As his music career has stumbled, Ye’s work in fashion has taken on new importance. The most lucrative corner of his empire appears to be Yeezy’s partnership with Adidas, which began in 2013 after he left a collaboration with Nike. The Adidas deal, which involved both shoes and clothing, became hugely successful.
Even before his recent controversies, Ye had been sparring publicly with Adidas executives, but so far the company has not elaborated on its statement more than two weeks ago that the partnership is “under review.” There has been increasing pressure on the company to take action. On Sunday, after a group hung a banner reading “Kanye is right about the Jews” over a Los Angeles freeway, Jeffrey I. Abrams, the Anti-Defamation League’s regional director there, released a statement that concluded, “Decisive action against antisemitism by Adidas is long overdue.”
It has put Adidas in a difficult position. Its founder, Adi Dassler, belonged to the Nazi Party, and in Germany, where antisemitic statements made online can lead to prosecution, companies that played a role in the country’s dark history are often expected to uphold their responsibility to prevent the return of such sentiment.
Ye has long been interested in fashion. In 2009, he interned at Fendi with Virgil Abloh, who went on to work with Ye’s Donda creative agency before starting his own brand. That year Ye also brought a group of collaborators and friends to “crash” Paris Fashion Week.
A luxury debut (DW by Kanye West) at Paris Fashion Week in 2011 was critically savaged and lasted only two seasons, but his partnership with Adidas proved transformative. The company underwrote his clothing brand, Yeezy, which unveiled its first collection at New York Fashion Week in 2015, with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Diddy sitting in the front row.
Within a few seasons Ye packed Madison Square Garden with 20,000 people for a fashion show and album premiere. While his Season 4 show on Roosevelt Island in September 2016 proved a debacle, his potent combination of reality-TV celebrity, music stardom, sneaker success and establishment disruption was impossible to resist for an industry that often felt stuck in the last century.