It’s no secret that Kanye West has had a long and complicated relationship with the fashion and footwear industries. Whereas many hip-hop artists are content to simply wear the latest looks, West has dared in the past several years to insert himself fully in this elite world as someone who both appreciates the art form and wants to master it himself.
At last night’s FN Achievement Awards in New York, West had the opportunity to speak directly to some of the shoe industry’s most influential designers, retailers, tastemakers and executives to express his deep passion for the business and to give thanks to his newest partner, Adidas, with whom he created the Shoe of the Year: the Yeezy Boost.
But he also shared some surprising and humorous anecdotes about the fashion labels and designers that have influenced and inspired him, including Phillip Lim, who was in attendance presenting the Stylemaker Award to Alexa Chung.
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“I would come by [Phillip’s] studio and play him songs and I’d see fabrics he was working with and asked him to take this girl’s suit jacket and turn it into a guy’s suit jacket,” said West. “If anyone’s seen ‘Runaway,’ I stand on top of the piano, and Phillip custom made that [jacket] for me.”
West also credited designer Giuseppe Zanotti for teaching him the art of shoemaking at his factory in San Mauro Pascoli, Italy. “Do you know how much money of his I wasted doing sample after sample, learning how to put shoes together right there in the factory?” West said, adding that under Zanotti’s tutelage he made everything from boots to a snakeskin bag. “He let me do everything I could think of, including the bone-bead shoes that were in my first amazingly slammed-to-death first fashion show in Paris.”
But West said his creative spark was first ignited in 2009, when, following the infamous Taylor Swift moment at the MTV Video Music Awards, he went into what he termed “self exile” with pal Virgil Abloh. The two began dabbling with design and ended up scoring an invite to Italy from then-Fendi chief Michael Burke, though the visit didn’t exactly go smoothly.
“I was friends with Michael Burke and he said I could move to Rome for a little bit,” recounted West. “We were there at Fendi and … I’m over there trying to give these guys what I consider to be real ideas and forward ideas and this dude, the creative director, you could not believe. This guy … had one room with some vintage samples and some people on the computer making the most shit ideas you’ve ever seen. And it was just to fill up the stores because Silvia Fendi was no longer doing the men’s. We played loud music in the office and ended up getting kicked out.”
He also stirred up trouble when he snuck into an Alexander McQueen runway show while he was supposed to be in the studio working on his collaborative “Watch the Throne” album with Jay-Z.
“They wouldn’t let me in because I was a celebrity. And [Alexander] was kind of disappointed when he saw me — ‘I thought I said no celebrities!’ And I remember Jay-Z texting me, ‘Get off the runways.’ It’s kind of rude and stuff. And I was like, ‘I’m not fucking leavin.’ So we brought all the ni**as to Paris and made a song about it.”
In reflecting on that hit song, West pointed out that inspiration can come from any source.
“People would always say, ‘Why do you love fashion so much? Why don’t you love music?'” he mused. “But one of my best songs came from the pursuit of another creative art form.”
Click here to watch Kanye’s entire acceptance speech at the FN Achievement Awards.
And click through the slideshow below to see all the red-carpet moments from the night.