The story of GQ creative director-at-large Jim Moore’s career is also the story of the evolution of modern menswear. And if you’ve read that story—perhaps in Jim’s new book, Hunks and Heroes: Four Decades of Fashion at GQ—you know that it’s impossible to tell it in full without the help of two more legendary menswear figures: Ralph Lauren and Kanye West. So, on Monday night in Chicago, Jim and Kanye sat down at the Ralph Lauren flagship on Michigan Avenue for a wide-ranging discussion about fashion, their longtime collaboration, and plenty more.
Jim Moore: So I want to talk a little bit about where we're sitting right now, which is in Chicago, in the middle of the city, in this incredible space. And I'm wondering—you're wearing Ralph Lauren. How did Ralph Lauren influence you? I know that in your early days with your albums, Graduation, The College Dropout, You were in a different phase of dressing. I'm wondering if that was influenced at all by Ralph Lauren.
Kanye West: Oh, 100 percent. That's the kid with the pink Polos. We were talking about Polos. We weren't talking about Izod [or] Lacoste. We were talking about Ralph Lauren. And this was the closest we could get to New York City inside of Chicago. Every time we'd come downtown we got to visit the Polo mansion. Even if we couldn't afford anything. You heard it first on the behind-the-scenes with the first album. The first time we got some money, we came to the store. We started wearing two Polos at once.
Jim: So I'm going to segue into GQ magazine a little bit here. Before you were really successful, did you have a relationship with GQ? Was it something that you read, that you collected... Was it part of your history at all?
Kanye: Yeah. GQ, Ralph. These are names that you could say, "I am so..." and then end with that name in the sentence, and people would know what you're talking about. I remember when American Psycho came out. I didn't see it in the theater, so I really thought the movie was from the eighties. The only way to describe American Psycho would be “very GQ.” I wear a lot of sweatshirts and jogging pants, as you see, but you could just imagine, my wife, Kim Kardashian West, she likes Ye to be very...
Kanye: She would have loved to have been here tonight, with me actually wearing a suit jacket.
Jim: You're a designer, you're an artist. When you think about fashion—I know you and I have had talks into the night about a lot of clothes. We could talk forever about clothes, but how do you kind of take all the noise and separate it and really talk about what you want to be doing? What do you want to be wearing?
Kanye: I mean, outfits make a statement. If someone has on, I don't know, maybe some Vans and some cut-off jeans or something, it’s like, “Oh, you look like you work at Milk Studios.” There's a look where people can say, "Oh, you looking like you work at Donda." And Donda’s a group that I started years ago that Matt Williams from Alyx worked at, Willo Perron, an industrial designer worked at, Virgil Abloh works at, so it's a whole crew that came from the Donda squad and the Donda camp and that has a look and a spirit. We have things where you look and say, "Okay, you look like you work at Ralph Lauren, you look like you work at GQ." So the outfit tells your story. It tells your personality and your character. There's times where I'll say, "I don't feel Ye.” Even when I'm putting these pants on for Sunday Service. I was sitting with my stylist Rene that I've been working with for so many years—we went to the Margiela atelier together, and did the Yeezus tour together. And when I put on the pants, I said, "Finally I feel like I know half of something." I'd always felt so stupid, for years. I was just looking at photographs of myself, and I'd say, "I look so stupid in this photo.” I finally looked like I know something. So the outfit, it means a lot.
But also it's the personality and the textures and the color, which I loved when we—and I'm sure we're going to get into this again—when I kept you up to 2:00 A.M. or 3:00 A.M. in order for us to door us to do a photo do a photo shoot. But the textures that we put together are what I call very GQ. And there are certain people, like when Haider Ackermann was at Berluti. Bro, I was ready. Like, yes. And he was there for, like, one season. But those kinds of moments: It's a few members of our society, of our creative community, that carry that elegance and those layers of texture. And that's what you brought to us. Every photograph is important. It's inspiring. Inspiration can change the world. And what you've created over so many years with GQ completely put a thought or idea, a bar for when men would go out at night. And I pray and hope and think I have reached the GQ bar.
Jim: Many times. Absolutely. And do you have anything to say about how you feel fashion is moving now? Someone asked me today, "Oh, ask Kanye what he thinks about the death of the suit, or the death of the tie." And those are proclamations that annoy me a little bit, because not only is fashion cyclical and things are on a continuum constantly, but also, I don't think anything tailored will ever die per se. But I have noticed that there's a lot, maybe not in this room, but there's a lot less ties out there and you know, streetwear is king—
Kanye: I think when we wear chains that are close to our neck, that's like a tie. I got a chain on like that right now.
