More Bad News For The Gap

After Kanye West announced the end of the Yeezy Gap partnership, the three-letter brand has announced the elimination of jobs as margins shrivel

Gap has been stricken with one bad news after another, all in less than three months. In July, reports emerged that the Indian-born Canadian CEO Sonia Syngal was dismissed after a mere two-year tenure, with Bloomberg describing the move as somewhat unceremonious: She was “fired after failing to rescue struggling retailer”. The Gap has not announced a replacement. Then last week, the announcement that “Gap and Kanye West are Ending their Partnership” was made by The Wall Street Journal. Few people were surprised by that news. And now The Gap has said that they would be laying off staff—up to 500 corporate jobs—in offices in San Francisco, New York, and in Asia. Was Mr West’s bowing out timely for The Gap?

It has been speculated that the once-loved San Francisco brand was not terribly thrilled with what Ms Syngal had done, including signing up Mr West to bring about Yeezy Gap, and that what she put in place was taking too long to see real results. Ms Syngal was previously with The Gap’s sister brand Old Navy, having arrived at Gap Inc in 2004 with no background in fashion (before that, she was with Sun Microsystems and Ford Motor Co.). Yet she was considered to be instrumental during the family-centric Old Navy’s admirable height of success, escalating the brand’s revenue to more than double The Gap’s. But just because she was able to realise the potential of one sibling did not indicate that she could bring to fruition the aspirations of another.

Just because she was able to realise the potential of one sibling did not indicate that she could bring to fruition the aspirations of another

For a while, The Gap as a fashion player has been languishing. The world has basically moved on and on, and without The Gap’s washed chinos and straight-legged jeans, and, most definitely, their logo-ed tees. Did the 53-year-old clothier ever consider that their all-American fashion, often described as “laid-back style”, has lost considerable appeal, especially since Donald Trump took office in 2017 and the US is a different place. But critics say that The Gap’s lost its punch even earlier, in 2004, a year before Uniqlo, who does American laid-back better then the Americans themselves, opened their first store in New Jersey. That year, when a chap Mark Zuckerberg launched The Facebook (later shortened to Facebook), The Gap scored Tommy Hilfiger alum Pina Ferlisi to tweak the retailers offerings so that things could look up again after two years of decline. Few remember The Gap from that period and later, and the brand continued to fizzle.

When they had Mr West onboard in 2020, it was thought that The Gap finally took a close look at their merchandise, and realised that a major refresh was desperately needed, and Mr West was their guy even when his own Yeezy clothing line was not the epitome of brand success. So convinced they were that they signed a 10-year deal with him to birth Yeezy Gap. But the first year was not all rosy for the new brand. News emerged that back of house, things were messy. Mr West’s pal Demna Gvasalia was called in to help and very quickly Yeezy Gap was “Engineered by Balenciaga”. Despite the added edge, it is not clear if the collab is making pots for The Gap. But one thing is obvious: many shoppers did not like buying merchandise out of bulk bags. Rapidly, Mr West revealed that he wanted out and had his lawyers make it happen, claiming The Gap did not open Yeezy Gap stores as they agreed to. According to Forbes, “Gap president Mark Breitbart immediately shot off an email to all Gap Inc. employees suggesting it was a mutual decision”. Still, it appears that Kanye West had The Gap in his grasp. We’re not near a cliffhanger yet.

File Photo: SOTD

It Has To Come To This

No one is surprised that Kanye West has announced he’ll terminate his partnership with The Gap

The unceasing outbursts must amount to something. For Kanye West, anger and frustrations do not just blow over. The Wall Street Journal just reported that Mr West, newly bearded and recently seen at Vogue World, has informed The Gap that he is ending their relationship, which had lately turn quite sour. His lawyer shared that a letter was sent to the retailer with the request to end the deal. And what seemed to be that correspondence was shared on Mr West’s Instagram page. “Gap left him no choice but to terminate their agreement,” the BBC quoted him saying in response to the American brand’s “substantial noncompliance”. Mr West will go on to open his own Yeezy stores. Gap’s obligations in their agreement reportedly include not only producing and distributing the co-branded products, but also the opening of free-standing YZY Gap stores.

