It didn’t take long for the buzz around Kanye West‘s surprise YZYS9 presentation at Paris Fashion Week to turn into mass backlash when the rapper sent T-shirts reading “White Lives Matter” down the runway. The 45-year-old has previously made headlines for equally controversial actions—from saying slavery “sounds like a choice” to brushing shoulders with Donald Trump, and wearing a MAGA (Make America Great Again) hat. However, the collective consensus is that West has taken his brand of reaction-sparking moves too far this time, by not only using a slogan created by White supremacists to co-opt the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, but also having rightwing activist Candace Owens join him at the show.
The initial feedback
While the immediate response included showgoers such as Jaden Smith walking out of the presentation, and British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful calling the shirt “insensitive, given the state of the world,” the situation gained speed following Gabriella Karefa-Johnson’s review. The Vogue global contributing fashion editor took to her Instagram stories to write that “the t-shirts this man conceived, produced, and shared with the world are pure violence,” adding that “there is no excuse, there is no art here,” and calling it “indefensible behavior.” Karefa-Johnson also mentioned that although she could see that West might have created the shirt in a “Duchampian” sense, “It didn’t land, and it was deeply offensive, violent, and dangerous.” Her statement was then singled out by West, who criticized it on Instagram to his 18 million followers, by sharing a picture of Karefa-Johnson, mocking her boots, and saying that “This is not a fashion person.”
In Karefa-Johnson’s defense
The now-deleted post, which has been widely regarded as bullying in its definition, was met with messages of outrage from some of the fashion industry’s biggest names. Part-Palestinian model Gigi Hadid was among the first to comment on one of West’s posts. “You wish u had a percentage of her intellect. You have no idea haha,” she wrote. “If there’s actually a point to any of your sh*t she might be the only person that could save u. As if the ‘honor’ of being invited to your show should keep someone from giving their opinion ..? Lol. You’re a bully and a joke.”
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In an official statement, Vogue US said, “Vogue stands with Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, our global fashion editor at large and longtime contributor. She was personally targeted and bullied. It is unacceptable. Now more than ever, voices like hers are needed and in a private meeting with Ye today she once again spoke her truth in a way she felt best, on her terms.” The private meeting referred to in the statement was also mentioned in another Instagram post made by West, in which he went on to call the editor “his sister”, adding that the conversation had been filmed by director Baz Luhrmann. “We apologized to each other for the way we made each other feel. We actually got along and have both experienced the fight for acceptance in a world that’s not our own,” he wrote.
For her part, Karefa-Johnson wrote on her Instagram stories that she was “exhausted,” but “so moved by and grateful for the outpouring of love I’ve received.” She added, “One thing about me: I will always speak my mind, and always try to honor my truth. My thoughts are my own, and I stand by them.” In another, recent post, the editor addressed the fatphobic comments she received following West’s post ridiculing her style. “I’ve fielded some serious volatility over the last couple days but nothing has been quite as bad as what people have said about my body and the way I look,” she wrote. “The fat phobia jumped out. Yes, I am fat. No, I am not humiliated to show up as my authentic self in the world.”
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The ongoing aftermath
After it seemed that the matter between West and Karefa-Johnson had been resolved, West went on to engage with other names from the industry who supported the editor. Among them was Hailey Bieber, whose message to Karefa-Johnson posted to her Instagram stories read, “My respect for you runs deep my friend! To know you is to adore you and to work with you is an honor. The most kind. The most talented. The most fun. The most chic.” Later, West posted a screenshot of a news headline about the model’s post, with a sarcastic caption mentioning her husband Justin Bieber: “Wait am I canceled again??? Justin please let me know.”
Another rant-like post from the rapper called out a number of people from the industry. “To the Arnaults that hire anybody that worked for me, remember my one T-shirt took allllll the attention,” it read, alongside once again criticizing Karefa-Johnson’s style by calling her boots “trash”, and finally, asking Justin Bieber to “get your girl before I get mad.”
West also rehashed the claim that he was not invited to the birthday party of his daughter Chicago, who he shares with Kim Kardashian. Linking it to the backlash on the T-shirt received from Gigi Hadid, DJ Venus X and more, the rapper wrote: “I wonder what Gigi and Venus’s perspectives were when I didn’t know where my child was on her birthday.” He added, “So why did everyone feel so free to attack me about my t-shirt but Candace Owens was the only public figure to say that it was wrong for the Kardashians to keep me from seeing my daughter.” Khloé Kardashian responded to this in a comment screenshotted and shared by West, in which she requested him to “stop tearing Kimberly down and using our family when you want to deflect.”
Other controversial posts made by West recently include a picture of Bella Hadid‘s highly talked-about spray-on Coperni dress which has been edited in a meme-like format to read “White Lives Matter”, with the caption: “Oh and I did a T shirt dress toooooooo good artist borrow great artist steeeeeal I’m the Louvre.”
In another, he shared his praise for British tabloid The Daily Mail, writing that it is “really fair and positive…I’m used to attacks from Hollywood actors so to get support for standing my ground is amazing.” These posts came after a picture of the infamous White Lives Matter shirt, with a statement: “Here’s my latest response when people ask me why I made a tee that says white lives matter…THEY DO.”