In a Charlamagne interview with Kanye West that took place on April 18, 2018 in his Calabasas home, the Chicago-born artist covered an array of topics, including music, his relationships, the impact of his wife, Kim Kardashian, being robbed in Paris, followed by his hospitalization in November 2016.
In the interview West revealed new details on his break with Nike, why he joined Adidas and how a collaboration with Louis Vuitton that fell through disrupted Yeezy apparel production.
He also provides the names of the people on the original Yeezy design team and why he has mixed feelings about Virgil Alboh landing at Louis Vuitton.
Interestingly, we have heard from multiple sources that Abloh originally planned to sign a deal with Adidas, but West allegedly wouldn’t allow it. In the interview, West alludes to the freeze out, stating, “If you’re really close to me, it’s just going to be my brand. So people who want to build their own brand actually need to be as far away from me as possible to get out of the shadow.”
On critical response to his Roosevelt Island fashion show: “Just two weeks before [Kim Kardashian was robbed in Paris,] I had done a fashion show. I was 45 minutes late and they LeBronned me. Like when Lebron went to Miami, and they just killed him and like burned his jersey and all that.
“I just done MSG, Young Thug on stage, and then go and plugging an iPhone with 16,000 people, everybody in the audience whoever you want to name, streaming, live, all this, a break through.
“Soon as I was 45 minutes late, I felt like it was the fashion community getting the right to say ‘nigger’ without saying it. To be like ‘Yo, we know you come through stepping on necks and all that and what you do in your approach to things and stuff, but if you get out of line, boy, we gonna roast you.'”
On how his hospitalization impacted Yeezy Season 5: “One of the things that was incredible when I got out of the hospital was, I had lost my confidence. Like and you could see it, that’s when they were saying sunken place and all that. And wow, I never had the empathy for people who lacked confidence. I had so much of it, I didn’t know what it was like to be without it. It just wasn’t Black Panther, Superman level confidence. It was placed into the simulation and shit; I could be completely like molded and controlled if that was the case. I wouldn’t speak up. Where I was when I got out of the hospital, even when I did the next fashion show, you know, it got all these good reviews…yeah, because I was less confident. It’s like, ‘There, there boy, this is exactly what we wanted.'”
On the original design team for Yeezy at Nike: “When I was at Nike, they weren’t willing to change anything. They…Phil Knight who I have the most respect for and I have respect for everyone at Nike, too. These guys, [CEO] Mark Parker–you know I just gotta speak out as a parent–you know, and apologize to this man for ever speaking ill on his name and his company. Because he gave me that shot. We did the original Yeezy at Nike. And he was there with me. I was on a plane with him, I was sketching and he said, ‘Look at this sketch, I’m gonna give this guy a chance. ‘ He put me next to Tinker Hatfield. And it’s me and Don C making the first Yeezy with Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker. That was the squad that made the original Yeezy.”
On Mark Parker providing his first design opportunity: “If Mark Parker hadn’t given me that moment. He helped turbo charge me, and the combination with Louis Vuitton. I had a Louis Vuitton sneaker and Nike sneaker come out at the same time. So, they helped turbo charge me.”
On why he left Nike: “I love Nike. I loved Nike; I have to put the “-ed” on it for stockholders. When I was younger, I used to sketch the Swoosh, everything, so it was heartbreaking for me to have to have to leave Nike, but they refused to allow me to get royalty on my shoe. And I knew I had the hottest shoe in the world. I knew Yeezy was the hottest brand in the world, but I couldn’t royalties. They said, ‘Look, you can get 5,000 shoes or 10,000 shoes and we’ll give some of the proceeds to your favorite charity. But it was nothing to build. Now we building factories. It wouldn’t let me build anything.
“My friend was at Chris’ house and he expressed to me that he had received a royalty because he was a store. And I’m Yeezy? And they wouldn’t give me a royalty? That was like the final straw.”
