Kanye West and Kyrie Irving. The first one is a music icon who has not just been a testimonial for fashion but a protagonist. The second is an NBA star who has associated his name with Nike. Both have seen their role in society and the fashion system, built up over the years, crumble in a short time. Because inclusivity does not allow ‘headshots’, let alone messages of hate…
There is no fatality, and there is no whim of the system. Of the ruinous falls of Kanye West and Kyrie Irving, it is not the why but the how that must strike one. There is little to discuss the reasons: both of them, in their own way (the singer with a progressive but irreversible derailment towards causticity, the basketball player with a single, but inauspicious, public sortie), have placed themselves on the margins of public debate.
They have, that is, marginalised themselves: because fashion speaks a universal language and cannot contemplate in its ranks those who, instead, launch messages that raise fences. There is a lesson to be learned on the modalities. Because West and Irving are not two banal brand ambassadors, two celebrities exploited when they were convenient and rejected when they became inconvenient. West and Irving are personalities who have built their role in fashion over the years and lost it in a matter of days.
The time of a post
Let us start with the case of Irving. Class of ’92, a basketball player and son of the art, he has been playing in the NBA since 2011 and with the Brooklyn Nets since 2019. He won gold at the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 World Cup with the US national team. And, what interests us most here, by virtue of his being a star, he not only boasts a rich sponsorship contract with Nike ($11 million a year, according to the news), but he has also given Nike his name for a line of game footwear (not at the level of Michael Jordan, who with the Airs became a brand himself, but almost).
Well, everything is off: the contract with Nike (expiring in October 2023) and the imminent public launch of the Irving 8. As well as the centrality in the Nets, who put him out of the team for five games. Why? Last October, the basketball player not only shared a film on social media that was controversial, to say the least, because it was anti-Semitic, Holocaust denier, and conspiratorial. But he tried to defend his position. Irving, known to be a ‘free-thinker’ (or a hothead, whatever), realised his mistake too late. And attempts to rectify it, such as the (rejected) donation of $500,000 to the Anti-Defamation League, did not help him rehabilitate himself.
The case of Kanye West is certainly different. Because the rapper, who has admitted to suffering from bipolar, has a long history as an (unhinged) cultural agitator. His divorce from Kim Kardashian and the change of his surname to Ye in 2021 is only the most superficial aspects. The scrappy candidacy for the presidency of the States announced in 2015 and withdrawn in 2020 after receiving 0.1 percent in the first 12 states where voting took place gives a better measure of this. But it was never the electoral sorties (including support for Trump) that were the issue.
The issue is that over the years West has supported controversial positions on guns, abortion, and HIV, to name a few. Everything has a limit, though, even for personalities who build careers on limits. When West asserted his anti-Semitic views last October, he saw his own position in fashion crumble like a house of cards. One after the other, Adidas (at the cost of crushing Yeezey), Gap, and Balenciaga broke off relations with him.
It is not so much a matter of deducing a moral from the two events. But of recognise in them a rule of the market. The public debate, the one that from social media reaches the traditional media and through these is refracted in everyday conversations, is permeated by ‘polarising’ messages. Because in many spheres, politics, above all, polarisation works: dividing public opinion with polarising statements means presiding over the debate, alienating one section of society but binding another to it.
An activity that fashion, inclusive of the mission, do not tolerate from the point of view of values and does not find help from the commercial one. Fashion is universal and admits no exceptions. It matters little how entrenched, valid or influential those who go down the path of hate speech, as the British call it: if they cross certain boundaries, they will be expelled from the business.