While Kanye West is hardly winning over any critics with his less than original ready-to-wear collection (because Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, A.F. Vandevorst, etc. did it better), the rapper does have a knack when it comes to sneakers. Case in point: Footwear News, a leading shoe magazine, honored the Yeezy trainer, which West created in collaboration with Adidas, with the Shoe of the Year Award at its annual awards ceremony on Wednesday evening. Far from a throwaway honor, West follows in the footsteps of Christian Louboutin, Manolo Blahnik, Stuart Weitzman and Pierre Hardy, all of whom have been recognized for their work at the FN Achievement Awards.
According to a statement from Footwear News from this past October, when it announced its 2015 Achievement Award honorees: “This year's Shoe of the Year honour recognizes the insatiable demand for all things Yeezy. The sneaker releases dominated the market in 2015 as demand for the product crashed servers, sparked extraordinary resale value and created a need for mob control in stores. From the moment Kanye West unveiled the 750 high-tops on the Grammys, his Adidas sneakers have been the most-coveted, most-talked-about, most-recognized shoes this year."
Interestingly, nowhere in the Footwear News statement in its entirety does the company make mention of any particular feat in terms of design on West's part. No, there is nary a mention of the likes of a colored sole that has achieved such a level of secondary meaning in the minds of consumers as an identifier of source that it was awarded trademark protection (à la Louboutin, who is also known for a number of feats in terms of the design of shoes, themselves), or about his revival of the sleek stiletto heel (something for which Blank is known).
No. Footwear News, instead, focuses on the hype (think: the "need for mob control in stores") surrounding West's coveted shoes and their resulting success at retail. With this in mind, it seems reasonable to argue that West's talent may not lie in design at all (even though I think he does have talent when it comes to sneakers, ignoring the obvious similarity between the sneakers at hand and Nike's flyknits). His real strength seems to be derived almost entirely from his personal selling power, which has been demonstrated time and again. This is a topic I wrote about at length following the release of his first collection with A.P.C., including the following excerpt:
Kanye is undeniably influential when it comes to fashion. He has an enormous following. Hence, the rise of the street goth trend that has eclipsed the streetwear market. I am not denying that he is a bona fide creative and trendsetter. Nor am I denying that he is a very gifted musician. My point is simply that the majority of those shopping Kanye West x A.P.C. are Kanye West fans. They are not fashion critics, not high fashion shoppers, probably not even the average A.P.C. shoppers. Moreover, I highly suspect that if A.P.C. were to sell these items without all of the Kanye West-associated hype, they would not sell out in a day. Such quick sales are not a testament to Kanye West as a talented designer, they are a testament to Kanye West as a famous brand.
Considering the current state of the market, which is largely driven by consumers' penchant for all things fast and famous, West is situated quite well to make a very significant impact in terms of footwear. Sales of his Yeezy sneakers alone are demonstrative of this. Does his star power, however, make him the most proper choice for awards? I'm not so sure.