The multihyphenate rapper and fashion mogul regularly sits at the center of controversy, and his latest album, “Donda,” was no exception. Leading up to the release on Aug. 29, the celebrity held a series of accompanying listening parties, each sparking outrage and, subsequently, hype.
Of the glaring issues was West introducing artists Marilyn Manson and Da Baby onstage at his Chicago listening party on Aug. 26. Both artists are currently facing controversies of their own, with Manson in the midst of multiple sexual assault allegations, and Da Baby receiving backlash from a homophobic rant following a recent concert that resulted in his removal from festivals and brand deals.
The events also incited criticism for hosting around 38,000 fans in Soldier Stadium while the country experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases. On top of that, each listening event featured dark religious themes, with crucifixes and Bible verses leading the show. Kim Kardashian West, who filed for divorce from Kanye in February, appeared on stage dressed in a wedding gown—the same one that closed the Balenciaga couture show during its debut this summer.
Despite—or as a result of—the controversies, “Donda” merch racked up a record-setting $7 million in sales from its first listening event last month, which Hypebeast says beat out previous record holder Taylor Swift, who grossed a little under $7 million per show for her Reputation Stadium Tour in 2018. Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia designed West’s event merchandise, which included long-sleeve shirts that featured a Star of David with a crucifix in its center and retailed for upward of $100. Available in beige and black, the shirts included the album name as well as the event’s date and location.
Gvasalia was also the brains behind streetwear darling Vetements, and joins the ranks of viral-sensational designers who use irony and social media to their benefit. Like West, Gvasalia has a penchant for taking bold stances that get people talking. In 2017, he famously stopped producing traditional runway shows, deeming them impersonal and wasteful. In 2019, he exited Vetements, and this past July announced a “secret project” with little more than a cryptic Instagram post and accompanying “Vetements Secret Project” Instagram profile.
Gvasalia’s affinity for headlines, coupled with West’s status as an expert provocateur, are just the tip of the iceberg. In recent years, West has questioned the legitimacy of slavery, supported former U.S. President Donald Trump and announced a presidential run of his own—all of which seems to be the winning formula for press. While volatility is typically an undesirable quality in a business partner, Gap decided to take a calculated chance on the mogul in order to tap into the highly sought after Gen Z and millennial demographics.
Despite the controversies, in June, Gap Inc. CEO Sonia Syngal remained hopeful that West will continue to make a positive impact on the company, and told investors that “Yeezy Gap is a work in progress and remains a significant opportunity for us.”
And it’s seemingly working. Marketing software firm Launchmetrics reported that Gap’s Yeezy partnership has already accumulated $34.9 million in media impact value since the collaboration was announced last June. It expects revenue from the joint collection to top $150 million next year.
West not only plays by a business rulebook of his own, but a unique fashion rulebook as well. Retail analytics firm Edited noted that the “Donda era” has inspired a range of streetwear trends, including gothic lettering, bondage dressing and post-apocalyptic themes. West took the stage at his listening events in a bullet-proof vest featuring the word “Donda,” further underscoring the era’s dark undertones. His current style is also defined by a dark color palette punctuated by pops of primary colors, a turn away from his signature neutral and earth tones.
Also defining the “Donda” era is the puffer jacket, which was the first item to debut from the Yeezy x Gap collection in June 2021. The bright blue $200 recycled nylon puffer sold out on the first day. According to Edited, following the product drop, “worldwide investment and sell out activity skyrocketed,” noting that arrivals since the start of the year are up 56 percent year over year and 34 percent compared to 2019.