What will it take for some people to see that Kanye West is no longer the same person who once declared, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people”?
For some, it wasn’t West’s comparison of his struggle with the paparazzi—likely not helped by marrying a person whose business model is largely rooted in narcissism and media attention—to the civil rights movement. The same goes for his inane assertion that “classism has replaced racism.” Neither of these infamous quotes, nor the litany of others that sound just like them, have done the trick. But maybe Kanye West’s apparently giving his blessing to A.P.C. founder Jean Touitou’s choice to include the word “n—ga” in a recent fall menswear presentation will convince people to let go and let J. Cole.
As models walked the runway in matching gray sweatpants and A.P.C.-designed Timberlands, Touitou held up a sign that read, “Last Ni##@$ in Paris.” Touitou later explained to Style.com, “I call this one look Last N****s in Paris. Why? Because it’s the sweet spot when the hood—the ’hood—meets Bertolucci’s movie Last Tango in Paris. So that’s ‘N****s in Paris’ and Last N****s in Paris.”
It’s no secret that the fashion industry often mirrors the habits of the Ku Klux Klan, only in chicer hooding. Likewise, we’ve long known that obnoxious designers and labels have a penchant for producing clothing items deep-fried in stupid. This includes Zara making pajama tops for toddlers that bear a noted resemblance to the uniforms worn by the inmates of Nazi death camps, and Urban Outfitters releasing a Kent State sweatshirt splattered with red to signify blood, a tacky nod to the fatal shooting of students protesting the Vietnam War by Ohio National Guard members.
Not being surprised doesn’t make Touitou’s act any less frustrating. Touitou dug himself a deeper hole during the Style.com interview by adding, “Yes, I mean, it’s nice to play with the strong signifiers. The Timberland here is a very strong ghetto signifier. In the ghetto, it is all the Timberlands, all the big chain. Not at the same time—never; it’s bad taste. So we designed Timberlands with Timberland. … ”
What exactly does Jean Touitou know about the ghetto? Based on the intel he’s supplied thus far, not a damn thing. What makes this worse, though, is Touitou’s revealing the role that West played in all of this.
Touitou says, “I am friends with Kanye, and he and I presented a joint collection at the same place, one year ago, and that this thing is only a homage to our friendship. As a matter of fact, when I came up with this idea, I wrote to him, with the picture of the look and the name I was giving to it, and he wrote back immediately, saying something like, ‘I love this vibe.”’
On Thursday, after news broke of Touitou's deeds and liberal use of the n-word, the French designer would release an apology: “When describing our brand’s latest collaboration, I spoke recklessly using terms that were both ignorant and offensive,” Touitou said in a written statement. “I apologize and am deeply regretful for my poor choice of words, which are in no way a reflection of my personal views.”
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is marred by racism. West has complained about this very issue for some time now. During a performance last year in London, West told a crowd during one of his “rants,” “I’m not going to call no names, I’m not going to say Nike or anything. I’m not dissing Louis Vuitton, I’m not dissing the Gucci group and s—t. I’m just saying, don’t discriminate against me because I’m a black man, or because I’m a celebrity, to determine that I can’t create. You know, no black guy or celebrity’s making no Louis Vuitton nothing.”
West made similar complaints the previous year—particularly on Jimmy Kimmel Live! The problem then and now is that Kanye West is as inconsistent as he is hypocritical.
Writing at Fashionista, Jihan Forbes notes West’s history of supporting the very sort of people he complains about: “West has been quick to show support for labels like Céline—mentioned on the Diversity Coalition’s no-no list for not casting black models in their shows—Maison Martin Margiela, and Givenchy, proudly parading in bespoke and off-the-rack pieces from each. Yet you would be hard-pressed to see him pair his beloved leather jogging sweats with an Ozwald Boateng jacket, or find mention of designers like Duro Olowu in his rhymes.”
Here we are again. West says the fashion industry is both racist and classist—pigeonholing black designers like himself—but will tell a man who turns to him and says he plans to use “n—ga” and a caricaturelike characterization of what he deems “ghetto style” to push a new menswear line, “I love this vibe.”
Timberland has since cut ties with A.P.C.; its president, Stewart Whitney, issued a statement that includes, “We will not tolerate offensive language or racial slurs of any kind being associated with the Timberland brand.”
As far as I’m concerned, Kanye West is the sartorial Don Lemon. If you’re still clinging to the idea that he cares about any black people besides himself, good luck. You’ll need it.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.