It was hard not to think back to the last time Kanye did something like this. But if 2016’s Life of Pablo, which debuted with a similar fashion-fueled fanfare at Madison Square Garden with instantly collectible T-shirts by Cali Thornhill Dewitt, sealed the next few years as the age of the blockbuster T-shirt in fashion, Gvasalia and West have signaled that we are now in the era of the puffer. Both figures treat the garment as emblematic of our moment. At one point, West picked up the comforter on the mattress and slipped it over his shoulders to reveal it was a floor length puffer, stalking around the stage like an unwelcome demon. Gvasalia’s couture show turned puffers into pinnacles of high fashion craftsmanship. And of course, West’s debut piece for the Gap is a puffer. Customers have gotten the memo. Just the day before the concert, former Gap CEO Mickey Drexler, who’s apparently a longtime West consigliere, said in an interview that West’s first Gap puffer drop racked up $7 million in sales overnight, which translates to roughly 35,000 puffers—or enough for almost everyone in the stadium that night. Conveniently, the red colorway West debuted at his last Atlanta listening event dropped at midnight. The preorder site is its own piece of internet art, requesting a bevy of sizing information and placing users in a “waiting room” to buy. (Gap CEO Mark Breitbard, cool and TV-handsome, praised West’s “obsessive, obsessive attention to detail,” while a rep for the brand added that the puffer, which ships in winter, feels “like butter.”)
The fashion show, Gvasalia knows, has always been theatre of the highest order, and he was in his element choreographing mobs of people around provocative sartorial statements. The album is a tribute to West’s mother, but this is also West’s divorce album. Earlier in the evening, his estranged wife Kim Kardashian West posted a photo of a bondage hood mask, zippers over the eyes and mouth, with a Balenciaga label—a his and hers couture gimp mask, a sweet if unusual show of support. But also a brilliantly uneasy explanation of their relationship: two people in a constant state of objectification, both submissives, a pair with no dominant. West put “DONDA” on a T-shirt with a cross embedded inside a pentagram—spicy stuff. And on a bulletproof vest, which he and his dancers took as a uniform: his adoring and adored mother’s name on the quintessential symbol of state-sponsored violence. It was a masterfully provocative use of fashion, something to turn over and over in your head, but ultimately resistant to a single interpretation. How does West think about protection and oppression, about maternal power, about the women in his life? In other words, the vest was a quintessential Gvasalia symbol.