Before he actually began trying to sell us something, there were suspicions that Ye was, well, trying to sell us something. The Twitter and TikTok commentariat struggled to make sense of why someone would wear so much Balenciaga, as he’s spent the last few months doing. Rumors abound: that Ye has one of every piece from every one of Demna’s collections sitting in a warehouse-cum-studio in Southern California; that he has every shoe in every size and hands them out to visitors; that he cleaned out Dover Street Market’s Balenciaga section and they had to call the brand’s headquarters to get more ASAP. None of that can be confirmed (though on Monday afternoon, he was captured by paparazzi holding up a T-shirt with a reworked logo for the specialty store reading “DONDA STREET MARKET.”) But to think that Ye–or Demna, for that matter—is orchestrating a series of paid-for celebrity outfits in order to get us to…buy more Balenciaga?, is to misunderstand the purpose of this bizarre and unprecedented creative collaboration. In a world of proclamations and speaking one’s truth, Ye is declaring he can fully find himself by relying on, or exchanging with, someone else. It’s about total and complete devotion to an uncompromising aesthetic—a visual reset with no seams. This is part of why Ye keeps shopping at all the Balenciaga stores, too: the acquisition is a part of the artwork.
(Who knows how or why Ye and Fox really connected, but what I love about the relationship is how classical she is compared to the contemporary definition of a female come-upper. She worked as a dominatrix in high school, made art, created a fashion line, and then won a role playing a character based on herself in an arty-controversial movie. It’s a very mid-century, Marilyn Monroe-ish, slightly-seedy-to-cerebral-to-middlebrow pipeline compared to the influencer pathway of today, and it was fun to watch the TikTok set, who have spent the past few years cultivating celebrities for whom fame is platform-exclusive, having to scramble to figure out who someone was.)
Perhaps no fashion brand has ever been as in tune with its time as Balenciaga is with this one—at once diagnosing and exacerbating our fascination with the mediocre, the annoying, and the ugly, and creating a cottage industry of pseudo-academics on Substack and TikTok who deadpan terms like “the hyperreal” and Marshall McLuhan quotes into the mini-microphone, clutching its clip between acrylic nails. One of Demna’s ambitions over the past year or so has been to propel his fashion brand, and his vision, into places where high fashion typically struggles to connect. That’s Ye’s mandate, too, though of course from a more populist, $80 hoodie perspective. So it’s only natural that seeing all that clothing on all these actors involved in this dramatic celebrity divorce would lead people to see some kind of “conspiracy.”
Of course, the catch is that nothing about Balenciaga is “natural”—not its materials, its marketing, nor its fashion shows—and of course it’s also the brand that has dabbled most fruitfully in the metaverse. It revels in the artificial; it sees authenticity as impossible, even irrelevant. Coco Chanel once said that Cristobal Balenciaga, the singular Spanish couturier who founded the house Demna now leads, was “the master of us all,” explaining that his creations, which were fabric puzzles of volume and minimalist sewing, were simply in their own echelon beyond the other golden-age couturiers. Late last year, I watched a theatre full of hundreds of fashion editors—jaded, fickle people who pride themselves on highbrow pretending—give a standing ovation to Demna after watching his episode of The Simpsons, and now I see him dressing Kim and Kanye (and Julia Fox!) to such public contention. Demna, too, is the master of us.
Ultimately, there is no conspiracy—only wild and sprawling ambition. As the “Heaven and Hell” video is only the latest project to demonstrate, the dynamic between Demna and Ye is predicated on painting with the broadest and most obvious strokes: God, light, redemption, sinning, love, marriage, Putin (?!). As much as social media and Gen Z have made style a central feature of popular culture, fashion is not as big or essential as any of those things, and the project Ye seems to have in mind is: well, what if it was? Ye’s mission, and Demna’s too, has been to push the boundaries of what we care about, and how attuned we are to the way things should look. To bring the avant-garde, whatever that may still be today, into popular culture. Or, rather, to make popular culture strange, to make people think—or more importantly, feel something—where their eyes are most likely to be.