How Kim taught Kanye to be better than Balenciaga

Words by Bianca O'Neill

Illustration by Twylamae

Their relationship has come full circle.

In the wake of the Kylie Jenner pregnancy announcement and all the associated media craziness that comes with it, at least one thing is clear: the women of the Kardashian-Jenner clan have their social media strategy on lock.

And although Gucci has overtaken Balenciaga as the hottest brand in the world due to Demna’s innate ability to court a catchy headline, it was Kanye who captured our attention last week with one of the most innovative clothing campaigns I’ve seen in years.

The link between these two seemingly unrelated instances? Kim Kardashian.

It is true that for one hot minute, Kim’s ‘style transformation’ was solely attributed to her rapper-turned-designer hubby – but in the last few months, I’ve started to think that relationship has come full circle. After using his wife for a guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the upcoming Yeezy Season 6, he has now broken the internet with Kim lookalikes – well, until the aforementioned Kylie news, that is.

Let’s take a look at this brilliant campaign.

The obsession with celebrity style has reached dizzying heights in the last decade – something that itself fuelled Kardashian’s rise to fame. Further, the obsession with what celebrities are wearing while doing the most mundane things – shopping at a wholefoods store, popping into Starbucks – has perpetuated itself due to the rise of Instagram, and the immediacy of image sharing.

Now you can emulate your favourite celebrity (or, let’s be honest, Kardashian-Jenner) in all aspects of your life – not just dressing for the red carpet or a special occasion. You, too, can wear the exact track pants that Kim wore to Walmart, while you yourself go to Walmart, just days later. And people do.

Kanye has touched on this media obsession with his extended family in previous collections before; Kendall Jenner wearing a pair of Yeezy Boosts will make headlines across the internet, without a single marketing dollar being spent. And beyond that, it makes those sneakers coveted.

This time around, however, Ye took this idea into guerrilla territory, recreating these utterly mundane paparazzi shots and inserting his clothing into the narrative. The previously unseen pieces of clothing were shot in the photographic style of oh-so-many Daily Mail articles (“Kim gets yoghurt in see-through top!”), and delivered dead-pan on Kardashian’s Instagram account, captioned with “Getting gas” and “Errands run”.

The pictures circulated the globe – some picked up in celebrity rags as genuine pap shots, and others astutely noting the pre-promotion of a new collection that no one had seen until now.

But that was only Act 1.

Last week, Ye let social media do the talking for him, enlisting Paris Hilton and a series of other influencers to recreate the recreations – and post their Kim lookalike selfies to Instagram.

Paris, who famously stated she ‘created Kim Kardashian’, was now emulating her protégé – someone who has now eclipsed Paris’ following ten-fold on Instagram. And promoting Yeezy Season 6 while she was at it.

The coverage came thick and fast, without so much as a mutter from Kanye himself. Of course, the rapper had deleted his Instagram and Twitter accounts mid-last year – but that doesn’t mean he has lost any understanding of how it all works.

Kanye is controlling the narrative now – and not letting it control him. The news articles surrounding his emotional outbursts have stopped, and replacing them has been calm silence, followed by astute guerrilla social marketing plays via his wife and muse.

Kim, on the other hand, has always closely controlled her public image (that’s what producing your own ‘reality’ tv show affords you, editing control). Now she is using the one thing she doesn’t control – the paparazzi – to flip the narrative.

Together they are harnessing the obsessive, aspirational fandom, subverting the voyeuristic gaze – and they’re using you (and everyone around you) to achieve their own ends. Selling a bunch of nude-coloured sports bras is merely the end result, the financial transaction.

And after a long year of discussion about fakes and copies and unoriginal ideas, West is truly changing the game in a way that Balenciaga never could. Sure, Demna can put jewels on Crocs and sell them for $1500, but could he get Kim to seamlessly absorb them into her daily public narrative to make us consider bike pants as work-appropriate clothing?

Not on your life.

Follow Bianca’s writing at @_thesecondrow, and her podcast at @thefashionpodcast.

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