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For Good or Bad, Kanye West Is the Steve Jobs of Fashion

"I want to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap," Kanye West told Style.com (now Vogue Runway) immediately after unveiling Yeezy. Yeah most people laughed at another grand Yeezus proclamation, but if you draw parallels between the two men, it's actually not that out of left field.

 Steve Jobs and Kanye West leading in Fashion

Image via Albert Watson / Stereogum

We don't mean that Kanye and his designer aspirations have changed the cultural and consumer landscape the way Steve Jobs and Apple have. West obviously has a long way to go beyond Day 1 for that conversation to take place. What we're saying is that, with Yeezy Season 1 dropping today after countless hype, obstacles, and mystery, the comparison seems more apt than ever. Because if you start making the connections, in everything from the good, the bad, and the controversial, For Better or Worse, Kanye West Is the Steve Jobs of Fashion​.

Steve Jobs and Kanye West have both faced uphill battles and public flops

Steve Jobs and Kanye West have both faced uphill battles and public flops

Image via The Guardian

Steve Jobs did not enjoy a direct ascent to the top of the mountain. After founding Apple at 21, he was ousted by his own creation at age 30. He went on to found NeXT, a computer company that focused on delivering the designs and innovation Jobs had hoped to unleash at Apple. The company could only muster lukewarm sales and was soon swallowed up by Apple. That's when The Return of the Mac began his true rise to icon and genius status, but don't let the runaway global domination of Apple make you forget that Jobs still took some major Ls.

Kanye West's journey to Yeezy Season 1 has also been a circuitous one. His 2011 womenswear outing, DW by Kanye West, was an unquestionable flop. Notable fashion critic Suzy Menkes wrote the collection “did not inspire the fashion crowd to tell him to give up his day job,” finishing off her ether with, “A celebrity tag and a lively audience filled with music-business friends does not cut it in Paris.”

West struggled with the criticism, arguing that while others expected him to create “celebrity sh*t,” he was intent on creating exactly what he envisioned. Unfortunately, due to a lack of time and experience (hiring fashion students to help finish a collection doesn't help, either) resulted in a subpar version of his goals.

Kanye vowed to rebound, telling fashion critic Cathy Horyn that the failure of the womenswear debut taught him how to deal with these issues the next time around. Horyn wrote, "He was completely open about the learning-curve problems and indicated that he planned to deal with them. Everybody who gets into fashion, including musical superstars, realizes how hard the business actually is—putting your ideas across, getting things made on time. But Mr. West was certainly proud of his ropey, beaded stilettos. 'Have you seen anything else like them this season?' he said, pointing to Ms. Iman’s feet in the Alaïa kitchen.”

At the end of the day, both Jobs and West accepted that their unique vision may not have been successful off the rip, but it directly informed their futures. As Jobs put it in a Stanford commencement, “I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life.” Like Jobs himself said “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.” Considering Jobs' return to form at Apple, and West eventually partnering with adidas to produce a collection after a handful of dead ends and false starts, it's obvious that rebounding from failure is a foundational aspect to both men's creative processes.

Both assembled super talented teams to facilitate their visions

Kayne West and Steve Jobs super talented teams to facilitate their visions

Image via Hypebeast

From the jump, Steve Jobs was surrounded by talent. Jobs may be the everlasting face of his company, but it was his co-founder Steve Wozniak who single-handedly developed the Apple I computer, which launched Apple back in 1976, as well as the Apple II, one of the first massively successful personal computers.

Being inundated with skilled talent was a move Jobs kept up through his early days at Apple; he was notorious for isolating a group to work on projects that aligned with his vision. “Jobs basically created his own team to create his own product, the Macintosh. His team actually had its own building,” noted Jobs/Apple historian Alan Deutschman.

This small group-think mentality continued throughout his tenure at Apple. Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that, “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.” It's this kind of thought that has cued Apple into focusing on building smaller teams to tackle individual issues—like the iPod or the Apple Watch—allowing a more refined product that still has the input of several voices and perspectives. Jobs knew his shortcomings, and always made sure every team was filled with industry experts who could contribute to a project in a meaningful way. As he told 60 Minutes in 2003, "Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people.” Wise words that definitely mirror how Kanye pursues his designer goals.

Any Kanye fan can draw an immediate parallel with Jobs' words and the creative firm DONDA. Yeezy told Complex in a 2015 interview that the fluid collection is more idea tank than anything else. "DONDA…it's an idea group. We’re sitting there and just bouncing ideas with each other. And the people comprising these groups come from all walks of life to create the best composite possible." He said, "The people who worked on the moon boots, it was a mix between a guy I got from Nike, and the head adidas designer, and a girl I got from Céline, and you could feel that.” Combining various levels of expertise and perspectives—from sneaker designers to textile masters to established menswear designers—essentially gives Kanye a first draft, which he can then edit into its final form.

They know what the people want before they want it

 Kayne West and Steve Jobs know what the people want before they want it

Image via adidas

When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod in 2001, he was scoffed at. People didn't understand the price or the tech. Commenters in a MacRumors forum complained that it “requires me to change my lifestyle to meet it’s needs,” and that people simply “don’t use headphones.” Needless to say, the iPod would go on to define portable music, not just selling over 350 million units in from 2001 to 2012, but completely overhauling the music industry via the inevitable companion software iTunes.

Let's be clear: it's the first day of Yeezy Season 1, so it's not yet clear if West has really proven himself in terms of getting the people going. However, he has time and time again shown that his ideas—in music, in style, in sneakers—are ones that people are willing to gravitate to and, more importantly, put money down on. “We make something people want so bad it hurts them if they can't have it,” West told SHOWStudio earlier this month.

