Kanye’s Fashion Barbie: How Kim’s High-Fashion Makeover Exposes Fashion’s Gender Bias

A few weeks ago in Paris, Kanye West presented a well-received second collection in collaboration with A.P.C. He seemed almost contrite, telling WWD that the debut runway collection he'd produced in 2011 "was kind of like me hopping in a Lamborghini and driving really fast." He was laconic, linguistically and aesthetically, which seems to have paid off, as his first collection with A.P.C. quickly sold out, and this one likely will, too. Perhaps West is finally on a straight and narrow road to fashion industry acceptance.

A few days afterwards, Kim Kardashian was treated to a personal tour of Azzedine Alaia's exhibition at the Palais Galliera by the designer himself. She wore the white Proenza Schouler boucle blazer that opened their F/W 13 show and Alaia booties, both certified womenswear insider grail pieces. Later, Jezebel reported that Vogue was in Los Angeles shooting Kardashian "RIGHT NOW," per a "well-placed source" (sounds like that $10,000 may have bought more than a few "un-retouched" Lena Dunham photos). It was just last spring that the Givenchy dress she wore to the magazine's Met Gala was lampooned. And now, Kardashian is being anointed with the ultimate industry holy water. Kardashian, it seems, has been accepted into the coven.

Which is just what West wanted...for himself. West's longtime struggle for industry acceptance is practically a meme. At the end of a long campaign last year that seemed to serve as much to promote his album, Yeezus, as to assert his longtime influence on fashion, he let loose a furious lament on Sway Calloway's radio show that he was still being shut out of the industry. This time, the industry really bit back, with WSJ’s Christine Binkley writing, "In order to be sold, clothes have to be produced. Regularly." The A.P.C. collaboration is certainly a step in the proper direction. And yet, can't any celebrity with half a name collaborate on a fashion line?

That West is the major influence on Kardashian's big makeover is no secret. Which raises the question: Is West using Kardashian as his fashion industry surrogate? The recipe for a woman to gain acceptance in the fashion world is simple: Know the it-pieces and get photographed wearing them. It's not the only route, of course, but this sartorial networking, a public demonstration that you know the codes, is the fastest way there. See Dunham's Vogue spread, in which the notion that she’s somehow an "outsider" is tempered with nearly every it garment from the spring shows, from those Sesame Street-like Rochas flats, to the Celine graffiti coat. Kardashian is now regularly seen in Celine coats, Dior dresses and Givenchy leather, and has been styled by Carine Roitfeld and Nicola Formichetti.

West, on the other hand, told Sway Calloway that he's spent roughly $13 million a year trying to break into the industry. Kardashian did it in less than 12 months, for a fraction of the cost.

West's knowledge of fashion appears particularly attuned to such codes, and so he has made Kardashian his living doll, commuting his call to arms to Kardashian because he's physically unable to fire the canon.

Kardashian made some missteps at first—her Met Gala dress among them—but now her wardrobe of coats is celebrated by Lucky and her Bergdorf blonde tresses are coveted by industry insiders, as Fashionista’s editor-at-large Lauren Sherman documented last month. What's more, Kardashian can simply buy the clothes if designers refuse to lend them to her (which they allegedly have). Assembling a wardrobe of Tom Ford shoes and Balenciaga blouses is no financial burden for Kardashian.

West, on the other hand, told Sway Calloway that he's spent roughly $13 million a year trying to break into the industry. Kardashian did it in less than 12 months, for a fraction of the cost. This is likely no surprise to West, who's been assiduous in promoting a Vogue spread for Kardashian in many of his rants. West, who is a sharp observer of the world around him (though not always of himself), probably saw this all coming. He probably had a Yale-graduated intern run the numbers, glanced at his Rolex as Jezebel reported the Vogue shoot, sat back in his Wassily chair and said, "Right on time."

To be sure, West and Kardashian have different goals. West wants to be a designer (I think). Kardashian wants to be luxury-famous, not normal-famous. For a male celebrity to become a designer demands the study and artistic talent of their peers, who are all designers of major fashion houses, whereas a female celebrity can play the "hey girlfriend!" card and affix her name to a line of accessories. And so Coach West puts in Kardashian to reap what he cannot have. It's fashion, of all industries, that asks so much more of the men hoping to break into its ranks than the women.

Rachel Seville is a writer living in New York who believes in miracles. Read her blog, Pizza Rulez, here and follow her on Twitter here.

  • DWEEB

    welcome back

  • Fawaz

    Well written piece

    • Nic

      Are you joking? This punctuation made me shit myself

      • vhm

        four-pins so………content > punctuation.

        • OK_ok

          Pretentiousness > everything else

          Still love the website tho

  • Yes.

    This deserves its very own Kanye Rant.

  • Dick Rooster

    “It’s fashion, of all industries, that asks so much more of the men hoping to break into its ranks than the women.”

    ;_;7

  • Nic

    I don’t think Kim has been accepted into the fashion industry just because she’s being given tours by designers and photographed by Vogue. I’m sure Anna Wintour’s got a few insights into what her readers want to see and Kim is obviously one of them. It’s not to say that Kanye’s new to all this – see Cold lyric “Dinner with Anna Wintour”. Kanye’s relationship with Riccardo Tisci hasn’t allowed him to “break through” either, and i’m thinking Ye’s got a lot more friends in high fashion than just him, so I find it hard to see this as a gender issue as well. Maybe Kanye isn’t accepted because of his recent careless attitudes in trying to articulate his vision.

  • Guest

  • PHILLIP “STINKY CHEESE” GALGER

    MY FARTS SMELL LIKE HOT GARBAGE.

  • Eunice

    Honestly, I think this is a Kanye issue, not a gender issue. Lol