Nearly a year ago, in February, 2021, Kim Kardashian, the first lady of reality television, filed for divorce from her husband and the father of her four children, the hip-hop superstar Kanye West. In the couple’s seven years of marriage, Kardashian, who is forty-one, and West, who is forty-four (and who has recently changed his name to Ye), had become much more than the sum of their parts, creating a collaborative spectacle that had made them one of the most iconic celebrity-mogul couples in the world. Kardashian, the daughter of the late attorney Robert Kardashian, who was a close associate of O. J. Simpson’s, had in her younger years been a fame-adjacent Los Angeles girl (onetime friend and assistant to Paris Hilton; star of a sex tape with the middling early-aughts R. & B. singer Ray J), and in 2007 she rose to much greater renown along with her family on the E! reality show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” which aired until last year. But her image was further upgraded by her union, in 2014, with the artier, more experimental West, who introduced Kardashian to the world of high fashion. “Styling Kim, that’s a language of love for me,” he said, last year. “That’s how I bagged her.” Kardashian herself was quick to attribute her newfound status as a style icon to West: “I really think that my relationship with my husband Kanye really changed everything,” she told CNN, in 2015. “I mean, back in the day I thought I had the best style. I look back at outfits and I’m, like, mortified.”
West turned his wife into an avatar of avant-garde sleekness—a simultaneously minimalist and exaggerated whorl of curves tucked snugly into sculptural, monochromatic leather and jersey made by cutting-edge design houses such as Balenciaga—which paved the way for Kardashian, a savvy entrepreneur, to become an arbiter of taste in her own right. She launched a makeup and skin-care line, KKW Beauty; and she started a clothing and shapewear company, Skims, which recently launched a collection in collaboration with Fendi, the high-end Italian designer. West, meanwhile, in his years with Kardashian, continued to release music and became a born-again Christian, directing his religious fervor into a series of invitation-only gospel performances. He expanded his own Yeezy fashion empire, an endeavor that was heavily promoted on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and which has reportedly made him one of the richest Black men in America.
Together, Kimye seemed too big to fail, their union reflecting the nation’s fantasies of what the American Dream might look like under conditions of wildly conspicuous, seemingly limitless prosperity. At the same time, they were so big, the drama of their lives so overblown, that failure had in some ways become inevitable. West started to turn on his own creation; in 2019, he balked at the skintight dress that Kardashian planned to wear to the Met Gala, saying that he was uncomfortable with the mother of his kids wearing such a revealing garment in public. (“So, like, the night before the event, you’re going to come in here and say that you’re not into a corset vibe?” Kardashian fired back, in a conversation that was televised on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” “You built me up to be this sexy person and confidence and all this stuff. Just because you’re on a journey and you’re on your transformation doesn’t mean I’m in the same spot with you.”) Then, in 2020, West embarked on an erratic fever dream of a Presidential bid, running on a platform that included, as a coronavirus measure, a call to “stop making God mad.” Kardashian, who reportedly urged him not to run, seemed embarrassed by the whole debacle, which tabloids have since referred to as the last straw in the couple’s crumbling marriage. But, even if the dissolution of their union was a long time coming, it was still destabilizing, in that it called into question the authority of our two biggest tastemakers. Kardashian’s willingness to stay with Kanye for so many years—her tacit stamp of approval, playing Huma to his Weiner—had lent an air of legitimacy to West’s weirder schemes; without her, he looked less like a performance artist and more like an unpredictable egomaniac, and without West, Kardashian was at risk of seeming dangerously uncool. Now that the fantasy they had created together had evaporated, what would they make America look to and desire next? Could they even maintain their influence not with each other but with new romantic partners?
The preliminary answer is yes. Kardashian went first: in late October of last year, not long after hosting “Saturday Night Live,” she was spotted holding hands with Pete Davidson, the “S.N.L.” comedian, on a roller coaster at Knott’s Scary Farm, in Orange County. In the following couple of months, the two appeared to take their love beyond the theme park: they were seen at a screening of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” on Staten Island, where Davidson is from; there was also P.D.A. in Palm Springs, and an L.A. pajama party with the rapper and reality star Flavor Flav, at which Kardashian and Davidson wore matching Skims jammies. This past week, the couple has been vacationing in the Bahamas.