They're uncompromising when it comes to executing their plans

Kayne West and Steve Jobs uncompromising when it comes to executing their plans

Image via Youtube

In the recently released film Steve Jobs, Michael Fassbender portrays an unflinchingly cruel Jobs—operating as a demanding taskmaster who was impossible to satisfy. While the film did take liberties on dialogue and some event-based details, it's no secret that Jobs was incredibly difficult to work for.

Even if you didn't directly work for him, Jobs had no reservations about taking direct shots. One infamous example? Telling a designer of the short-lived Xerox Star computer that, “Everything [he'd] ever done in his life was shit”…which, classically, he followed up with an Apple job offer. Or how about the way he treated his friend and co-founder Steve Wozniak, chewing him out in public. When Wozniak was working at another company, Jobs told him, "I own everything you do." Jobs definitely exhibited asshole tendencies, but in his Machiavellian mind, it was all justified as the means to sparking a personal technology revolution and executing what he knew was a necessary vision.

Kanye West is definitely cut from the same cloth. Ever since he began to act on his aspirations to design clothing, he has rammed through any roadblock or doubter by finding other options, savvy maneuvers, or straight-up confrontation particularly so in an interview with Sway and visiting Jimmy Kimmel after a parody spurred a Twitter beef, complete with SpongeBob meme.

Targeting his critics and roadblocks in a series of on-stage “rants,” West is unapologetic when it comes to saying exactly what's on his mind. When it comes to dismissive critics, he's the first one to strike back. Telling Zane Lowe back in 2013, “People could say, 'Oh, he's frustrated, he's that, he's that.' No. All I need is the breakthrough. The joint-venture for my clothing. Same as Stella McCartney has, I could name so many people that have joint-ventures, a backing, to express themselves that way.”

You're either a fan or a hater

 Do you like Kayne West

Image via giphy

Mac or PC. Yeezus Freak or Kanye Hater. While people will always have their preferences, it seems that Apple and Ye always draw a particular amount of hate, seemingly suffering from success. Apple detractors are quick to point out the flaws or inferior nature of Apple products as compared to their Microsoft or non-Apple competitors. As one engadget commentor noted “I have seriously seen people say 'I returned my iphone/ipad after I couldn't change the icons'…This would be like buying a BMW M5 and saying 'It's a garbage car because it gets worse gas mileage than my Civic.'”

For Kanye West, criticism comes from all sides regarding his fashion work. Ignoring the public's input via social media, even fashion insiders and professionals are reticent to show West any support. “When I work on fashion, I’m sitting here in the woods, trying to chop down trees screaming at the top of my lungs ‘Can somebody just throw me some water?’" West told SHOWStudio in his recent interview. But more than anything, it's that the fashion insiders continually doubt West purely off the level of his celebrity. Expressing his frustrations in the same interview, “People remind me in every meeting how famous I am.” It's been a major obstacle for him as the high fashion world has compartmentalized celebrity fashion design as just pumped up “licensing deals.”

They both want to democratize walled-off institutions

 Kayne West and Steve Jobs democratize walled-off institutions

Image via @UglyMangRaj Twitter

In Jobs' earlier days with Apple, the personal computer was far more business-oriented, difficult to use, and aesthetically unappealing.

As Jobs noted on a 1996 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, “I think our major contribution was in bringing a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers…you know, computers for the rest of us.” Considering the suite of Apple products that cover everything from your watch to your home computer it's clear that Jobs knows enough about what people want for them to assimilate the brand it into every aspect of their lives.

As far as Ye's clothing…well, he's happy to help if you let him. He's made his feelings clear about the fashion industry, crying out for support from fashion's old guard—aka executives— while expressing his desire to make stylish clothing that everyone can simultaneously be proud of and afford. Sure, the prices that Yeezy Season 1 actually came in at don't reflect this mentality, but it's likely that this is something that was out of his hands by the time his designs were slated to hit retailers.

“You know those photos that you see with me getting on my knees in front of the paparazzi to fix Kim’s pant leg?,” Kanye told Complex. “That's what I want to do for the world. I want to get on my knees and fix everyone’s pant leg, if they’ll have me. If they'll have me make that adjustment.”

Timelessness and simplicity is at the foundation of their designs

 Kayne West and Steve Jobs Timelessness and simplicity is at the foundation of their designs

Image via Vogue Runway

“Every good product I've ever seen is because a group of people cared deeply about making something wonderful that they and their friends wanted. They wanted to use it themselves,” Jobs told attendees at a 1997 Apple Keynote presentation. As the Apple product line evolved from computers to the iPad, the central function is making once-complicated things easier to use. As Jobs explained in a 1996 interview with NPR, he and his team took what was once a “very geeky technology and a very geeky audience” and made it accessible to the people; turning technology from things like “plotting laminar flow calculations into “beautiful photographs or pictures of artwork.” Jobs' genius is in how he envisioned the sheer power of computing as a human necessity that makes life easier.

Kanye West has literally said the same thing. “I will make the Apple of apparel. The Apple of apparel isn’t high street, it isn’t fast-fashion. It isn’t a $9,000 sweatshirt—it’s the thing that you want to keep for the rest of your life. And that takes just looking at human beings.” Noting everything else, West is focused on “fixing pant legs,” pitching leather jogging pants, and switching up metaphorical lapels. The point is that he has the desire, intention and an idea on how to make everyone look stylish.



1 Comment

Lindsay
Lindsay

October 30, 2015

You know our world has come to shit when people are comparing Kanye west to Steve jobs. Please stop. Kanye is an arrogant, racist, piece of trash, and Steve Jobs is brilliant. This is absurd. Their names should not even be beside each other. I really fear for the future of our country…

October 29, 2015

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