Does Kanye West love anything more than a stage and having an award to accept? Just days away from the birth of his second child, the musician, producer and designer appeared at the 29th annual Footwear News Achievement Awards in New York to accept the "Shoe of the Year" for the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 — a style so popular that "Retailer of the Year" winner My Theresa was hacked by people trying to get their hands on it (according to Buying Director Justin O'Shea).
West was the last speaker at an event filled with big names in "shoedom" and beyond, including fellow honorees Alexa Chung, Prabal Gurung and Edgardo Osorio of Aquazzura. Presenters included Phillip Lim, Sugar Ray Leonard and Fergie.
In his acceptance speech, West thanked those who have helped him grow as a designer — namely Giuseppe Zanotti and the teams at both Fendi and Louis Vuitton — and reaffirmed his passion for great design that makes money. Specifically, enough money to buy him a private jet and a shabby chic Hamptons house that would make Calvin Klein jealous. Though he's aware of his infamous, rambling speechmaking style, he still decided not to plan anything out; he even made the Adidas Originals executives on stage sweat a little by revealing his project's budget for hiring a design team ($500,000, so West complemented it with his own money).
The designer also touched on his years in "exile" after the Taylor Swift incident when he first struggled to gain entrance into the fashion industry. But Wednesday night's Kanye West was a happy one, full of pride and appreciation for the career he's been able to build and the people who have helped him — most importantly, the folks at Adidas who "saved his life." Read on for a full (and very long) transcript.
"It's cool to be up here with the three people that I've screamed at the most in the past year. I bet you're thinking, where's my suit jacket? But if my wife's not here, no suit jacket. I have absolutely no plans for what I'm going to say, so this could land completely wrong. But it doesn't really fucking matter, does it? If you don't like 10 minute profanity-ridden speeches that end with a presidential bid, you can go to the bathroom.
"So you know it's cool I think it really brought me back, bumping into Phillip Lim right when I walked in because he definitely remembers that kid that was coming back from another major award show moment of mine, working on a new album, you know trying to find, carve his way back into America, back into society. And I would come by his studio and play him songs and I'd see fabrics he was working with and ask him to take this girls' suit jacket and turn it into a guys' suit jacket or something. And I actually wore it in the scene in 'Runaway,' if anybody's ever seen 'Runaway' — you know, standing on top of the piano — Phillip custom-made that for me.
"And after the infamous Taylor Swift moment, I sort of did a little self-exile, just to get away from paparazzi, have people not just fucking with me constantly. And the first thing I did was I went to Japan and it was me and Virgil Abloh, who has the brand Off-White. And we sat there and just sat on the computer every day with this idea of design and we designed on the computer so much we started to joke like, 'Hey, did you watch my jpeg?' Because it never got past the computer screen. And I remember doing all these Fendi ideas because I was friends with Michael Burke [then CEO of Fendi] and he said I could move to Rome for a little bit and I did that. And me and Virgil went out there and I didn't have a phone and he was like, you know if you wanted to contact me, you had to call the hotel or call Virgil. And we would go in the office and put our little designs up on the wall and our mood boards. So basically as I talk it's a mood board. That's my new style with speeches, it's very unorthodox, it's vibes. You know, you guys are designers, you can put it all together at the end of the night. Or just feel free to talk shit. It's good to have someone to talk shit about. You know everyone is like I just don’t want people to talk shit about me. I don't give a fuck.
"So we were there at Fendi and we were putting together ideas and I didn't realize right then, right before that, they had taken Silvia [Venturini Fendi] off of [designing] men's and then they went and hired out one of those licensing companies or something that just sews the F's on the back of the jeans. And I'm over there trying to give these guys what I considered to be real ideas and forward ideas and the creative director — you cannot believe. This guy really thought he was like Raf [Simons]. He had this one like little room with some vintage samples and had some people on the computer making the most shit ideas you've ever seen. And it was just to fill up the stores because Silvia was no longer the men's [designer] and, you know, we played loud music in the office and ended up getting kicked out and stuff.
"And I went to Hawaii and took all the creative energy that I wanted to express and put it into an album called 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.' But at the same time, we would still design and it was a company that I was working with at that time [Nike] — that I won't use their name — but they would come down. We were working on our second shoe and I would have these stacks and stacks of manga magazines and architectural magazines and just fashion magazines, trying to soak in as much information... we're playing like [Stanely] Kubrick and [Alejandro] Jodorowsky on the screen, and we have all these rules about what people can do in the studio. And I'm constantly concerned about what I'm wearing but it's hard to really get fresh in Hawaii because you can't like layer up and everything.