On why he went with Adidas: “I was talking to Puma and talking to Adidas…and the dude that didn’t sign me at Puma definitely needs to lose his job. I’m not gonna say his name, but…can you imagine? With that infrastructure and these ideas and this connection I have, it wasn’t no way it wasn’t going to be a unicorn. You know, Yeezy’s a unicorn. It’s a billion-dollar company. We were at $15 million two years ago and we’re going to hit a billion this year. It’s never, ever been heard of.”
On compensation: “If I really had some percentage that related to my influence, I’d be a multi-trillionaire.”
On Nike providing his associates with deals: “I made the decision and I left. And I went with someone who would allow me to build something. You know, I can call the CEO directly. I have his cell phone. Mark Parker wouldn’t get on the phone with me. They’d say things like, ‘I don’t know why people like the Yeezys.’ And the funny thing is, look at Nike now. Literally all the people who ever worked with me are like the hottest people at Nike now. Like they gave them the deals because we left and ripped their heads off.”
On Don C and Abloh going to Nike: “They got families bro. These corporations, they provide opportunities. If I’m not going to provide them the same opportunity, I’m not going to stand in their way either. A lot of times people like to ruin the space. When you get such a big corporation, you can build up your own brand next to it. If you’re really close to me, it’s just going to be my brand. So people who want to build their own brand actually need to be as far away from me as possible to get out of the shadow.”
On Abloh’s success in fashion: “It’s interesting how it all unfolds. And you feel different ways. There’s a lot of…there’s mixed emotions. This is my crew, my crew is working for Nike, killing it. You know, I want my crew next to me because when I get on the phone with Virgil, that’s my team, you know, he’s my, he’s like, the strategist. I’m like the emoter, like Tesla. Nicola Tesla, and I’m thinking of all these ideas and Virgil’s able to take all those ideas and architect them because he is an architect. Like he went to school for architecture.
On Donda’s influence: “But also this is great training. Like I heard Nike does stuff like sends people to business school but there still like at Nike. Like best believe, Don, Matt, Virgil, Jerry are still Donda at the end of the day. Louis Vuitton is still Donda at the end of the day.
On Abloh’s appointment at Louis Vuitton: “That’s like the Virgil situation, right? I feel like Barack’s brother a little bit. Remember when Barack’s brother was talking a little bit and he was like, ‘Shut up!’
“It’s complex with Louis Vuitton. You know as me and Virgil went and infiltrated fashion, which is what we did, we started to learn about it. I got this thing I’m going to tweet later that I wrote on my retreat that was uh…you know you look at this mountaintop and at the top of the mountain it’s all these tools for life. So, you proceed, you say, ‘I need these tools in order to win at life’ so you proceed to climb up the mountain, but you need tools in order to get up the mountain, you collecting tools and stuff, By the time you get to the top of the mountain, you have more tools than was at the top.
On Louis Vuitton and Gucci as platforms: “And that’s what I figured out about fashion. You know I talked to Virgil for an hour. I realized that the concept of luxury and all this, what did I love about Gucci, what did I love about Louis Vuitton? I loved Tom Ford. I love the artist. And Gucci created a platform for the artist. I love Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton created a platform for the artist. It’s a battle that y’all don’t know about.
“Francois Pinault, Bernard Arnault, Francois Pinault is Balenciaga and Gucci. Bernard Arnault is the richest person in fashion. This is the head of the LVMH Group. Like I’ve been to his house before. I’ve shaken hands to do a deal before with this man. And he’s one of my idols, just like Jay-Z. He’s cold. He made culture before there was culture. ‘Cause he set the platform before there was an internet, hire John Galliano from Saint Martens when he was a student, one of Louise xxx’s students, hire Marc Jacobs.
