Kanye dropped new merch for Jesus Is King a few days ago, and of course, everyone has something to say about it. Every season of Yeezy clothing and sneakers sends critics and fans into a frenzy, for better or for worse, and the newest items–potential prototypes for Ye’s alleged new brand Sunday Service?–are doubly interesting because of the album.
There’s no question about Kanye’s production value when it comes to music. Though he’s made a lot of unorthodox moves in his artistic career, he’s always been a trailblazer and his sampling is legendary. However, I have always had HUGE questions about his forays into fashion, and now the JIK collection has me overthinking a lot of things.
Based on the new designs, it looks like Kanye and his team found my old Gateway PC, booted up Windows 95, and pulled up the eternally cutting edge Microsoft Paint. Better yet, they traveled back in time to use my elementary school’s computer lab and got to one of the five Macintosh computers that had Kid Pix. While this may sound like a critique, it’s actually not. I was confused about this for a while, the more I look at the pieces, the more I get it. I may not like it, but I think I get it.
High fashion is supposed to be unconventional. Designers are meant to be thinking years ahead, perhaps decades, or even on a totally different dimensional plane. They create cultural commentary through art that hangs on human frames, and work to subvert the mainstream until their message becomes diluted into the masses. Street fashion has been very notably heading in that direction since the turn of the century. Because of its relative comfort and wearability, it’s much more accessible to your average person than, say, this look.
So, if you’re looking to spread a message through your clothing line, what better way to do so than through hoodies and tees? And since the fashion hamster wheel has now gone full circle and landed on ’90s and ’00s style, it’s a great time for statement streetwear and sneaker culture.
Kanye has tried to do just that since season one of Yeezy, to varying degrees of success. His muted, neutral-toned collections have contributed to a style I call ‘haute-pocalypse shapewear’–the story for which he has tried to round out with performance art at his shows. His JIK merch, however, has better visual cohesion and the narrative works with the music.
There are two collabs within the line, one with AWGE and one with CPFM. Both AWGE, founded by A$AP Rocky, and CPFM, supposedly founded by Pharrell Williams’ former assistant Cynthia Lu, are elusive and exclusive streetwear brands whose products are hard to come by and can often resell for many times more than your family’s average water bill. Their offerings to the JIK merch help showcase two sides of the aesthetic coin that is being traded by today’s youth and fashion influencers.
CPFM’s offerings to the JIK merch are the more interesting of the two and feature a sort of contemporary minimalist graphic interpretation of Kanye’s worldview. I think. AWGE goes the *extra* route and manages to tick all the boxes of things that drove me crazy about graphics in the Myspace era. But it all works, because, all the iconic ‘90s/’00s looks we love/hate relationships with are now being ironically celebrated and perpetuated to my chagrin. Which I think is the point.
Today’s cutting edge aesthetic trends are way more about irony and disruption of the norm than about being traditionally beautiful. Pretty much anything Billie Eilish wears fits that description. So take themes of popularity, trendiness, rebellion, subculture, and subversion, and couple them with an overarching commentary on the place of Jesus Christ and Christianity in the modern day, and you get the JIK collection. In fact, you get everything that Kanye has been doing for the last several months, which is trying to give new form to a melange of cultures and identities that are somewhat competing and contradictory.
I was thinking about this way too late in the night, so what all of this probably amounts to is that Kanye is trying to Make Jesus Cool Again, and that he’s generating a pop culture movement around it. So, whether or not you think monetizing Jesus and making possibly sacrilegious church merch is right, I think some of the style choices were a lot more intentional than you think.