"We end up dropping 'Dark Fantasy' and me and Jay Z come up with this idea to do a mix tape and that turns into a group album, which turned into 'Watch the Throne.' And I remember always going back to the fashion shows, not because I wanted to be seen in some really expensive rapper jacket that I just bought, it was because I cared so much about seeing the artist express themselves to the maximum, seeing their complete vision. If it's 60 looks, if it's 80 looks, I want to see, I want to be at that show. I was at the [spring 2008 Alexander] McQueen show that he dedicated to his muse [Isabella Blow] that had the wings and everything. I snuck in, they didn't let me in because I was a celebrity and he was kind of disappointed when he saw me, like I thought I said no celebrities [inaudble]. And I remember Jay Z texted me, he said get off the runway, it's kind of rude and stuff because we had the album to finish. So I was like, I'm not leaving, like Leo [DiCaprio] said [in 'Wolf of Wall Street'], I'm not fucking leaving. And so we brought all the ni**as to Paris and made a song about it.
"And you know people would always, they'd say, why do you love fashion so much why don’t you love music? And one of my best songs came from the pursuit of another creative art form. I know you guys say like 'celebrity branding,' this guy is like breaking the Internet, it's happening like one moment. And I think about that all the time, I think the only thing is to combat that with really good design, really honest, hard and forward thoughts. And I made a decision in art school after really falling in love with this Mobb Deep album that I would pursue sonics as my first form of art school, for my time here on earth. And then I would pursue other forms of art. So when we've been holed up with Nick [Galway, VP of Global Design] who's out in China right now working on the next pieces, Nick and Jeff... and Nick Galway is like the number one designer — there's other good designers at Adidas but he's like the man over there — he's in China right now working on the next one. But we'd take the shoe and we'd talk about how comfortable we wanted to make it, we wanted to make it look more sculptural, we’d bring in all these references and I'd really give him a really, really hard time. I'm never satisfied.
"Do you guys remember when I got into it with Jimmy Kimmel? Because he was mocking on my things when I was talking about how much I like product? I was really serious about that, I am not turning into a nice guy about that. I care about product. I don't care if I got a kid, a wife, you know, the hills with the picket fence, I'm serious about product. I'm dead serious [about] what I create as an artist in this lifetime while I'm here. It's not a fucking joke, it's not a question for the paparazzi, it's not some random hate comment on the eighth Hypebeast comment. It's not some whatever they say, go home or what they've been screaming for the past six years. It's about appreciating excellence, understanding and being involved in bringing joy. And I'm not saying I've made perfect things or given perfect speeches or not wasted you guys's time while you're tired as hell, talking you to death. It's something inside, it's a spark that I want to bring joy. And just like when my daughter is singing and jumping around, she might not be finishing her sentences perfectly, but she's bringing so much joy. And I know that she's going to grow up and be amazing. So it's like you can see a spark in the pieces that I do, that one day they can grow up and be amazing.
"Oh, I have to point out because I'm going to have to talk about how Jon [Wexler, Global Director of Entertainment and Influencer Marketing, Adidas Originals] basically saved my life. Jon Wexler, this guy here, understood culture from Chicago, understood J Dilla, heard all the albums. When you guys go out and get somebody to work with your company, get somebody who knows about the person that they're talking to, a guy that's got some real backstory. Get the right person to go get the right person. I remember, because I have to talk about [Giuseppe] Zanotti also, I'm trying to remember these points because I'll be mad in the car if like I rambled on and on and missed my main vibes and didn't put them all on the mood board that I'm giving you guys right now.
"So I'm in my baby mama's mama's pool house and I'm talking to Jon and I'm just like... Yo, as a creative, it doesn't matter how big the house is, how big the name is, how much money you have, your job is to create while you're here and if anyone is in the way of that, anything gets in the way of that, anything's stopping that or slowing it down, you've got to burn it to the fucking ground. You have to die — this is me talking right now, I'm not giving you any suggestions —you have to die for what is in you, because that thing might inspire something. That shoe might be a shoe that a seven year old manages to get his hands on that's going to cure cancer or cure AIDS in the future because he was so inspired by what Kubrick made or what Jodo made or what Steve Jobs made or what David Stern put together or something.