On Abloh as a graduate of the school of Donda: He had the vision. He is a visionary. He is one of my idols. I love Bernard. I feel his energy. He loves me also. So this is how it works. They have two main, main, main schools that have raised the fashion icons, Parsons in New York and St. Martens in London. Bernard I know and Pinault, that’s their recruitment camp. They go there. And now the break through with Virgil is now we have someone who comes from Donda, comes from the school of Kanye West. And I hear people talk about, ‘Aw, he didn’t go to school…’ Oh we went to school alright. We went to school. We was doing jpegs in Japan. And were making Photoshops so much and not making clothes, we started joking about the jpegs. Like, ‘Did you shrink my jpeg? Did you dye my jpeg?’ ‘Cause we couldn’t figure out how to actually make the clothes so we’d just do it in Photoshp. And Virgil became the fastest Photoshop artist that I’ve ever met in my life. We’d be sitting in a, you know, right before we went to Fendi, you know, just Photoshopping things.”
On interning at Fendi: “We interned at Fendi, but didn’t get to do shit, bro. We didn’t get to do nothing. I was just happy to have a key card.
On having mixed emotions on Abloh landing a job at Louis Vuitton: “What was the thing we said about the tools at the top of the moment. You know, in the process you gain all the tools. It’s the journey you gain everything you need. We have factories. There is some talk about validation. There is some validation in the fact that someone that I came up with is now the head of Louis Vuitton.
“And honestly, that was a slight. I shouldn’t have worded it like that. Virgil is the head of menswear. Nicolas Ghesquière is the head of womenswear, but Bernard Arnault is the head. So, I just want to word it straight up. Because every time we say head, it’s a little bit of slight to Nicolas and you know, Nicolas is the god, the best, top No. 1 designer in the world.
On whether Abloh told him in advance he got the job: “No, he made the call two minutes before the internet lol. No, no I was in Berlin with Rocky and he told me, he’s like, we’re looking at, I’m looking at Louis Vuitton, I’m looking at Versace. You know, he know like Ye, I’m wild. The fact that he had to work with me for ten years, it’s like, my reputation’s kinda like, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ or something like that so people are mindful in the way they give me information too. He wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to Louis Vuitton’ he was like, ‘I have Versace, I have…’ Then I showed him the season six campaign I showed him Paris Hilton and this and that, we about to drop this, and we was doing music with Rocky.
“But he knew he was going to Louis Vuitton at that time because he did System magazine. System magazine is an LVMH magazine and whenever they’re about to prep up a new talent, they put him on System magazine, just to kind of put it in the ethos. You know, this is who we going to put here.
On issues with getting Yeezy apparel produced: “As far as getting the job or taking the job, is it cool? Yea bro, it’s a cool job to have. They got that platform, they got thousands of stores, they got resources. You know I had met with Hermès, you know, maybe a year and a half prior to that. I met with Bernard Arnault, we had a deal on the table that we shook on. I did some performances at the museum and then three months later the deal got dropped at the board. And that set me back in apparel a bit when that happened.
Because in order to even negotiate the deal, this is after I did season one with Adidas, I had to go to Adidas and say, okay, I know we had the best fashion show and all this, but Louis Vuitton is going to back Yeezy and the Kanye West company and these guys are masters of clothes, I need you to indemnify the clothes and Adidas was like, alright cool, we’ll just do the shoes. So if you notice, ever since then, there’s never been Adidas Yeezy clothing.
“This happened right after the fashion show in February. I met with Bernard Arnault in February We shook our hands on the deal and then his son called me and they said, ‘It’s dropped at the board, we don’t think it’s going to be profitable before we run out of money.’ They only wanted to invest $30 million into, you need to invest at least $100 million when you’re making a new brand.
“So when they pulled on the deal as we went into season two, we didn’t have any production partner and the collection never went to market. The first collection with Adidas had line ups, and there was nothing to fall back on on the second collection due to that negotiation.