Davidson, who is twenty-eight, is a tattooed charmer who has become known as a ladies’ man. In recent years, he has dated a long list of high-profile women, from the singer Ariana Grande—whose praise of the size of Davidson’s penis led to the coining of the term “B.D.E.” to describe him—to the supermodel Kaia Gerber to the actresses Margaret Qualley and Kate Beckinsale. Davidson was the kind of guy whom you’d let borrow your Rolls-Royce so he could drive it to the 7-Eleven for a cigarette run while wearing a Dick Tracy graphic T-shirt; he was the kind of guy who’d take you to a combination Italian restaurant-banquet hall on Staten Island that offers frozen Patron shots. In some ways, he reminded me of Kardashian’s second husband, the former B-list basketball player Kris Humphries, a seemingly easygoing goofball with none of West’s intense and intimidating alpha vibes. Neither Davidson nor Kardashian has publicly spoken of their relationship, but what glimpses we’ve seen of it have seemed designed to suggest that Davidson’s youthful N.Y.C.-style grunginess has been loosening his new partner’s controlled haute California image. She was still dressing head to toe in Balenciaga—on her way to “S.N.L.” rehearsals, in October, and on the red carpet of the People’s Choice Awards, this past December—but she was getting her groove back with this relative man of the people, and the Internet was analyzing the pair’s every appearance with the intensity of a Brown semiotics student in the nineties. West, meanwhile, seemed displeased. He unfollowed Kardashian on Instagram, but, soon after, while performing at a concert in December, he also begged her to “run right back to me.”
Earlier this week, however, West seemed to have suddenly moved on. Last Saturday, he was spotted at the Miami outpost of the celeb-beloved Italian restaurant Carbone, dining with Julia Fox, the thirty-one-year-old actress best known for her role as a kindly bombshell in the 2019 crime thriller “Uncut Gems.” Fox, who was born in Italy and grew up in New York in tumultuous circumstances, is something of a cult figure in the city’s downtown circles; her “Uncut Gems” character, a younger mistress to Adam Sandler’s erratic, unhappily married jewelry dealer, seemed to foretell her entanglement with West. Three days after their first date, Fox and West were once again at Carbone—this time the one in New York—after catching a Broadway showing of Jeremy O. Harris’s “Slave Play.” Fox wore a pair of low-slung thong trousers and a Balenciaga trench, bag, and shirt; West, too, was dressed in full Balenciaga, including a pair of knee-high Balenciaga x Crocs boots. The pair were greeted with paparazzi mayhem, and with more than a little speculation that West had styled the curvy Fox to look just like his former wife. “Attack of the Kim Kardashian Klone!” ran a headline in the Daily Mail; “Kanye West: If I Can’t Have Kim Back . . . I’ll Make GF Julia Fox My New Version,” TMZ ventriloquized.
The role played here by Balenciaga, with whose designer, Demna Gvasalia, West and Kardashian have forged a particularly close relationship in recent years, was intriguing. Observers had already noted the strangeness of the separated couple continuing to deck themselves in the brand, almost as if they were still coördinating outfits. “I find it rather unprecedented that Kim and Kanye are exclusively wearing Balenciaga,” the writer Patrik Sandberg tweeted earlier this week. “To sponsor and dress a celebrity divorce feels like a cynical yet brilliant new breed of endorsement.” Gvasalia’s designs rely on deconstruction and dislocation, reinterpreting luxury through slightly off, sometimes jokey, often aggressively anti-lovely silhouettes and materials that reference earlier cultural moments, from late-seventies Berlin junkie culture to S & M fetish wear to eighties office looks to raver fashion. By continuing to wear Balenciaga, with its shiny, nouveau-space-age body suits, Christiane F.-vibes trench coats, Anvil-style masks, and jolie laide Croc boots, Kardashian and West signalled a kind of outré uniformity that continued to tie them together in a common aesthetic project, if not in a romantic relationship. And now Fox was wearing the brand.
Balenciaga played an even more overt role in an as-told-to piece that dropped on Thursday night in Interview magazine, in which Fox recounted her N.Y.C. date night with West. The two had met over New Year’s, in Miami, she said, and had an “instant connection.” Their second date, in New York, included a fashion shoot that West directed while they dined at Carbone (“the whole restaurant loved it and cheered us on”), and, later, numerous pieces of clothing that he had prepared especially for Fox, and that he proceeded to style her in. Fox’s words were accompanied by a spread in which she was seen canoodling with West, with the pair again wearing a slew of Balenciaga. On Friday morning, it was revealed that West, who has a deal with the Gap, will be bringing Balenciaga on for a collaboration with the brand.