Kanye West admits he ”hated” Virgil Abloh’s designs. Intense brotherly affection?
Kanye West (front) and Virgil Abloh (back) hugged and cried at the end of Mr Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton. Screen shot: travisscott/Instagram
In the latest Instagram posts, following his rambling interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Kanye West hit back at Tremaine Emory (of Supreme and Denim Tears), saying that both of them had no love for the work of the late Virgil Abloh. “I hated Virgil’s designs and you do to [sic]”. It is not clear if Mr West was referring to Off-White or Louis Vuitton. Or, if he detested Mr Abloh’s designs because he didn’t think they were as good as the output of his current fave, Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga (whom he called “THE MOST RELEVANT DESIGNER”) or Riccardo Tisci whose last Burberry show Mr West turned up to support. It is tempting to see his admission concur with the initial thoughts on Mr Abloh’s designs for Off-White (often referred to as an “elevated streetwear brand”, although they did eventually offer “couture”) and later LV. His debut at the French house was met with suspicion—hype aided him, not design. Even after establishing himself as a luxury fashion force to acknowledge, there was still cynicism towards him as an original. In 2020, Walter Van Beirendonck, reacting to designs for the contemporaneous LV show in Shanghai that bore striking similarity to what the Belgian designer put out in 2016, said to the media, “It’s very clear that Virgil Abloh is not a designer. He has no language of his own, no vision. He can’t create something of his own season after season and that is painful.”
Kanye West came to the defence of his friend. He wrote on Twitter, “Virgil can do whatever he wants”, adding “do you know how hard it’s been for us to be recognized?” A struggling or novice creative cannot crib the original work of others, but a recognised designer can, just like a pedestrian can’t ignore the red man at a traffic crossing, but a cyclist can? But now it seems that, while a successful Mr Abloh had the freedom to do as he pleased, what he did was hated. Was Mr West’s support that ardent to begin with? Following the shared-then-deleted flux of IG posts, which Tucker Carlson called “freeform social media posts”, Mr West put out eight screen shots that he referred to as “ABBREVIATED VERSION OF ME AND TREMAINES (sic) CONVERSATION”. Apart from admitting to his intense dislike for Mr Abloh’s designs, he claimed that Mr Emory shared the same sentiment. In previous posts, Mr West had claimed that he hired the latter “because LVMH took Virgil”. Was he saying that he was he left with no one else, but the second best? It is not hard to understand why his followers find his posts gripping stuff.
Designing friends or rivals? From left, Tremaine Emory, Virgil Abloh, Kanye West. Photo: Getty Images
In this fraught triumvirate, Tremaine Emory has worked with both men. He started at Marc Jacobs, where he remained for nine years before being lured by Mr West to serve as the rapper-designer’s creative consultant in 2016 (a position formerly filled by Virgil Abloh) and later became Yeezy’s brand director. He left Yeezy two years after and established his own label Denim Tears, following the formation of the multi-disciplinary creative collective No Vacancy Inn (their T-shirts retailed at Dover Street Market London). Mr Abloh and Mr Emory collaborated on a Levi’s capsule for Denim Tears in 2021. After the LV designer’s death in 2021, Mr Emory was rumoured to be one of those shortlisted to take over at LV (others included A-Cold-Wall*’s Samuel Ross and Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond). He joined Supreme in February this year, where he is the streetwear giant’s first official creative director.
This resume, for the most part, corresponds with what Mr West wrote to Mr Emory in one of the screen shots shared: “We all take jobs at white companies. And wether [sic] we like the fashion or not”, after saying “we as a people have lost the ability to farm ourselves”. Is he suggesting that Black people would not seek employment with the likes of Telfar Clemens? Or is working with White-owned companies, unappealing as it is to Mr West, a Black fate? His current belief is rather ironic, considering that his first fashion job of consequence (certainly for Virgil Abloh) and a choice of his, was that internship with Fendi in Rome. Did he not like the fashion there, even when he reportedly admired Karl Lagerfeld? In an interview with the New York radio station Hot 97 in 2018, Mr West said that it was monotonous: “every day, going to work, walking to work, getting cappuccinos.” Seemingly, there was no work involving design. As he recalled to radio host Charlamagne Tha God, “We couldn’t do anything. We were just happy to have a key card”. Both men were paid US$500 a month, each.