“So the hurtful part of it was they agreed to support my clothing and guess who was one of my designers? Virgil. Then they didn’t do the deal and….[Virgil] was doing Off-White. At that time we had, our designers were Virgil, Don, Jerry, Fear of God, Demna, Demna’s the head of Balenciaga. Demna was in the apartment, it was me, Virgil, Jerry, in this apartment, one by one making season one. I wore this big sweatshirt, Vetements, so people say Vetement, and then shortly after, and it’s not because I wore the sweatshirt, but, shortly after Demna went to Balenciaga and now Virgil is at Louis Vuitton.
“Transitions in life as a business owner, these things are hurtful when you’re working with a talent like Demna, you’re working with a talent like Virgil and somebody comes through and says, bam, Imma take Virgil, Imma gonna take culture.”
On why Abloh accepted a creative role with Louis Vuitton: “Because Off-White has five, ten stores, Louis Vuitton has two thousand stores. It’s like taking the job of the president. You see Trump’s name on all type of buildings but he still took the job as president.
“You have conversations these conversations about a creative director role for me at Adidas. It’s like, okay I got my brand, it’s this billion dollar brand, it’s a unicorn brand, it’s growing, but to be able to go and be able to direct Adidas in all those stores, it’s another conversation; I’d be open to the conversation of taking a job like that.”
On the impact of Abloh designing for Louis Vuitton: “The price of Off-White went up as soon as he went to Louis Vuitton. Not the price, but the value of it. The validation of it. Louis Vuitton is the…You know Hermès is really the top luxury house. Anyone who knows about luxury, Bernard will say Hermès is the top luxury house, family owned, all that.
On why people are attracted to luxury brands: “Because our cape got taken away when we was three-years old. We broken. We in the simulation. We want our BMW. We want our house. We want to pay all our money for the house. We want to buy this dress for our wife. We want to do this, we want to get our kids in school. We want this championship trophy. We want this jewelry. We want all these different things.
“We not monks, we in the simulation. We in it. I can’t talk nobody out of wearing Gucci. This is me, I had to come out the other side of the hospital and have a Russell sweatshirt on or something like that. It’s me, people be calling me homeless all the time, but this is my confidence where I don’t wear branding like that, and don’t put words but also I’m Ye.
“But everyone, they have to have that confidence. When I see branding I see insecurity, and I see people buying security, buying it back through a brand. You know protection, a badge. Don’t mess with me in high school, I got Supreme on.”
On goals for Yeezy: “Just to put the agenda for a second with Yeezy and what we’re doing out is, our mission and what we fought for is to take the best talents in the world and land that price point, which we haven’t done yet. But that’s what’s interesting about this interview. You get to see the steps. When you see early Jeff Bezos, you don’t know it’s going to be Jeff Bezos, you know he’s standing in front of a warehouse.
We’re not interested in the concept of high fashion. You know, the concept of luxury, I’m changing the idea of luxury. I think luxury is space, I think luxury is time. Friends are a luxury. Getting your vision out is a luxury. The ability to afford something is the luxury, not to not be able to afford it. To go in and be like, ‘Oh I can afford this.’ That’s the luxury.
“And that’s the thing we had to crack the code. The reason why we went into fashion wasn’t to stay there or be there or just do cool, high-price stuff. It was actually to take the “HSP,” highly sensitve people, that usually end up in a fashion house and bring them to some place where they can consistently connect with the public.
“Yeezy eventually will be closer to like a relief company; if there’s like a disaster, we’re going to dress, we’re going to bring clothes and water. You know, the same design perspective that can sell a $300 t-shirt, we’re going to just give it and eventually that’s who we’ll be. You’ll look up five, ten years from now and Yeezy will be the biggest service provider of apparel. And one by one, every year, we’re going to take one, two, three, ten people that would’ve normally ended up in a fashion house or went to Nike or went to other places and we’re going to Calabasas. We’re building factories.
On whether he would accept a role with a fashion label: “I am in too good of a position to take a job where I have to be away from my wife, and my son and daughters. That just don’t make no sense. For what? Family is your most important currency. I got a cousin that live in Florida I flew out there. I’m trying to get as much family out here as possible. That’s why Kim won’t end up in a hospital. She got her family close.”