Perhaps the once-raved-about partnership between the man and the brand was not destined to take off as previously imagined. This was to be a 10-year deal, which was thought to bolster The Gap’s sagging fortunes. Mr West has quite a history of dissatisfaction with many of his collaborators, including Nike. These past weeks, he has publicly made his objections and outrage with his collaborators known—they include Adidas. It is not clear why Mr West has been unable to solve his problems with these partners in the boardroom or why he preferred to blast those who have displeased him via social media, a practice that is corporate aberration. If grievances in his personal life can be broadcast to the world, those of his professional activities may not require different channels of blaring. Or, restraint.

Announced in June 2020, Yeezy Gap was met with highly encouraging reception. The first item—a puffer—that launched a year later was sold out in hours, after it was made available online. Last month, when a collection was finally available (rather than the single-style drops of the past) in actual Gap stores, shoppers were dismayed by how the high-priced products were sold: in what were described as ”bins”. Was this dumping of the merchandise, in fact, foreboding of what would be ahead for the collaboration? But, would The Gap easily let Mr West walk away? Or, would they be relieved to let him go, enough of his bratty tricks? Should Adidas be worried? Will, gasp, the world suffer?

Illustration: Just So

Two Of A Kind: Apparel Apparitions!

All roads lead to Balenciaga?

Yeezy Gap versus Nike Forward. Photos: respective brands

Both are ghostly, both are sinister. Whose is more ominous? Nike has shared the images for their latest apparel featuring the new Forward textile on their website and app. That faceless hoodie seen here (on the right) appears as if worn by Invisible Man, including uneven placement of the arms—the unseen wearer in motion. Could this be Nike flattering Yeezy Gap? When the brand led by Kanye West (soon no more) launched the first drop of Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga last February, the images shared were similarly spectral. And in the latest, they are less black, which is rather close to Nike’s with the sepia patina. Two of the world’s most visible brands using such illusory effects may mean that phantoms, rather than models, could take over fashion communication of the near future.

There is of course the possibility that brands these days rather let the garments do the talking than voluble celebrities. Clothes should stand out, not faces. Yeezy Gap’s images require no perceivable face (although a body filling up the clothes can be discerned) just as its retail spaces need no shelf, rack or hanger. Balenciaga had a hand in all this. It started most prominently on the red carpet, as seen in the face-concealing number that Kim Kardashian wore to the last Med Gala. Ms Kardashian was already a walking preview for Balenciaga months earlier. Later, her ex-husband, too, appeared just as obscured in his Donda listening/reveal mega events, whose creative director was Demna Gvasalia. Mr West attended his by-then pal’s debut haute couture showing in Paris like a Black male Pontianak. And after Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga was announced, the images that were circulating and shared showed, until now, the fashionable on the incorporeal. As the Police once sang, Spirits in the Material World.

Trash Talk

It is not enough that Yeezy Gap sells their merchandise in bags thought to be bins. Kanye West added more to the heap when he said he was inspired by “the homeless”

Fashion has a thing for receptacles that typically house the discarded or the unwanted. Or, to be laundered. Kanye West proved the point when he had the Yeezy Gap merchandise—Engineered by Balenciaga—sold in bulk bags that for most shoppers appeared to be bins. Or, for the more forgiving ones, “Frakta bags” (not to be confused with Balenciaga’s fancy “trash bags”). After our visit to the pop-up in the Gap store in Times Square last month and the shock that gripped us when we saw the way the clothes were displayed and sold, Netizens, too, began expressing their horror at how the garments were peddled. It culminated in one Twitter dismay: “This is how they are selling Yeezy GAP. The sales associate said Ye got mad when he saw they had it on hangers and this is how he wanted it. They won’t help you find ur size too, you just have to just dig through everything.”