Jim: But how do you see fashion moving forward?
Kanye: People are always going to want something tailored. We are attracted to tailoring, and tailoring promotes the attributes and it's also forgiving. A suit can really help out. I have a friend that was super, super, super skinny and you know, since he stopped doing a couple of, uh...recreational activities, he gained a little bit of weight. And he always still looks nice because he’ll have a jacket where it just falls and everything. I'm like, "You still pull it off." Stylish people, no matter what size they are, are going to pull it off and express that, and tailoring is super important.
This isn't a perfect segue, but I have to say one of my favorite scenes in a movie is in Capote. He walks up to the head of the police department and when he opens the conversation, he says, [in a Truman Capote voice]: "Bergdorf. This scarf's from Bergdorf." He was a bit overweight. I love Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Jim: I was chatting with a couple ole of the the Chicago Bears here ere that wat were talking about how it's hard to find clothes for big guys. And I think that we have to open that up a little bit more, to realize that especially in this country, there's people of all different sizes. And the women's space has been so amazing and welcoming. I think in the men's space there's still a little bit of a stigma—you know, there's guys out there who will never be a 32 waist, they'll never be a model size. So we really have to—
Kanye: Tell my wife that.
Jim: Okay, so if you have looked at the book or you get a chance to look at it tonight you'll see that Kanye wrote the foreword to the book. When I decided to do this book, it wasn't [like], "Oh, I really want to do this book." Someone really had to push me to do this because a look back is a little bit harder than a look forward. But I went to Anna Wintour first, and I said, "I really want to do this book, and I'd love to have your blessing." And it took her about five seconds to say, "Well, you'd better get started." And then the second person I went to was Kanye West, and I said, "Would you write the foreword?" And it took him about four seconds to say, "Absolutely. When can you come out so we can sit down together?" So...
Kanye: Ye, the Anna Wintour of the internet. People I interview [for jobs], I say, "Yo, this is the Devil Wears Yeezy right now." Wait a second, I can't say that as a Christian, so...
Jim: But it just means so much to me, as I have so much respect for this guy, as an artist but really as a friend. And we've shared so many amazing times together. And I just remember bringing a copy of—it's called a maquette, when you bring the book,book,book, when itwhen it's not in completion but there'sthere'sthere's little tiny pictures. I went to Calabasas and I knew the day was going to be filled with lots of wonder and adventure and we were going to see all the projects that you were working on. But I said, "Can we just sit down for 30 minutes, so you can write the foreword?" And you were like, "Oh, can't it be a conversation?" I said, "No, it can't be a conversation, because forward." You said, "No, I think it should be a conversation." Like, let's break the mold a little bit here. So the foreword is actually a conversation between the two of us and we had a good time.
Kanye: I love breaking the mold.
Jim: Yeah. And I'll never forget it: we were sitting on his couch and he was looking at every picture and the words just kind of flowed. So you have to, you guys have to read that.
What I'd really like to do is go through a few images that you've already seen. I know that you're not crazy about this picture. This is a long time ago. Peggy Sirota took this. I think it's totally charming. The shoot took about five minutes, but the fitting was probably a couple hours. And that's where Kanye and I really got into a groove. And I don't know if you remember, but it was kind of [like] the Calvin Raf days. I think before Raf was at Calvin, but we were experimenting with a lot of different things. So when I look at this, there's a lot of messages going on in here, but I just look at that picture, and I remember, Wow, that was a really fun day.
Kanye: That's Marc Jacobs [Stephen] Sprouse. Is that Hedi Dior?
Jim: Yup. Then this cover is 2007, Nathaniel Goldberg. When I get an idea in my head about how I see someone or what do I want to do, a lot of it is a reaction to what I've done with them before. So the next time I worked with you I said, "How do you feel about just wearing, you know, one suit? And this is the Calvin Klein suit and how do you feel about just, you know, let's just keep you in that one suit. You know, you're an icon and this is an iconic look." We used a little bit of Herb Ritts for inspiration. It was about a 95 degree day on a rooftop and you were in your Calvin Klein suit. Looking amazing.
Kanye: It's so good. I like it. I'm a fan of this guy right here. Got a lot of personality, might know someone. Wearing a suit.
