Yeezy Season Garments Might Not Be Good But That's Not the Point

We may all be missing the point with Kanye West and his “consistent,” “boring,” “conventional,” “ill-fitting,” “dull,” “standard” garments offerings. (Yes, those were some of the words used by the industry’s most respected critics to describe West’s Yeezy Season 4 collection, which was staged on day one of New York Fashion Week). Writing for The New York Times, Guy Trebay hit a cord. In addition to likening the West production to an “elephant giving birth to mouse,” he called attention to the most important aspect of the Yeezy collection: the footwear. 

A simple clause, “the Yeezy 4 show — underwritten by Adidas, which manufactures his phenomenally successful sneaker line,” reminds us of what the Yeezy collection really is, despite West’s attempts to shift the focus to his non-athletic footwear and garment offerings. (This season West paired only two of 38 looks with his famed sneakers).

Yes, the Yeezy collection is really just about the footwear. Nothing else. Sure, the pricey garments ($400 thermals and $3,500 parkas) have been manufactured for sale – in limited quantities – and stocked by some top retailers, such as Barneys, SSENSE, and MrPorter.com. And though some publications were quick to document how the garments were selling out rather rapidly, we later learned that this was not actually the case across the board. While the sneakers are extremely hot sellers that did, in fact, sell out almost instantly, many styles of clothing – with the exception of t-shirts – on the other hand, found themselves on sale racks at the end of season, according to an array of industry sources. Be honest: Have you ever seen anyone other than Kardashian/Jenners or people in Kanye’s camp wearing Yeezy garments (other than t-shirts)?

In the end, though, it really does not matter if West’s clothing sells – or better yet, don’t sell. The vast majority of people cannot afford the $7,000+ Spring/Summer 2016 Rodarte dresses that are currently being offered, or the Star-Embellished Cocktail Tank Dress from Givenchy for $6,100 and so, in reality, those are not likely selling either.

It is not really a secret that the vast majority of high fashion runway looks simply do not sell. In fact, most of them do not even make it to retail in any significant volume – if at all – to sell. With this in mind, the clothes, the epic runway presentations (both couture and ready-to-wear, depending on the brand), the whole shtick: these are all exercises in licensing (more or less), in brand-building, and/or in selling accessories (bags and shoes, mostly) – common practices for most money-making brands.

As the Wall Street Journal’s fashion critic noted this week on the heels of the Opening Ceremony runway show, “Opening Ceremony wasn't about the clothes. But then that's true of most fashion shows ultimately. #brandmessage.”

And she’s right: Such runway show spectacles often serve as props in a larger PR movement to announced a brand’s message and attract consumers – most of whom will then go out and shop that brand’s more affordable diffusion line (think: Jason Wu’s Grey collection, Alexander Wang’s T collection, or Rodarte’s RADARTE line). Or maybe those consumers will opt for one of a brand’s collaboration collections. Adidas x Alexander Wang is the talk of this season but there are others: Cushnie et Ochs’s collab with Bandier. Kenzo’s impending collab with H&M. Olivier Rousteing (of Balmain) and Nike. Rodarte’s collection for & Other Stories. The list is quite long at any given time.

Still yet, established brands derive revenue from licensed goods, which most commonly come in the form of cosmetics, eyewear, and jewelry.

While these revenue-driving mechanisms vary quite a bit, they have a few commonalities, one of these being that they are predicated upon a brand being well-known enough to warrant such a diffusion line or collaboration. (And in terms of licensing, they must maintain the intellectual property rights to drive such collections. More about that here). Moreover, in many cases, their brand image needs to be strong enough to sell still relatively pricey RTW, diffusion or licensed goods. This is particularly relevant in terms of licensed goods, such as sunglasses, for instance, which can cost hundreds of dollars. And even in terms of collabs – prices for Rodarte’s collection with & Other Stories reached $400. Some of the looks from the H&M x Balmain collection surpassed the $500 mark, and Alexander Wang’s new adidas hoodies will run you more than $200. While this is only a fraction of what the wares of these brands’ main collections cost, it’s still costly.

In order to achieve this requisite level of fame and/or “fashionability,” brands market themselves. One way to do this is by staging fashion shows complete with pricey and often over-the-top designs and then dressing celebrities for red carpets in these garments, loaning those garments and accessories to PR companies for placement in magazine editorials, gifting them to “influencers,” etc. Such product placements garner press, allowing brands to reach a wide array of consumers, who are hopefully enchanted by their luxury aura. With such a foundation in place – which does of course consist of selling clothes to an extent – these brands can sell more accessible items, such as bags for over $3,000, fragrances for $100+ or lipstick for $40 – in the case of Chanel, for instance, which shows both ready-to-wear and bi-annual couture collections – in large quantities.

Thanks, in part, to the press and prestige derived from its couture collections, Dior maintains successful eyewear, jewelry, and cosmetics licenses. Because of its inclusion in the arena of high fashion, Giambattista Valli's little sister collection, Giamba, a relatively new venture, can likely be sold at a higher price point than your average ready-to-wear collection. The same can be said of Balmain’s Pierre Balmain diffusion line or its hugely popular H&M collection last year.

There is certainly no small number of intricacies and variations in connection with each different brand and its approach to revenue-driving projects, such as those previously discussed. Yet, adidas’ motive seems somewhat straight forward.

The German sportswear giant is underwriting West’s largely unsuccessful ventures into “fashion” because he is fronting – and to some unknown extent designing – extremely hot-selling footwear. Speaking more directly to the point at hand, adidas also benefits from the massive influx of publicity that West garners when takes over Madison Square Garden for a fashion show or shuttles industry insiders to Roosevelt Island for a show. And there is no shortage of media attention and consumer interest in connection with these events.

So while, sure, adidas does not need to build clout – it is one of the largest sportswear companies in the entire world. It does, however, stand to benefit from the new(ish) group of consumers it is courting with the increasingly fashion-oriented image it is cultivating through partnerships, such as the one it maintains with West. Does it matter if the clothes never sell? No. In fact, if adidas did any research on West’s first fashion outings (think: F/W 2012 and S/S 2012), it probably is not expecting them to. It’s about the sneakers. Everyone knows that. Everything else is just a marketing tool. And in this way, adidas is not any different than any of the other designers showing during fashion month.