We're always down to have a discussion about discrimination in the fashion industry; we think that the social narratives of fashion are just as interesting (and important!) as the aesthetic ones. But sometimes these conversations can take a divergent turn, as evidenced by SHOWstudio's recent lengthy interview with rapper-turned-designer Kanye West. (#yeezus)
Once again, Kanye expressed his belief that the fashion world still isn't ready for him, frustrated by the reception he received this season in particular. "Everyone is sitting laughing at me...me sitting here trying my absolute hardest and everyone is laughing at me," he says. "They were definitely fucking not letting me in the shows and laughing at me." This criticism is surprising, given the starpower at Kanye's Yeezy Season 2 show at New York Fashion Week this month, as well as Anna Wintour's loyal endorsement of him. Some fashion journalists even mused that critics went easy on him, that the collection mirrored his last one exactly and was anything but flattering. That's not necessarily my opinion, but it's certainly not untrue that when it comes to the Kardashian-West clan, the fashion masses go weak at the knees.
But what's more? Kanye went on to blame his straightness for making him an outsider in fashion. Oh boy. "I feel like I got discriminated in fashion for not being gay," he explained. "In music, you definitely get discriminated in music if you are gay. It takes amazing talents to break down barriers."
He's right about the music industry for sure, but it's certainly a bit of a stretch to assume that fashion is a walk in the park for itsLGTBQ identifying members. Sure, with icons like Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs headlining the business, it might be easy to agree with Kanye, but this perhaps gives us insight into how little Yeezy sadly actually knows about the fashion industry. Just this spring, Herve Leger executive Patrick Couderc said he didn't want lesbians wearing their brand, and Giorgio Armani told reporters he thought gay men shouldn't "dress homosexual." According to The Fashion Spot's diversity report for Fall 2015, only three models cast in the multitude of campaigns this season were transgender. Even high street brands like Zara - who are currently facing a $40 million anti-gay harassment lawsuit - have shown a lack of tolerance consistent with other mainstream industries.
So - as a cis-gendered, straight man - where are Kanye's jarring comments stemming from? It could contentiously be argued that since fashion has traditionally been associated with femininity, it hasn't been an environment that cis-gindered men necessarily felt comfortable in, drawing criticism for not conforming to gendered stereotypes (wonder what that must be like!) That being said, icons like Ralph Lauren, Jimmy Choo, and Tommy Hilfiger have established huge houses for themselves, never having mentioned sharing Kanye's qualms about sexuality.
So to say that it is uncommon to be a contemporary, straight male fashion designer - okay, we can maybe give you that. To say that this is a burden or makes you marginalized? No way - Kanye's assumption that this must be the reason for his slow success is ignorant on so many levels; it also throws the LGBTQ designers who have found a safe environment in the fashion industry, under the bus. Kanye fails to recognize that to this day, being straight and cis-gendered is a massive privilege, and limits his ability to fully understand the struggle of his colleagues who don't identify the same way.
IMAGE C/O ADIDAS