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Kanye West’s Monster Fashion

The rapper’s dapper duds and out-there looks

kanye west givenchy

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The recently unveiled Watch The Throne artwork for West's collaboration with Jay-Z comes courtesy of Givenchy design magus, Riccardo Tisci, whose bold sense of composition and evocation of the Gothic perfectly complements both rappers' flair for the dramatic and "sacred." But Kanye's been a long-time Tisci devotee, praising the designer in the media, on his blog, and representing his wares on the stage. Last year, he attracted buzz by donning Givenchy's "Jesus Is Lord" tee in concert at MTV's European Music Awards, an act that proved that 'Ye answers to no one  – except those who he hails as higher powers. In this case, we're confident that includes Tisci.

By Colleen Nika

kanye west coachella

Tim Mosenfelder/WireImage

Soaring Above Coachella In Celine

West's Coachella 2011 performance was an unforgettable tour de force that included everything from gravity-mocking stunts on cranes to the rapper sporting a billowing, instantly recognizable blouse from Parisian label Celine. A few fans sneered and offered a low-level "cross-dresser" mots, but the true style intelligentsia understood the brilliance of this sartorial maneuver. Why would Kanye address boundaries like gender dress codes? If anything, the colorful, "ethnic" printed shirt suited him better than any of the model's on Celine's runway. Besides – Phoebe Philo, the label's design director, and the rapper already share a special rapport. West has even lyrically immortalized her in his song "Dark Fantasy," and presented her with a CFDA award. She's a contemporary design pioneer; he's a forward-thinking man. What's not to love? Let the thoroughly modern union commence.

kanye west

Videostill courtesy Youtube.com

Biting Diamonds

Controversy surrounded West's unveiling of his diamond and gold teeth on the Ellen DeGeneres show in 2010. "Did he ruin his teeth? Why not just get a grill, like other rappers?," Ellen (and the world) wondered. West replied with a shrug: "I just thought they were cooler." He let his mouth do the talking in the video for the Nicki Minaj-fueled anthem, "Monster," a clip that polarized audiences as much as his teeth. As for copycat artists, this time there were none; West has them beat, ensuring he really is the most hardcore aesthetician in pop (apologies, Lady Gaga).

kanye west

Videostill courtesy VEVO.com

Black, White, and Lim All Over

In 2010, West's "Runaway" drew the lionshare of its attention from the fact the eight-minute clip was a more akin to a ballet production than a typical rap video. But amid the sea of tutus, West was sporting his own dapper new look, courtesy of New York designer Philip Lim. The black and white suit was discreet and elegant, complentary to the contemplative effect "Runaway" itself has on its listeners. If Philip Lim wasn't a go-to name in the hip-hop fashion community before, his profile among the urban elite certain skyrocketed upon this video's well-publicized release.

kanye west red mtv

Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Seeing Red

As part of My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy's early promotional campaign, West performed a series of shows in eyecatching ensembles, most prolifically at 2010's MTV Video Music Awards, where he knocked out a heart-rendering version of "Runaway" in a head-to-toe infrared suit and matching Louis Vuitton sneakers. Though skeptics questioned the boldly saturated ensemble at the time, other performers were soon following suit – literally.

Videostill courtesy VEVO.com

Among Pharaohs And Other Great Powers

There's no question that power, in its various constucts, is extremely important to West's identity as a human being and generation-defining artist. In the 2010 Marco Brambilla-directed video for the song titled in honor of that very premise, the rapper explores "power" visually, conveying it through a series of mesmerizing Egyptian-themed vignettes. As occult-tinged visuals referencing everything from Isis and Hathor to Greek Mythology play out, West remains in command as his own true pharaoh, looking intensely into the camera, a golden eye of Horus necklace symbolically festooned around his neck. The message is clear: history rises and falls, but West is an institution for the ages.

kanye west

Willy Vanderperre

He Fades To Gray

With 808s & Heartbreak, West made an unexpectedly sorrowful and poignant statement about loss, love unrequited, maturity, and compromise – in other words, it was his true bildungsroman, set to poetically sparse polyrhythms. To suit his newly sober and grown up visage, Kanye constructed an appropriately sophisticated and demure look. Incidentally, his gray checked suit, spectacles, and customized Marc Jacobs heartbreak pin have gone onto become arguably his most iconic  – and perpetuating – style statement to date, proving displays of sincerity and simplicity can immortalize an icon's image as much as shock and awe.

kanye west white

Videostill courtesy VEVO.com

Austerity Measures

West is fond of monochromatic statements  — lately, red has been his thing. But in 2008, he was projecting a clean-cut, angelic look in all white tuxes and suits. Memorably clad in an ivory suit (in a room to match) for his minimalist opus "Love Lockdown" (which Time voted video of the year in '08), the rapper created an alluring tension between American Psycho's visual austerity  and feral desire, expressed by African dancers armed with djembe drums.

kanye west

Videostill courtesy VEVO.com

Robo Aesthetics With Rick Owens & Balmain

With his robo warrior shutter shades making a scene-stealing statement, West made sure the rest of his wardrobe for 2007's "Stronger" clip also moved exclusively in one direction: forward. In a sharply cut Rick Owens jacket and metallic Balmain jeans, the rapper was careful to align himself  with designers and labels whose progressive visions paralleled his own. Ever since, he's been spotted wearing ensembles straight off the Owens and Balmain catwalks, keeping his personal style a few riveting steps beyond more standard red carpet apparel.

kanye west shades

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Shades of the Future

When Kanye West collaborated with Daft Punk in 2007, there was no cooler way to announce his arrival as rap's great futurist than to craft an engaging visual just as ahead of the curve as his new genre-expanding productions. The infamous Alain Mikli shutter shades he adopted as part of that look were featured first in the groundbreaking "Stronger" video, and became red carpet staples soon after. They not only conveyed his new techno optimism perfectly, they spawned a million knockoffs: everyone from other admiring pop stars to Chinatown merchants were soon proffering a pair.