or drunk on power and privilege though. I say take away his toys.”

Nada Koreish

Lecturer, Fashion MA, Cardiff Metropolitan University

“As a global majority/brown Egyptian Fashion academic, the doctoral researcher in me is inclined to be critical and detach myself from this. The researcher in me is screaming through colonial conditioning to look at both sides of the story and analyse the data, play devil’s advocate.

“But the brown woman in me, the ME in me, is screaming louder at every turn. Ye starts the show by speaking about “starting his own house” because of the lack of inclusion and goes on to say “we are the streets, we are the culture, we will not be bullied.” How can you possibly speak these words of tribulations whilst wearing ‘white lives matter’ on your back?

“Whether Ye’s attempt at satirical performative art as fashion, or pushing boundaries was to shock, or to use as a dystopian example; it did not work. It offended; it belittled the entire struggle of black people who have struggled to push the Black Lives Matter movement across the world. It offended the families of victims of police violence, it deeply cut and achieved nothing but acute disappointment and final demise of a once talented and genius spoken word artist. Goodbye Ye, this is the last of you I shall see or show my student’s.”

All six academics will be speaking at The FACE Summit, hosted by Central Saint Martins.

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