Kanye West, who returned to the runway with a new Yeezy collection after a three-year absence in March, is expanding his fashion interests. The music superstar and billionaire mogul has teamed up with Gap to create a new line, the first product of which is a clever bit of branding featuring the chain store’s unmistakable navy blue box, slightly disrupted and with its three-letter logo replaced by YZY.
The blockbuster partnership unites an iconic, but struggling American retailer—Gap’s parent company recorded a nearly $1 billion second quarter loss amid the COVID-19 pandemic—with American fashion’s busiest empire builder. Forbes estimated that in 2019 West would have received royalties of over $140 million from sales of Yeezy shoes, which are produced and sold by Adidas. According to the magazine, that makes his stake worth $1.4 billion. Also, earlier this month, West filed a trademark for Yeezy Beauty.
This is a merger with undeniable synergies. Since its 1969 beginning, Gap has specialized in the sportswear fundamentals—sweaters, sweatshirts, cargo pants—that West has riffed on from the earliest Yeezy collections. Though his shows are spectacles—who can forget the Madison Square Garden The Life of Pablo listening party?—West uses the rather humble term of “apparel” to describe the line. “I’m not saying that this is a fashion proposition,” he told Vogue in 2016. “I’m saying that this is a human proposition.”
In fact, West worked in a Gap store as a Chicago teenager in the brand’s ’90s heyday, and he’s made his affection for and ambitions around the all-American company well-known. “I’d like to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap,” he told Style.com in 2015. “I’m not talking about a capsule. I’m talking about full Hedi Slimane creative control of the Gap.” (Of course, he’s also said, “My dream is to at least just for a couple of years be the creative director of Hermès.”)
In partnership, West and Gap will create a new Yeezy Gap offering. As the press release explains it, “under West’s creative direction, the Yeezy design studio will develop the new line to deliver modern, elevated basics for men, women, and kids at accessible price points.” (West will continue to produce the higher price point Yeezy collections independently.) Eventually, West will have a hand in in-store concepts and the design of the company’s e-commerce site.
“We are excited to welcome Kanye back to the Gap family as a creative visionary, building on the aesthetic and success of his Yeezy brand and together defining a next-level retail partnership,” Mark Breitbard, global head of Gap Brands, said in the release. Earlier this year, Gap announced a collaboration with Telfar Clemens and in the past it’s hooked up Heron Preston, Balmain, and Stella McCartney on a popular children’s offering. Yeezy Gap is different; it is said to be a 10-year deal.
West’s collaborators Virgil Abloh and Matthew Williams have risen up the ranks of luxury fashion, at Louis Vuitton and Givenchy respectively, but this project is much more democratic with the potential to reach many more people. Hypebeasts chronicle every new Yeezy Boost with religious fervor, and West’s Sunday Service was declared “the” event of Paris Fashion Week by many. Then there’s the fact that in a COVID-19 world, the “accessible price points” that Yeezy Gap promises hold renewed and vital appeal. If anyone can reverse the fortunes of the 51-year-old retail chain, it could be Kanye West—just picture the lines outside the stores for the Yeezy Gap drops.
The terms of the partnership would seem to indicate each party’s confidence in the other. The release explains: “Gap and Yeezy benefit as the business grows, with Yeezy receiving royalties and potential equity related to sales achievement.” The collection will arrive in Gap stores and online in 2021.