"And I said, 'Jon, it's important, you have to save my life, I'm not creating, I'm not getting out my stuff and it's affecting my music, it's affecting my relationship, it's affecting everything. Because I'm waking up in cold sweats every night being like I want to fucking draw shoes.' And it doesn't matter if someone thinks that I’m supposed to be doing something that's more important. In that respect, I got kicked out a class in fourth grade to draw shoes and [Adidas] gave me the opportunity to, especially this first run, to make them how I wanted to make them. They didn't say, you've got to make the logo four times bigger than the shoe and blah blah blah. They're like, just make what you're feeling. They allowed me to be me, they allowed me express myself. The contract said 25 SKU's in the clothing collection. I was supposed to do a fashion show with 25 SKU's. I don’t know how that was supposed to happen. And the original talent budget was $500,000 and I don't know how I'm supposed to put a design team together for that, but luckily I was a multimillionaire rapper and I covered the rest of it. [crowd laughs] I hooked you guys up, you know.
"So when I was at Fendi and Michael Burke had me and Virgil at Fendi, we visited Stockholm on the weekends, that was in my single days. It was fun, it wasn't too bad. And it wasn't as miserable an experience as some might think. My exile was pretty fun. What does Kanye do when he pisses every white person off in the planet? He goes to Stockholm and dances with more white people!
"And so [Giuseppe] Zanotti had come to a concert of mine that I did for G-Shock. Giuseppe Zanotti, who's really into it and started listening to the music, and I came by his office, the one that's down here and we vibed out, really. Like he likes to embrace artists and creative people and he let me stay in his castle, as he put it, you want to drive to the castle? And he'd let me learn. Do you know how much fucking money I wasted of his doing sample after sample learning how to put shoes together, right there in that Zanotti factory, boot after boot after shoe, any and every idea I could possibly do. I even did a bag, I had this snakeskin bag I used to walk around with, you remember that bag? [points to someone in audience] Zanotti made it, he makes some cool bags.
"But he let me just do everything I could think of, including the bone bead shoes that were in my first amazingly slammed-to-death fashion show in Paris and stuff. And the one item that came out it was the bone bead shoes. They cost $6,000 and they sold out. But when I saw the name Kanye West on a high heel, I knew a piece of that wall, that ceiling, that invisible glass was broken. Everyone was like, 'What do you mean a rapper, what are you talking about, you can't make a high heel.' That $6000 shoe sold out. And me and Zanotti have been really good friends and he was very crucial to my creative process to develop my ideas.
"Also Louis Vuitton that allowed me to do that one collaboration. It's like, you know me, with the 25 SKU's, I'll take a collaboration and do it like a fashion show with everybody in the front row and all that. And the company in between I won't mention, that I've been very angry with in the past. But also they really were helpful to helping me launch the name Yeezy as a shoe name, because now its a serous contender in the shoe market. People compare it to Brand Jordan in the sense that it has that potential to be something, and I'm waiting on my son to arrive any day now. And I look at my daughter and I look at my wife and she's rich and I’m not planning on being broke. I'm so, so focused in creating all those things that back up every time I scream on stage, every time I did the absolute wrong thing, every time I made a mistake.
"You know like when you went to the shoe place and said I want to put this on that [referencing Robert Greenberg's acceptance speech earlier]. I look at you guys and like — raise your hand if you've got a private plane. Don't be embarrassed. There's definitely some people with some private planes tonight. I know that's not like the thing about, but it's real, man. So many people just end up being the face of something, just doing a one-off commercial, just doing that and the guys that hired them got the private jet! I want to be one of those guys. I'm going to be one of those guys. At that point I can do more, at that point I can then go and — this is probably all going to go downhill from here, I think the plane, I'll land it like that.
"But it's very serious, we are here to make amazing product that we love that also sells. That makes money. We really like nice things, everyone likes nice things in here. I love nice things. I want a house equal or better than Calvin Klein's house in the Hamptons. I saw it, he bleached the [inaudible] chairs, he's got the plain windows and stuff, the shabby chic. I want that thing.
"I don't know how to turn this into something that's helpful. My publicist is here, clean this up right when I get off stage. [crowd laughs]
"But that's just some moods and vibes, but nonetheless the ability to know that I can create more and more and more while I'm here, in this time, and not to be held to one discipline and to open up these disciplines and have those same people that kind of walked and looked at you while you were eating at the Mercer and said, "This guy, trying with fashion again." And then look up and it's like, oh yeah, sold out at Barneys! And I'm not trying to rub it in, but yes I fucking am! But yeah, they treat me like shit pretty much. I'm trying to take a full Will Ferrell-level drunk brother at the wedding [approach]. Have a reached that level yet? [audience applauds]
"Here's to fucking everything up! And to Arthur [Hoeld, General Manager, Adidas Originals] and Rachel [Muscat, Global Collaborations Director, Adidas Originals], my amazing partners at Adidas, thank you."
Homepage photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Matches Fashion won retailer of the year; the winner was My Theresa.