Kanye’s fight for creative control is long-standing. Collaborators describe him as a hypercritical presence on photo shoots and film edits. So it’s no surprise that with DONDA, he was looking to circumvent middlemen who might dilute his vision. “They wanted to eliminate the person who has to interpret the idea to the brand,” says Marc Moran, who cofounded the Chicago-based RSVP Gallery with West’s longtime right-hand man Virgil Abloh.
Post-rant, West moved quickly. Just a day after the online proclamation, his attorney Brad Rose filed the first trademark papers for DONDA. The list of goods and services sounds more profit-based than the good works and lofty world improvement goals in his mission statement. Expect to see the DONDA name on “toys and playthings, plush toys, teddy bears… home furnishings, bedding and linens…”
He also tweeted an e-mail, email@example.com, for like-minded aspiring trailblazers to pledge DONDA. Thousands of applicants poured in, according to Christian, who left the company in May 2012 and now works as a creative assistant for actor Jason Sudeikis. “We moved forward with quite a few people who submitted portfolios,” she says, refusing to reveal who made the cut.
Essentially a future funnel for West’s obsession with his legacy, DONDA is poised to be the ultimate vanity project. And yet, he barely references it by name. Rather than a string of credits on an official Web site, DONDA projects are denoted by album liner notes, cryptic tweets, hashtags and Instagram photos (“NUMBERS ON THE BOARDS. NO ARTWORK. DONDA,” @virgilabloh) from his inner circle. Will this mysticism carry on to a true vision with results? Some experts are doubtful.
“When [Kanye] talks about Apple and those other companies, [he] has a very clear mission or statement in mind,” says Andres Nicholls, a partner in the brand and marketing consultancy Prophet, which lists GM, BMW and Visa as clients. “I tried to find a Web site. I couldn’t find any. He needs to formalize the vision of the company if he wants to expand to a broader consumer.” In addition to no website, DONDA no longer has a brick-and-mortar presence. Christian followed up her interview several weeks later to give an update on the DONDA office in New York: it no longer exists. “When I was there, we were just starting to set up shop, so I'm not surprised that so much has changed since I left.”
Expanding to a broader consumer may prove difficult for West, considering his desire to keep everything he does under tight wraps. During a June listening session for his newest album, Yeezus, at New York’s Milk Studios, a black van was parked outside, projecting a video of Kanye (shot by his go-to director Nick Knight) rapping the lyrics to his single “New Slaves” onto the side of a building. The screenings were part of a larger, international guerilla-marketing scheme— Kanye’s idea—that initially took place in 66 cities. When pressed for info on the installation, a woman operating the video offered a non-committal smirk and riddled responses:
Are you a member of DONDA?
“We don’t have any input in the content. We’re just hired to project it,” she said.
What’s the name of the projection company?
“I’d rather not say.”
Did Def Jam or DONDA hire you?
“I’d rather not say.”
Following West’s lead, the DONDA collective hasn’t done interviews regarding their affiliation. LinkedIn profiles and liner notes help piece together a rough masthead, but there’s no clear consensus on who’s involved. One source suggested finding Virgil Abloh because “he is DONDA.”