This comment did not take into consideration the dumpsters that were used in other sales venues. Three days after the New York launch, Yeezy Gap was available in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. Outdoor sites were selected. A convoy of what looked like armoured vehicles worthy of Gotham City was seen approaching an unoccupied roof-top carpark. Moments later, a line of dumpsters took the centre of the space. In time, shoppers were seen dashing forward—but not dashingly, and some digging so deeply into the massive bins, they appeared to be plunging into them. There did not seem to be an advantage in selling clothes that way, nor—for the shopper—an experience that, while unforgettable, would be enjoyable. It seems rather ironic that, while the clothes have been described as “elevated basics”, there was nothing exceptionally lofty about the encounter with them in either bag or bin.

It seems rather ironic that, while the clothes have been described as “elevated basics”, there was nothing exceptionally lofty about the encounter with either bag or bin

Mr West attempted to explain his way of selling in a recent interview with Donald Trump’s once-loved television station Fox News. When Eric Shawn of the station posed to him, “you understand some people felt that putting clothes in bags is insensitive, perhaps, to homeless and other people”, he replied, “look man, I’m an innovator and I’m not about to sit up here and apologise about my ideas”. Apart from not apologising for anything, Mr West has a tendency to blame the media for how his creative outputs are perceived. He added, “That’s exactly what the media tries to do. Make us apologise for any idea that doesn’t fall under exactly the way they want us to think.” It is not known why Mr West thought that an apology was desired, rather than an explanation for a visual merchandising choice that is uncommon, if not unattractive. Or did he think that his now-deleted Instagram post with text-in-place-of-visual that read, “Look to the children/Look to the homeless as the biggest inspiration for all design”, is not provocative and deserving of an expression of regret or remorse?

Whatever storage/display units Mr West employed, it is likely that he cared about stories and was trying to tell one, even if the narrative has backfired. While there is some theatricality in his retail approach, the drama is not immediately discernible. Was this a visual thesis to refute the appeal or value of Marie Kondo neatness. Or an underscoring of the believe that messiness is conducive to creativity? Or, was this the deliberate opposite of the ‘beauty bias’? When inside the relatively dim space of the Time Square pop-up, we sensed that much consideration was given to coolness above all else. Even the shopper experience took a back seat. Let them do the work, let them dig, let them toil. Shoppers in action fits the tableau. Desperate, daunting, daft. Fashion has gone to the dumps. You can’t say that Kanye West the innovator did not think out the bag.

File photo: HL See for SOTD

Visited: Yeezy Gap

The Kanye West-steered sub-brand of the Gap has its own space in a Gap store at last. But there is no shelf, no table, no rack. Everything is placed in bulk bags. Like merchandise to be discarded, or incinerated

The Gap store in Times Square, New York

Kanye West is paving the way for the Gap, literally with bulk bags. At its inaugural IRL retail run, a “pop-up” inside the Gap in Times Square, the space dedicated to Mr West’s much-hyped partnership with America’s most recognisable mall brand is nothing like what you might expect. Outside, at the corner of Broadway and West 44th Street, the blue façade and its lighter blue box-logo are all unmistakably the Gap. On the roof, above the large three-letter name are two billboards—one of a dove in flight, the other, a still, dark spectre—that stand ominously. Inside, it is just as sinister: In a narrow space the width of a hospital corridor, it is all black and dimly lit (low-light ambience even Abercrombie and Fitch has abandoned), like an entryway to a secret lair. Only this is not an unremarkable passage. This is where the hottest and most anticipated collaboration is sold, shockingly in those typically one-ton (here, they seem more capacious) receptacle of polypropylene for packing and moving goods, all two dozens of them. This could be easily a receiving bay, if not a dump site.