Jim: It's a very, it's a very simple idea. It's just a white seamless with bright sunlight and a dark suit, but it's Kanye West and—
Kanye: And a matte black Bottega watch. Or is it, was it Bulgari? I think it might be. The founder of Swatch said, "A watch isn't a watch unless it's round." So I cornered Jony Ive and Marc Newson at the Met Ball to accost them about the Apple Watch not being round. Because the Ikepod is my favorite watch and Marc Newson designed it and the band is the same band. And then Jony's sitting there like saying, "You know it's square because of this reason and that reason and Marc Newson didn't call me back. I wanted to harass you." That's what that watch made me think about. I remember loving that watch so much. I can still remember it from that, that band.
Jim: So then this is just, you know, all-time favorite cover. And this gets us into talking about this nine hour fitting. A lot of people say, "Is that really true?" Well, now you have the two people that were there, so we can explain what happened. I had met up with Kanye about about a week or two before the shoot. And we went to the Mercer and I showed him my moodboard and I said, "I'm really interested in this kind of one color dressing. Head to toe, one color, working with different textures and stuff." And he's like, “I think that could be fun." He's like, "Could I bring some extra things too?" And I said, "Sure, of course." And we showed up at the studio the night before, and I probably had about 40 or 50 racks of clothes. And he's like, "I really love your ideas, but I want to try it all on." I said, "All as in the the, you know, the 15 looks that I put aside?" He's like, "No, everything in the room." I remember Jerry Lorenzo was there, and it was epic. I think I took a sip of water and sat down and it felt like no time.
Kanye: Yeah, that room had Virgil, Jerry Lorenzo from Fear of God, Rene. We were all in there creating, putting these textures together. You can even see some of the energy that's in Fear of God inside of this idea and makeup.
Jim: And Yeezy, too. I love this shot.
Kanye: That was my A.P.C. collaboration with Jean Touitou—that sweater right there. That was my first collection. People were like, "I thought you were going to have graphics and dogs on your stuff!"
Jim: It was amazing. I still have a picture of you showing us the collection. Because it was, it wasn't in a fashion show format, but Kanye was actually showing small groups of the press the collection, and pointing everything out with such incredible passion.
Another favorite, most of these are in the book. I couldn't resist—I ran a lot of Kanye pictures.
Kanye: I definitely had done my Adidas deal at that point.
Jim: Little bit of tailored, always wearing it in your way, though. It's a very elegant jacket like the one you're wearing now. Peak lapel, strong shoulder, but wearing it with that T-shirt felt totally new, with the leather pants.
Kanye: There you go, that's a Jerry—that's a Fear of God jacket right there. Bottega boots.
Jim: Yup. Those boots were kind of the impetus for the whole thing, because you brought those along when we met at the Mercer and that really inspired a lot of the look.
Kanye: “Artists' own.” Robert Geller T-shirt, Prada leather pants. I used to wear the crap out of those leather pants right there. Those made it into a lot of paparazzi shots.
Jim: Anything else you want to tell the crowd?
Kanye: I'd like to ask how you got started at GQ.
Jim: Tables are turned. So I was a fine arts major and I just was not really in the right groove. And I really loved fashion magazines and I looked at Vogue and I looked at GQ. I put this quote in the back of my book, because my mom was really the enabler for me. She said, "I grew up in the Twin Cities," and she said, "This town isn't big enough for your dreams and your aspirations, you have to go to New York." So she kind of pushed me out of the nest, which I think shows a tremendous amount of love for a child to not want to keep them in the nest, but push them out and realize that I was a misfit in that town. Not that I didn't love the Twin Cities, but I needed to go to New York. In those days, there was no Internet, but there was Mademoiselle Magazine, which always listed all the fashion schools. So it said if you want to be a designer, go to FIT. I didn't want to be a designer. If you want to be in fashion merchandising, go to Pratt. I didn't want to work for a retailer. If you want a career in publishing, go to Tobe-Coburn School for Fashion Careers Limited. And I was like, I'm going to Tobe-Coburn.
I took off for New York and started at this little school where it was 90 women, two men, and the alumni were all from Conde Nast and Hearst, and once a week we would go on field trips to magazines, and I just got bitten by the bug and I knew I was in the right place. And I knew that that's what I wanted, because I didn't know, growing up in Minnesota, how those pictures became so beautiful. Like, was there a director on set? Was it just the models dressing themselves? You have to understand, I didn't know any of that stuff. So I went to school specifically to get the job at GQ. And then I looked at the intern board. They had a bulletin board with internships on it and there was one for GQ and I went in and applied and got it. And it was in what's called the promotions department and I was putting stamps on envelopes.
But at night I would go into the fashion department and pack the trunks and help them get ready for the shoots, and kind of ingratiated myself with them and made myself a little bit of a pest, but really helped them out. And then eventually I was hired there, and it was a dream come true and still is a dream come true—I found the job of my dreams. And then I was able to move up quite quickly. Condé Nast bought the magazine shortly after that and the staff started building up and I was able to move up the ladder pretty quickly.
