“For me, you know, I’m a creative genius and there’s no other way to put it.” Say what you like about Mr Kanye West, for all his towering egotistical bluster, the man knows how to spot talent. And not just his own. When it comes to king-making the next generation of creative geniuses, Yeezy does it. Several of the most zeitgeisty designers on MR PORTER have shot to prominence in the past few years courtesy of his Midas-touch mentorship. Here are three of our favourites.
MR VIRGIL ABLOH OF OFF-WHITE
The Chicago-raised 37-year-old polymath has long been Mr West’s creative director, with his fingerprints on everything from album covers to videos to tour merchandise. This did not happen by accident. Mr Abloh, who has degrees in engineering and architecture, calculatingly created the opportunity. He found out where in Chicago Mr West got his T-shirts screen-printed, left some of his own designs with the proprietor and badgered him to show them to the rapper’s manager. It worked. Thereafter, the pair interned at Fendi in 2009 (can you imagine Mr West doing a coffee round?) and started turning up to Fashion Week events uninvited. “We got into about 60 per cent of the shows,” Mr Abloh recalls of their first season on the circuit. Sorry, Mr West, your name’s not on the list.
Today, Mr Abloh is arguably the busiest and buzziest of poly-hyphenates in the business. He “lives in the sky” (350 flights a year, reportedly) and keeps abreast of all his projects via WhatsApp. He is the fashion industry’s DJ du jour/nuit under the moniker Flat White. He has collaberations going with everyone from Nike to Levi’s, Monclerand Ikea. But his main gig is his highly recognisable high-meets-low, luxury-meets-streetwear clothing line, Off-White, which arrived on MR PORTER this week. “We are all the children of Kanye’s trailblazing,” Mr Abloh has said. “This generation would not have had the freedom to cross genres had it not been for his passion to find more than what was delivered to him.”
MR JERRY LORENZO OF FEAR OF GOD
The Los Angeles-based 39-year-old is the best frontman for his own brand, but he has a number of highly prominent friends who have helped to catapult Fear of God into the stratosphere since its launch in 2013. One of the earliest adopters was Mr West, and when he defied the Met Gala’s strict white-tie dress code last year, he did so while wearing heavily ripped Fear of God jeans. Mr West first sought out Mr Lorenzo after seeing a mutual friend wearing one of his super-long T-shirts from the first Fear of God collection. He immediately flew Mr Lorenzo out to show him the entire line, loved it and hired him on the spot to work with his creative company. Within a week, Mr Lorenzo was in Parishelping with Mr West’s A.P.C. collaboration. It was the start of a lasting partnership that has led to him designing merchandise for the Yeezus tour, the Yeezy line and Mr West’s personal wardrobe.
“Kanye is the hardest-working person I’ve ever met,” Mr Lorenzo told MR PORTER earlier this year. The two are close friends. Mr Lorenzo and his wife were invited to Mr West’s wedding to Ms Kim Kardashian. “Kanye is his own person, he beats his own drum,” says Mr Lorenzo. “If he doesn’t understand something or if he doesn’t quite get it, he’s going to do all that he can to put all of his resources into figuring it out. I think one of the best things that I could ever take away from him is work ethic and being able to push yourself beyond barriers.”
MR DEMNA GVASALIA OF VETEMENTS AND BALENCIAGA
To be fair, the 36-year-old Georgian wunderkind was already making his way in fashion perfectly well without Mr West’s help, but the rapper’s endorsement has certainly rubber-stamped his burgeoning reputation as the benchmark-setting designer of his generation.
Mr Gvasalia’s route to the higher echelons of fashion has been more traditional than that of Messrs Abloh and Lorenzo. He studied at the famed Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and then worked his way up at Louis Vuitton and Maison Margiela. But ever since he stepped out on his own, first in 2014 with his much-hyped Vetements label and then in 2015 as the artistic director of Balenciaga, he has developed a reputation as a disruptor and a rule breaker.
He operates outside the traditional fashion calendar and runway-show model. In the process, he has built a die-hard fan-base of cutting-edge fashion fans – including Mr West – who can’t get enough of his culturally astute kitsch that appropriates the disposable and makes it desirable. If there is one person whom Mr West likes almost as much as himself, it seems to be Mr Gvasalia, who helped Mr West establish the tone of his own line. “I thank Demna for using the ‘I feel like Pablo’ sweatshirts in his show,” he has tweeted. “This is my friend and we’ve bounced ideas and references for years since the time when he designed for Yeezy Season 1.” The two continue to collaborate, and Mr West has mischievously stated, “I’m going to steal Demna from Balenciaga.”