After two years of considerable hype, inconsistent drops, and online-only availability, the Yeezy Gap, presently “Engineered by Balenciaga”, retail space opened last Thursday to long queues. To avoid the possible crush, we visited the store on a Monday afternoon. It was not busy. But it was not the lack of a crowd that hit us immediately, like a slap (such as this one); it was the strange grimness. This is the highlight of summer shopping? This is the Gap? There is more cheer in a Yohji Yamamoto store. We knew there would be a predominance of black, but this drabness and gloominess? And what’s worse, those waist-high, black sacks on the floor! Walk into the store and they are on the right, placed in two rows, like oil drums, in the middle of the passage. It’s like visiting a wholesale market for secondhand clothes. You walk around the bags and look inside them to find what you want. And you have to rummage to find your size. This is worse than excavating a sales wagon at the OG Orchard closing down clearance.

Two rows of bulk bags in which you are encouraged to dig into

We were not the only ones shocked by the refuse point. One Black guy was heard saying to his buddy, who looked like he stepped out of the rooftop billboard: “Are they kidding? Trash bags?” Our photographer, who visited the store earlier said, “it was very unnerving for me to see the black bags in the black surroundings. Can you imagine what it would be like for the tourists?” The containers already looked a mess when we approached, even when there were six staffers folding the clothes and arranging, and returning them to the rightful vessel, tagged with images of the garment that reside in it and the price, after customers have finished with one and moved to the next. There was an unmistakable lack of allure, but since we were there, we thought we should just join the unconventional way of shopping for clothes and just dig, like everyone else. But, we kept thinking of meigancai (梅干菜, dried pickled Chinese mustard) in Albert Centre Wholesale Market. There is something menial about going through the clothes in this manner, too. No pleasure.

We looked at a mock turtleneck T-shirt with a surprisingly tiny white Gap logotype right in the centre, about 5 cm below the neckline. For some reason, the tees are made of very thick cotton jersey (and it was 28°C outside). A pile of, say, five of them is heavy to lift. A woman, frustrated by the hard work she had to do, muttered, “why is everything so fucking heavy?”. To see what what we were digging, we had to bend over the bags’ massive opening. After three minutes, it was too much. One of us decided to try a T-shirt, for the heck of it. At US$140 a piece (or more for other styles), they were rather hard to swallow. We picked the simplest: the mock turtleneck. The fabric was disturbingly thick. No one around us, we noticed, wore anything that heavy, except the staff. When we pulled the top down over our head, it was stuck; when we yanked harder, we thought we popped the stitching on the neckline! Why was it this tight?

Each bag is tagged with illustrations of the style of the garment as well as a number—the price

When we managed to remove the T-shirt, we noted that the neck was ribbed, but why was there the poor “stretch and recovery”, to borrow from production speak? The problem, it appeared to us, was technical: Somehow, Mr West and his team decided on this heavy fabric, and the rib on the neck had no Spandex in it. With possibly mis-calibrated knitting tension, the rib is limp and won’t stretch sufficiently. When we brought this up with a former Gap merchandiser, he was surprised that that could happen. “Is this the Gap we’re talking about here? They do the neck stretch test there (they invented it!), even for children’s clothes!” As for the heavy jersey, one designer told us that this has been the fabric choice—the dry-touch compact jersey that is rather ’70s—for many brands wanting to appear “luxe”, but “luxe,” he added, “does not need to be heavy.”

We did not want to look into the other bags—they were all equally uninviting. There is so much you’d wish to do if the Gap made you feel like you’re at a quartermaster’s retrieving uniforms. It is possible that Mr West wanted to create uniforms for his tribe of eager followers and, in due course, improve the sagging fortunes of the Gap. But these clothes are not the one-time uniforms of teens craving the Gap’s ubiquitous jeans and graphic tees. A far cry from what the Times Square website describes on it pages: “clean, classic and comfortable clothing”. When we first saw the pieces on the Yeezy Gap website, it is clear the line is aesthetically apart from the 52-year-old American brand to which it owes half its name. The Gap has lost its mojo for so long that even fans do not remember when they last brought anything from them (all Gap stores here closed in 2018). The brand needed a life buoy and it was tossed one. Kanye West could, apparently, be to the Gap what Alessandro Michele is to Gucci. So he got the job.

