“Let’s go back, back to the Gap,” Kanye West rapped on “Spaceship,” all the way back in 2004. Sixteen years later, that’s exactly what he’s doing: on Friday, West announced a partnership between his Yeezy line and the mass-appeal American retailer. A new Yeezy Gap line will appear in Gap stores and on Gap.com in 2021.
West’s fashion aspirations are no secret: for years, the planet’s most famous rapper famously struggled to be taken seriously as a designer, too. He spent much of the last decade working hard for that recognition, whether at the helm of his own short-lived womenswear brand, as a guest sneaker designer at Louis Vuitton and Nike, or with his own Yeezy line, where he’s been cranking out sweatsuits and sneakers in partnership with Adidas since early 2015. But it’s long seemed as if even a budding billion-dollar sneaker empire wouldn’t quite satisfy him—this is the guy who has long articulated a desire to design everything in a person’s life, to single-handedly elevate civilization’s taste level. A freestanding James Turrell dome for every family. Or, maybe, a line with an iconic California-gone-global brand: “I’d like to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap,” he told Style.com in 2015. Now, it seems, he’ll have that chance, or something like it.
The aim for Gap is clear: West represents a shot in the arm for the struggling retailer. The company furloughed some 80,000 employees this spring in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and beyond that has struggled to adapt to a retail environment that has claimed peers like J.Crew as victims. Kanye brings heat—whatever he does is news. More than that, the Gap is hoping he’ll drive sales, too. He’s done as much with sneakers—Yeezy was valued at more than $3 billion last year. And this is a big swing: the Times reports that the deal runs 10 years (with an out after five), with the Gap projecting sales of a billion dollars by the midpoint. Whether the clothes will look more like West’s dusty-hued Yeezy work or Gap’s khakified Americana is yet to be determined. West appeared to tease the gear—a little more colorful than what we’ve come to expect from his sandy Calabasas palette—in a tweet on Friday.
In recent years, as West retreated first to Calabasas and then to Wyoming, and as onetime employees and collaborators like Virgil Abloh and Matthew Williams climbed the high-fashion ranks, it seemed as if he was content to tend to his sneaker line, to grow it into the kind of massive operation seemingly half his wife Kim Kardashian West’s family oversees, whether makeup or underwear. But the Gap news signals something of a return to his earliest ambitions: to do nothing less than dress the entire world.