what it was like to walk in yeezy 2 (and make kanye cry)
23-year-old naval officer Erika Lawson led the army of models at Kanye West’s surprise fashion week show. She was also asked to choreograph the entire presentation -- on the morning of the show. Erika spoke to i-D about working with Yeezus, teaching...
It was 9pm on a Tuesday when I got the call. I was on my way to dinner in the city when an unknown number flashed up on my phone screen.
Five minutes later, I was in a cab driving to Chelsea. I called my boyfriend on the way to apologize for missing dinner. I told him, "I'm so sorry but something really huge has come up." I'd just been asked to go to a fitting for the Kanye West fashion show. He got it. I just thought, "Am I dreaming?"
I'm not a model. I went to a military college on Long Island called the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. At the end of the four-year program I got a marine engineering degree and a commission as an officer in the naval reserve. I recently spent time on a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. Luckily, I had Wednesday off, because Kanye's show was the very next day.
The [Yeezy 2] collection is military-esque so Kanye wanted to include actual military personnel in the show. His collaborator [Italian artist] Vanessa Beecroft, knew about my college, so she called up the school and asked for officers. The college is 92% men and only 8% women, so they didn't have a hard time finding guys. But while they were preparing for the show, Kanye and Vanessa kept saying they wished they had a girl. So that's when a woman from the college called me.
I drove to the studio and Vanessa and Kanye were so happy. They kept saying, "Oh, we're so glad we have a girl in our show." They picked out an outfit for me, and the next day I turned up - and that's when I learned that I was expected to choreograph the entire show, with the three other guys from my school.
I was like, "What?"
Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid were sitting in the audience bleachers watching us, and we were standing there and expected to come up with a marching routine and then teach it to them. It was two hours before the show was supposed to start.
So we began trying to teach the models the basics of marching. It was really funny. Some of them got it but some of them were doing this really exaggerated thing with their arms. So Kanye said, "Scrap the march, I just want them to walk. But teach them the marching commands." So we did.
There were four groups of models, and each of [the naval officers] led one group. I soon found out that I was expected to march into the space first and call all the models out. I was literally the first person to walk in the show.
After the dress rehearsal, Vanessa came backstage and told me that when Kanye saw me walk out with the models he was so moved he had tears in his eyes. He was really touched to have a female military officer involved in his show and calling the commands.
The other funny thing was that he kept adjusting my hat. My outfit involved a hoodie, leggings and boots with a baseball cap -- and the baseball cap had to be worn under the hoodie. Kanye wanted all of the hats to be low over the models' eyes. But I couldn't see with it pulled down that far, so I kept trying to pull it up. Right before the show started, Kanye came up to me and pulled it down the way he wanted it. And I'm actually glad he did -- it meant I couldn't see all the celebrities sitting in the front row. Kim Kardashian, all her sisters, Anna Wintour - they were all right there. I was like, "Oh my goodness, I have to do this marching routine in front of these people." As for the rest of the clothes, well, I really liked the boots. They would be great in combat. They are way more comfortable than the uniform boots I was issued.
Overall, Kanye was very involved with everything. I think he hand-picked every outfit, and he was backstage adjusting everybody's looks. He was also excited. And that made me want to make the show work for him. He was calm but you could tell that he was very serious about it all. He had a vision.
It was crazy that morning. I was really overwhelmed with the choreographing and all the other stuff that I was expected to do. But I just kept telling myself, "You have to do this for Kanye, Kanye wants to make a show."
As told to Alice Newell-Hanson
Images courtesy Erika Lawson