Azealia Banks: The Fashion World’s Least Pretentious New Star

She doesn’t act — or even dress — like the diva she very well could be.

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Azealia Banks performing Wednesday night.

Azealia Banks did something remarkable last night: she started her show on time. This sounds like not a big deal. But her performance was a precursor to New York Fashion Week, which begins Thursday and consists of a series of events and fashion shows that are often partly defined by how not on time they are (once one event is late, the next event has to be late, etc.). The cooler you are, the more likely audiences of editors, buyers, and various pretty people are to wait to witness your genius. Banks is the kind of person who could have had us all there at the Wythe Hotel party, put on by SPIN and Refinery 29 in the hipster heartland of Williamsburg, standing in our painful party shoes for hours on end. But she came out not long after 10, performed her few songs with just two backup dancers, and didn’t say anything weird to be controversial or get attention the whole time.

Not every Fashion Week has its breakout stars — designers or celebrities who create something that everyone wants to be, or at least be around — but Banks, I predict, will be one of them this season: a clothes-wearer that gets people excited about style again.

A lot of fashion industry members have developed a habit of rolling their eyes over celebrities who sit in the front row at shows, indicating their discomfort over the at times painful reality that fashion and celebrity are so intertwined that it feels like one cannot exist without the other. It’s annoying for people in the business, who have to go to these shows all day every day for a very tedious month, to attend show after show stuffed to the gills with celebrities who are present in a designer or publicist’s sort of sad hope that they can get the world to pay attention to the event at hand, attracting swarms of rabid photographers and mayhem that’s just a headache to be around all the time. The irritation is compounded by the fact that many of these celebrities pose as clothing designers or models themselves, with their Kohl’s and H&M lines and campaigns that the public happily expends loads of money and enthusiasm on.

Banks has already appeared in a campaign for Alexander Wang, arguably the coolest designer of New York Fashion Week. She filmed a video to promote his lower-priced T by Alexander Wang line, in which she raps a bit from her single “Van Vogue.” A lot of fashion labels put out these videos in an attempt at viral marketing and they’re pointless. But this, because it consisted of new footage of Banks rapping, and because that footage is so compelling (her original “212” video has 30 million views on Vevo) was kind of great.

Given her alliance with the brand, I expect her to lend her hipness to the Alexander Wang show this Fashion Week, as an audience member or maybe something more. More people will freak out in excitement than will roll their eyes. Because we know this about Banks: she doesn’t have to show up wearing a birthday cake on her head or sparklers on her boobs to be cool. This is because her facade as a rapper does not feel that far removed from her as a human being.

At her Wythe Hotel show she wore black leather shorts connected, overalls-style, to pointy black leather bra cups, dark lipstick, and round shades that came on and off as she rapped. Her nipples weren’t out, she didn’t look like a dumpster of neon and sparkly excess pop music fans have grown accustomed to, and she wasn’t going to trip because of a pair of ungodly high shoes. After years of Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj, Banks just feels like a relief. I can look at her without feeling exhausted. She has the balls to come out without all that extra crap, without being presumptuous enough to make her fans wait for her show for three crappy hours, and perform for a crowd of hipsters a song that has an outro that coyly mocks Whole Foods and Kambucha. (Which: FINALLY. Don’t you wonder why everyone drinks that stuff when it’s gross anyway?) And she did it face to face with the audience, her stage consisting only of a carpet that looked like an amalgamation of Home Depot rug samples. It was shockingly unpretentious — which is exactly why the fashion world would be so wise to embrace her.

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