Quite a sea of clothes dumped in those bulk bags

But in the first 18 months of the collab, just two products—one puffer and one hoodie—were made available and only online. Compounding that, the e-retail model was troubled by missed datelines, low stocks, and late deliveries. Mr West seemed to need a life buoy too. So pal Demna Gvasalia came to the rescue and became co-conspirator, an unsurprising turn as the two desire to dominate the fashion world with their oversized, body/face-obscuring clothes. Additionally, Mr West announced on social media not too long ago that he had already spent US$4 million at Balenciaga so far this year (how much more before this is unknown. The former wife’s and daughter’s bill were not tallied either). Why not allow Balenciaga to make more by getting them to “engineer” Yeezy Gap? Speaking to The New York Times recently, Mr Gvasalia revealed that he wanted “to create a solid foundation for Ye’s aesthetic on which they can now build”. The paper also reported that Mr Gvasalia was “engineering the prototypes in the Balenciaga studios in Paris and Zurich”. Most of us already knew the clothes were based on Balenciaga blocks.

Kanye West might have been too busy to see Yeezy Gap through. After the partnership was announced, he ran for the US presidency, saved his marriage (tried to), insulted his ex’s boyfriend, and put out the album Donda, whose overall visual was co-conceived with Demna Gvasalia. Was he too busy to handle Yeezy Gap on his own unaided? Or was he, as the rumours flew, really unschooled in fashion design for a mass brand? According to the photographer Nick Knight, who also spoke to NYT, “if he wants to spend a year looking into the colour blue, we’ll spend a year looking into the colour blue, which is extremely inspiring when so often schedules take priority over creativity. He doesn’t see himself in any way constrained by deadlines or seasons. I don’t think he would even use the word ‘collection’ for what he is doing.” Mr West, in other words, marches to his very own Roland drum beat.

Digital screens to welcome you: The Yeezy Gap metaverse that apparently is taken from a related computer game

Moving to the back of the dedicated space for Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga, we saw that provision was made for the line that was expected to form at the cashier’s counter, which was just as black as the rest of the store. The rear wall, where a video screen was installed, was dark this afternoon (another two screens to the left of the entrance were aglow with some sky-like background, in front of which two avatars were dancing/spinning in mid-air). We stood comfortably in the quieter rear and sized up the near-monochromatic tableau before us. The shoppers were mostly male, dressed unmistakably in what Mr West desires them to: oversized tops and bottoms. Many gravitated to the T-shirts, with which they could probably at last enter the expensive world of Balenciaga, whose very temple of cool is about 1.5 kilometres away on Madison Avenue. This was far more accessible, and the clothes could be binned when desire, for some reason, was not aroused.

As we were leaving the store, more people dashed in excitedly, like they were approaching some concert merchandise. Would they leave as disappointed as we did? Stepping out into the afternoon warmth, we thought of that thick jersey T-shirt again. For the higher-than-the-Gap prices that Yeezy Gap charges, what incredible experience did the store offer or was it just the letdown that was indelible? It was hard to imagine that this would be how the Gap intends to move forward or ensnare the unconverted. One Singaporean working in New York later told us that he was “completely turned off by the experience” and that he could see a “stark disconnect with mainstream Gap”. When we asked him if it could be just some high concept that escaped him, he replied, with palpable disdain, “high concept, my pantat!”

Yeezy Gap is at the Gap, 1514 Broadway, New York City. Photos: HL See for SOTD

Ready To Be Totally Covered?

Yeezy Gap is putting out versions of the Balenciaga cover-alls, affordably. Fans can rejoice!

Kim Kardashian is no longer required to serve as walking preview of Balenciaga (and has stayed away from looking all wrapped up), now that she has discovered the Jean-Louis dress that Marilyn Monroe wore. Or, re-loved the Dolce & Gabanna sexed-up, body-con one-pieces that she donned to her sister Khourtney’s flashy wedding to Travis Barker. She has moved away, but that does not mean that the strange path she has paved would not be trodden. Probably certain that Ms Kardashian is a trend setter (even if one held by the hand), Yeezy Gap—conceived by her former husband Kanye West, and now “engineered” by Balenciaga (namely Demna Gvasalia)—has put, in the second release of the limited-edition capsule, two items that could have been part of the line sheet of the recent Balenciaga cruise collection.