The IG conversations he had with Mr Emory, the designer of the ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirt wrote: “I was jealous of Virgil.” For many it is hardly surprising that Mr West felt that way. He is the “Louis Vuitton don” and this is old-fashioned resentment against someone else enjoying more success than he. Until Mr Abloh’s death, both were friends for about 14 years. They met some time in the mid-2000s through Mr West’s then manager, the Chicago music bigwig John Monopoly. Mr Abloh was working in a print shop at the time and he could do graphic design, and was able to do it well, digitally too. He was introduced to Mr West, who asked him to collaborate almost immediately. As Mr Abloh told GQ in 2019, “more than any title, I was just his assistant creatively” or, in fancier term, “consigliere”, as the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Michael Darling described his position. In 2009, the two men’s fashion adventure began when they managed to secure an internship with Fendi in Rome. In just four years after that, Mr Abloh launched Off-White and in another four, he joined Louis Vuitton. His trajectory would have impressed—or aroused jealousy—in the once-more-famous Mr West.
Happier times: Tremaine Emory and Kanye West in 2018. Photo: BFA
When the new LV designer emerged to take his bow at the end of his debut show for the house in Paris in 2018, Mr West stepped onto the runway, walked towards his friend, and both men hugged, and cried into each other’s shoulder. The rapper was clearly emotional. And possibly burning with jealousy? Once a mere “assistant” and then fellow intern, Virgil Abloh was now basking in the glare of the world’s media and the applause of those whose approval and respect he needed. He had quickly achieved more than what Mr West had desired to, even when both of their design beginnings were largely circumscribed by the ternion of T-shirt, hoodie, and sneakers. Although Yeezy shoes (with Adidas) and the clothing line were already launched in 2015 (and the footwear is hugely successful), Mr West was not quite the lauded designer that his friend with two fashion labels under his watch had managed to become. However hard he tried, fashion folks still did not (won’t) take Kanye West seriously. Unable to score a job with a luxury brand, he took another route—quite the opposite, in fact. In 2020, The Gap announced that they had inked a 10-year deal to create the Yeezy Gap line. Last month, Mr West called off the partnership.
Since then, there were also his troubles with Adidas, which promoted the German brand to “place the partnership under review”. Every Yeezy collaborator seemingly could not understand what their main man desired or what was brewing in his head. This contrasted with Mr Abloh, whose work with LV appeared to have had gone swimmingly well. Even after his death, LV staged repeated, lavish tribute shows. Adidas merely designated a Yeezy Day and apparently without Mr West’s approval, as the guy alleged this year (Yeezy Day has been around since 2019). It is not yet known why Mr West hated Mr Abloh’s designs or—according to Mr Emory—said “Virgil’s designs are a disgrace to the black community infont [sic] of all (his) employees at Yeezy”. Addressing Mr Emory, Mr West wondered why “you and Luka (Sabbat, a model/influencer who walked in Yeezy Season 1) not wearing it head to toe”, as if that is necessary to prove one adores another designer’s work. In a separate IG post, he wrote about Mr Emory, “I took you off the streets… only cause you was the struggle version of Virgil”. Even the folks at The Gap and Adidas knew better than to provoke the wrath of “you can’t manage me” Kanye West. But as he told Tucker Carlson, “If I raise my voice, if I express myself on Instagram, it’s a colonic.”
Update (10 Oct 2023, 13.10):
In his latest broadcast interview—with French media outlet Clique TV—Kanye West revealed that the Louis Vuitton Men’s artistic director position was first proposed to him before Virgil Abloh got the job. “No one knows I’d been offered the deal by Bernard Arnault,” he said. “But three months after that, they dropped the deal”, even after Mr Arnault’s son Alexandre had said that his dad “never goes back on his word”. Mr West also claimed that Mr Abloh only called him to share the good news “two minutes before it hit the Internet”. He reiterated that there was “a lot of pain and jealousy”. It is not known why he chose to reveal this only now. Or, if it’s the self-declared “creative genius”, the “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time” in self-affirmation mode.
Update (10 Oct 2023, 23:00):
Kanye West in a supposed meeting with Adidas execs. Screen shot: Kanye West/Facebook
Temporarily shut out of Instagram and Twitter, Kanye West has taken to Facebook to show a 30-minute docu-promo of sort titled Last Week. One of the clips included was a meeting with executives from Adidas that took place in a blank room. At the start of the clip, Mr West was showing one of the men on his smartphone something that caused the latter to ask, “is that a porn movie?” This meeting appeared to have taken place after his separation from Gap. In the conversation (subtitled!), Mr West made sure, again, that those listening knew exactly who he was: “I’m the king of culture… I have to step up as the king of culture (he called himself that at least four times). You’re face to face, eye to eye with the person who does songs with your father-in-law, with the person who discovered Virgil, with the person who discovered Demna, with the person that placed the creative director at SKIMS”. That’s clearly another predilection: taking credit for everything.