Ye Followed a NYC Fashion Darling on Instagram. What Does It Mean?

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This is an edition of the newsletter Show Notes, in which Samuel Hine reports from the front row of the global fashion week circuit. Sign up here to get it in your inbox.

Early last week, Kanye “Ye” West doubled the number of accounts he followed on Instagram. Where before he followed exactly one person (his Vultures 1 co-pilot Ty Dolla $ign), on Monday Ye added a second person to his feed: downtown fashion star Sandy Liang.

Their eagle-eyed (and chronically online) followers noticed immediately. “Kanye only following Ty dolla sign and sandy liang on ig is actually insane…….” wrote one observer on X, hinting at the bizarre convergence between the cultural lightning rod and fashion’s premier purveyor of coquettish bows and cute peter pan collar dresses. “Rare Kanye W,” added another. On the profile of Liang’s eponymous brand, Ye’s 20-million-plus followers started making noise: “Ye sent me,” “followed by kanye,” and on and on. In a week where there was no shortage of headline fashion news—courtesy of Dries Van Noten’s retirement and the Pierpaolo Piccioli and Valentino split—the whole thing was merely an inexplicable footnote.

It was, in other words, the perfect weird, low stakes thing fashion people love speculating about.

As the tweets and comments multiplied, a couple theories hit my group chats. One was that the rapper, designer, and provocateur was hinting at a forthcoming project with Liang. After all, he followed Ty $ to promote their just-dropped joint album. Was Ye cooking up a fashion collab with the Chinatown native and belle of balletcore? Crazier things have happened (I think?), but for many reasons this theory struck me as totally unlikely. It did, however, get me thinking about Ye’s broader fashion comeback, which is totally happening.

First, to state what should be obvious: Sandy Liang is not collaborating with Ye or Yeezy. But the speculation alone speaks to the impact of Ye’s redemption tour. Before his downfall in the fall of 2022, which happened slowly and then all at once following his infamous “White Lives Matter” Yeezy show and repeated antisemitic outbursts, Ye was riding higher than ever. His Yeezy partnership with Adidas was worth billions, and defined the aesthetic of contemporary footwear. He was working with Gap to realize his vision of making his designs accessible to the general public, and was collaborating with his favorite luxury house, Balenciaga. He finally had the establishment validation he’d long craved, with major commercial success to go with it.

All of those corporate partnerships were axed in 2022, and for a while his cancellation was so thorough that even Goodwill pulled Yeezy products from shelves. But owing to his sheer influence, it was always going to be more complicated to actually banish Ye from the respectable corners of the fashion world. Though his ambitions for Yeezy have always outpaced his execution—we’re still waiting for the Armani-meets-Aman Yeezy desert domes, for instance—he has arguably shaped the modern American wardrobe in his image. Go to any airport and you see luxury sweats and dusty color palettes everywhere. And his audience remains loyal. Vultures 1 topped the Billboard 200 (and six weeks on remains at No. 10), and Adidas has had no problem selling its remaining Yeezy stock.

But true fashion redemption does require a little help from inside the industry’s high walls. As Vanessa Friedman writes in today’s New York Times, the likes of John Galliano and Alexander Wang have achieved forgiveness thanks to a combination of outrage fatigue, shortened attention spans, and a relaxing sense of what constitutes truly despicable behavior. I would add one point of emphasis, which is that the industry power brokers have a much different standard of cancelability than the average person on Twitter, and count Galliano and Wang as friends.

Ye, too, still has cheerleaders in the industry, from a long-suffering Adidas executive who told me he nevertheless rued the loss of a confidante when Ye was cast into the wilderness, to many fellow designers who have worked on Yeezy over the years or count him as a key customer and supporter. Though the fashion press has tip-toed around him for the past few years, Ye is becoming hard to ignore. In September, he bankrolled London phenom Mowalola’s runway show, and last month he hit the official fashion circuit like the good old days, attending the Marni show in Milan, and then appearing in a Y/Project lookbook alongside some of your faves (like Charli XCX and friend of Show Notes Mel Ottenberg, among others).

The whole thing raises tricky questions. For those who don’t believe Ye has expressed proper contrition for his dangerous rhetoric, how are you meant to interpret his rising endorsements? And how will the fashion world metabolize it if Ye actually releases good clothing again—or collaborates with a beloved name? So far, it’s been hard to make sense of Yeezy’s relaunch as an independent venture, one helmed by a goon squad that includes far-right operator Milo Yiannopoulos, complicated ex-American Apparel CEO Dov Charney, and radioactive skatewear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. But I hear the Yeezy team is as ambitious as ever, which anyone could infer from the fact that they seem determined to sell everything for $20.

So, why the Sandy Liang follow? To get to the bottom of it, I launched an investigation that lasted all of 20 seconds, DMing Liang to ask what was going on. Her response? “I DON’T KNOW.” The next day, Ye appeared to unfollow her, ending a truly inconsequential 24 hours of fashion gossip. Chalk it up to a slip of the thumb. But Ye’s re-emergence, on the other hand, is no accident.

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Originally Appeared on GQ