The full facemask and the bodysuit that covers hands and feet would encourage copywriters to call them “Kim Kardashian-approved”. The three-name brand does not say what fabrics are used for the two items, but it is safe to assume that a synthetic stretch textile, such as spandex, is employed. Like what was seen at the Balenciaga show last week, the facemask is designed to obscure the whole head (including the neck), except, unsurprisingly, the eyes. At less than SGD100 a piece, it could be a good Balenciaga substitute should you wish to look like Spiderman Noir (or Spider-Girl). The bodysuit—for women only—comes with attached socks and gloves for neck-to-toe obscuring, but, this version, not entirely. At the back is a large circular opening that seems larger than that at the neck. Could this be for getting into the garment since there is no fastening detected on any other part of the one-piece?

Kanye West and Demna Gvasalia appear determined to conquer the world with their bleak aesthetic. And Yeezy Gap has been selling well (or sold out, as we understand it) since the debut of the first piece, the ‘Round Jacket’. Mr West told Vogue early this year that it was a “a vision come true to work for Gap and Demna… to make incredible products available to everyone at all times.” While it is understandable why both men wish to cover both ends of the fashion market, it is not so clear why anyone would desire the two above pieces “at all times”. But it is hard to say. We live in a present that is at its most diametrical: dress nearly nakedly or totally covered. Forget the in-between.

Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga facemask, SGD60, and bodysuit, SGD450, are available online at Yeezy Gap. Product photos: Yeezy Gap. Photo illustration: Just So

It’s Yeezy: Look Like Kanye

If you can’t afford the threads Kanye West wears to look ominously wrapped up, Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga has similar sinister options for you

Gap will, for the first time in their 53-year existence embrace the look of a dark lord—whether of the Sith or Mordor, or Hidden Hills, you choose. Their offshoot brand Yeezy Gap headed by the all-dominant Kanye West is now in a collaborative arrangement with Balenciaga, specifically the equally powerful Demna Gvasalia. The sub-brand of that sub-brand, Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga (another long name to add to the club of long names or text in a logo), has released images of the so-far 8-piece capsule that comprises way more that what Mr West has produced since his appointment in 2020, when he signed an unimaginable 10-year deal with The Gap Inc, reported to be “worth as much as $970 million”, according to estimates later provided by UBS.

This collection, compared to Yeezy (the fashion label), is another planet. We have to go back to the past since Mr West has only created two items—a puffer and a hoodie—for Yeezy Gap. While Yeezy (fate not yet known) was mostly sensuous and body-loving, the Yeezy Gap tie-up is moody, oversized stuff that members of the Abnegation (or, perhaps, off-duty folks of Dauntless) of Divergent Chicago would wear. But the pieces click with Mr West’s preference for basics that are sufficiently tweaked for the pieces to look outré, but not so much that the kids of Calabasas or the fans in not-yet-dystopian Chicago would find them hard to accept. This time, the merchandise—apparently ready to retail three months earlier than planned—is a grand selection of one hoodie, four tees (one long-sleeved, three with a blurred dove image on the back), a pair of track pants, one torn denim trucker and jeans to match.

While the clothes may not arouse zeal, the pricing would spark shock. The cheapest item, one of the four T-shirts, is S$180 a pop (S$210 if the logo on the chest is larger)! For Gap? Yeezy? That makes Comme des Garçons’s madly popular made-in-Japan Play tees, at S$100 a piece (or S$110 for the men’s sizes), alluringly cheap. Is Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga expensive because, other than the luxury-brand association, they are MAGA-proudly “made in the USA”? Or is this a Gap-backed Balenciaga diffusion line to infuse the fashion and pop world with baggy bombast? A venture to better propagate the increasingly bleak, individual-erasing aesthetic of the Ye-Demna pairing, already seen in so much visually associated with Mr West’s Donda album release, activities, and publicity?

