The snippet of a new Kanye West song featured in a Beats by Dre commercial starring American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, which aired during Game 6 of the NBA Finals last night, was the latest addition to a mound of clues about his apparently imminent new album. But could Kanye also be leaving clues in his outfit choices? He’s been sporting what amounts to a full-on uniform lately, and now he’s dropping uncharacteristic brand selections on Instagram. What could Ye’s new look mean for the DONDA era, and for the next persona in the never-ending succession of New Kanyes?
First, the uniform: West has been favoring his upcoming Gap x Yeezy amorphous puffer jacket—in both its OG blue and new black colorways—and custom balaclava-style full-face coverings, including one emblazoned with a crucified Jesus Christ. (Travis Scott, Ye’s sort-of-former-brother-in-law, later Instagrammed a selfie wearing the same one.) Sure, he’s worn full-face masks before, even during his 2014 Yeezus tour, but he’s never without one of late.
He wore a mask to DMX’s memorial service back in April, seemingly fashioned from a vintage Harley Davidson panther T-shirt. Two weeks ago, it appears he wore the same one again to attend the Balenciaga Fall 2021 Couture show in Paris, and he kept it on while posing for a photo with CEOs Cédric Charbit of Balenciaga and François-Henri Pinault of the French luxury conglomerate Kering. And one of his associates can be seen wearing a mask alongside Kanye in a new video snippet that just appeared showing him working on the album. Maybe masks are a crew mandate now.
Perhaps this is all some sort of commentary on the Covid mask era. At any rate, for West, there’s always been power in symbolic anonymity, particularly as he departs a profoundly public marriage.
And speaking of Kering… After a characteristically long hiatus, Kanye returned to Instagram last night to share a fit pic carousel including a flat-lay shot of the all-black outfit, which featured a Bottega Veneta bomber and Bottega boots, plus a pair of Saint Laurent leather pants—two fashion houses that, as GQ staff writer Rachel Tashjian pointed out, also fall under the Kering umbrella. He posted the pics just hours after Kering’s rival luxury group LVMH announced they’d acquired a major stake in the brand Off-White founded by Ye’s friend and longtime collaborator Virgil Abloh, who also heads up menswear at LVMH’s crown jewel Louis Vuitton.
Kanye has a storied history with both conglomerates — and, more broadly, the gatekeepers of luxury and capital in general. It’s also not like West to share outfit secrets or shout out brands directly (as he once said, “I don’t wear branding. When I see branding, I see insecurity”) so this feels like it means something. And as per usual, Kanye’s making a lot of statements at once here: the outfit breakdown also featured a pair of Nike socks, a nod to another company he has a tricky history with, given that he left an early sneaker collaboration with Nike to launch his mega-successful Yeezy brand with Adidas. In the clip that West also posted of the Beats commercial, the camera opens on Nike-endorsed Richardson’s swoosh’d-up spikes.
What does it all mean? Maybe everything, maybe nothing. Perhaps Ye is ready to link and build with some former adversaries, on or off the album. Like all things Kanye, only time will tell.