Kanye: How long was it until you got your position?
Jim: It was very traditional in those days. You went from fashion assistant to associate fashion editor to fashion editor to senior fashion editor to all the way up. But it was a pretty rapid climb. I would say within about 18 months I was doing my own shoots, and within a couple of years I was a fashion editor, and creative director probably about 15 years later.
And your love of fashion came from family? Chicago? Ralph Lauren? Music?
Kanye: Yes. My family, we have tailors, we have retailers. Is that how it got to retail, they've got a tailor and a person selling it? The re-tailor? My grandfather had a store and he would go to the flea market every Saturday and hustle. The store was like right behind his house. And when I went to my grandfather's funeral, it was more fire than fashion week, the way people, like, pulled up. I had kind of been displaced from all of my family—I was an only child living with my mother in Chicago. And I rediscovered fashion through the mall, like Girbauds and Chalk Line and Starter. And then I discovered, you know, Polo, going to see my dad and in Takoma Park, Maryland and people would be wearing, like, Polos with the Jordans. And then when I went out to L.A., stylists would tell me that I need to go to the shows. Like, What do you mean, ‘the shows?’ Like, the hell are the shows? “In Paris, the shows.” We would go to style.com, and they had the early Nicholas Ghesquiere Balenciaga collections on it, and the screen's like super, super small, and it would only be like, I don't know, 30 collections for the entire season. Then we actually started going out to the shows and rediscovered it in that way.
I'd meet with, say, Joseph Dirand, the interior designer and architect, and he was like, "Oh, my dad shot interiors when I was growing up." So you'd see that this guy Joseph Dirand had a head start on taste and sensibility. So it's like, where did Ye come from? How does this guy, just the cleanest guy we’ve ever seen in our life...? We talk about fashion—there was a lot of discrimination that we dealt with when we’d go to the shows like 10 years ago and everyone thought that, you know, fashion only came from Paris, when it came from right here in America [too]. And actually now, as you can see, America pretty much runs it, because we are leading the conversation of culture. So we can look deep into our roots.
I had an aunt that had Alzheimer's. She had Alzheimer's and she still showed up fresher than everybody else. She couldn't remember anything else, but her suit was so put together and tailored. So those types of things are in your DNA. It's not a marketing scheme. It's not a business opportunity. It is a life path and a life calling that we dedicate our life to imagery. To artistry. It's in our soul. This is a life calling. Anybody here, like if you haven't got your heart broken, you really don't even deserve to be in this room right now. Like, you know, you look at that price tag, and you save up for it, and you have enough to get it on layaway, and it's not at the store by the time you get there? And you have, like, "Whoa, this one's on sale and in my size?" moments, also.
People used to look at me as like, Oh, he's just this rapper when we would be out in Paris. But I've loved being in this community of people who appreciated the art, the suffering, the pain. You know, [Alexander] McQueen! When I was in the hospital, there were times where I'd wake up in the morning and I'd go to the office against all corporate odds just for McQueen. There would be days where I'd say, I'm doing this for McQueen right now. I am still living. Because he was killed by the corporations. [Ed. note: McQueen died by suicide in 2010.] And the artists and the spirit, the true people who grew up on texture, that had to get up out of a small town and go to a Company Limited to eventually become the creative director of GQ, are the leaders of the conversation. It’s not how quick something goes. It’s not how quick it can be copied. It’s not how much it can be doubled tripled, ten-xed on the stock market and what the market cap is. It's the people here who have had their hearts broken because their mama couldn't afford that jacket that they had to have. [The ones who] at that moment say, "We're going to dedicate our life to this."
So we'll always be in front of that jacket and be able to express it the way we put it together. And it don't stop until the casket drop. My grandpa—you go to a year before he died, he'd say, "That's a nice suit!" He’d say, "You've got good taste!"
Jim: Being a creative is something that, you know, you do until the day you die. If you're a plumber, you're looking for that moment to hang up your wrench. But I look at Stanley Kubrick and you know, Frank Lloyd Wright, and people who just do it until the end.
Kanye: Lagerfeld. Alaia.
Jim: Lagerfeld, exactly. And that's what keeps you going. So I really want to thank my, my incredibly dear friend. Super creative, incredible designer. Incredible artist. Jesus is King is spectacular. You guys, grab it.
Kanye: Speaking of Kubrick, they are doing some comparisons.
This interview has been edited and condensed.