Mr Gvasalia told Vogue, “This is a very different challenge. I’ve always appreciated the utilitarianism and the accessibility of Gap. This project allowed me to join forces (with Ye) to create utilitarian fashion for all.” Reaching out to this many is ambitious. The thought is pretty scary too, when you consider seeing before you, the hordes dressed as if to attend Kanye West’s Sunday Service, to worship at the alter presided by a polymath-proteus-egoist. Even if you stop outside the moving doors of this church/cult (which one it is, it’s hard to say), it does not mean you would not witness the many adopters for whom the two one-names behind Yeezy Gap’s latest offerings could do no wrong. Are there really that many wishing for this creepy uniformity?

Oh, do also note: on the Yeezy Gap website, there’s no button that says ‘add to cart’, but a brief line that urges you to ‘JOIN WAITLIST’. Yes, in all caps, just like Kanye West’s rant-Tweets.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga is available online at Yeezy Gap and Farfetch. Photos: Yeezy Gap Engineered by Balenciaga

Music Video Or Fashion Commercial?

With the new track from Kanye West’s Donda, the line is clearly blurred

Kanye West, er, Ye (since last October, we keep forgetting) has a new single from the 27-track Donda album, called Heaven and Hell. Between those poles, he has put out a music video two days ago that is quite unlike any seen on his YouTube channel. This is not awash with the most amazing video effects or full of sensational fashion, or elephantine footwear. At about two half minutes long, Heaven and Hell is a rather short track. The accompany video is dark, gloomy, and dystopian-looking, more hell than heaven, with many people in it, all looking rather like Ye has this past Balenciaga-enabled year: facially obscured, mysterious, and inaccessible. Even zombies have more expression.

We see only silhouettes of the indistinct people. They seem to be monks—just men. Maybe the gender is incorporeal, inconsequential. Maybe they are non-binary. Just single beings, single units, single entities, looking from the shadows towards the abode of the Almighty. The singularity is rather odd for a proudly cisgender Ye, more so when he reminds us in the new song, “women producing, men go work” (taken from 20th Century Steel Band’s 1965 track Heaven and Hell on Earth). Were the faceless men working as they go about slow-mo in what looks like a housing estate? In the stills towards the end of the video, the hordes seem to be in battle. The end of days?

Could they be angels? One thing is for certain, all of them are outfitted in a black hoodie of one design. And at the end of the video, we learned, at the sight of the familiar blue logo, that the top was from Yeezy Gap. Not likely the trousers since the Gap and Yeezy partnership has only released one hoodie and one puffer jacket, so far. Is the MV sponsored by Gap then, or is this part of the marketing exercise of the two names coming together? If there were to be roles/talents/characters in the video, the people would need clothes. But Gap (traditionally) takes pride in the many colours of one style that they could merchandise. It is, therefore, unclear how this gloomy video could augment the (still) fading glory of Gap, even if it was announced that Balenciaga would “engineer“ something with Yeezy Gap. Or, is it just the black similitude that the brand sees as the way forward?

As with most of Ye’s music in recent years, Heaven and Earth is a sharing of the power of the Christian God and a show of the rapper’s evangelical flair. This, like all of Donda, doubles as soundtrack for his popular Sunday service. It isn’t known how Ye—now, a monosyllabic moniker, like God—reconciles the materialism, swagger and self-absorption of fashion with the values of religious dogma. “Save my people through the music,” Ye raps, but not once does he plead, through clothes (instead, “no more logos“), even when he has used fashion merchandise to preach, such as as his label Yeezy Sunday Service, sold through the Coachella pop-up Church Clothes. Despite acknowledging the part that image and clothing play, Ye is still unwavering in his devotional bent, sing-preaching/suggesting more good than goods; more God than Gap.

Screen grab: Kanye West/Youtube