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When I think of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s marriage, I think of their wedding photo. The one that went viral, the one that sparked an international and long-running fascination with flower-walls: he’s in a black tux, she’s in white lace, and the couple are kissing surrounded by white blooms, bathed in golden light. It was May 24 2014, and it was the beginning of the most talked-about, and bombastic, pairing of modern celebrity.
Now, it seems, that marriage is over. Kardashian has recruited Laura Wasser, the A-list lawyer who shepherded the star through her previous two separations, and filed for divorce. The news follows a Tweet West posted in July, which claimed he had “been trying to get divorced” since November 2018. The pair reportedly spent Christmas several thousand miles apart: Kardashian with her family in California, West on his ranch in Wyoming. A source told People magazine in December that “the pair have been living separate lives”.
Their union has never been averse to criticism. West is an undeniably talented and prodigious rapper-turned-fashion mogul, but also prone to statements of extreme self-aggrandisement, social-media rampages and controversial political stunts. Kardashian, meanwhile, is a shrewd businesswoman, but will also forever be known for more humble beginnings: she was the star of a sex tape, Paris Hilton’s stylist, and the best-known member of that reality juggernaut Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Cynics have never struggled to snub their relationship: Kim has fame, but no credibility; Kanye has talent, but still benefits from her starlight. Together, they became billionaires, their marriage a perfect symbol of the excess and vanity that epitomises what it is to be famous in the Instagram era. But while the masses will swoop to point out that they were right all along – this smug twosome, preaching about love and blessings, were never genuinely committed! – they’ll be missing something valuable and true: the couple not only brought the best out in one another, but they changed our cultural landscape for the better, too.
Their love story has never been much of a secret. Those willing to rummage through the millions of Google results brought up by “Kim Kardashian and Kanye West” can learn everything: when they met (in 2003: he thought her name was “Kim Kardijon”), when they became friends (2008: West pleaded for her to leave her then-boyfriend for him in his verse on a Keri Hilson single), when they started dating (2012: she wore a Givenchy feather jacket and leather pants), where they conceived their first child (in Florence “among the Renaissance masterpieces”, according to West)… I could go on.
We know all this because their relationship became their work. West painted his affection for the (then-married) Kardashian in his music (“And I’ll admit, I had fell in love with Kim / Around the same time she had fell in love with him,” he rapped in Cold (Theraflu) in 2012). She invited him onto Keeping Up With the Kardashians in 2010, and they celebrated their nuptials by appearing on the cover of American Vogue in 2014. For two stars who always made their everyday lives the reason for their fame, business and pleasure have never known separate beds.
Since 2012, the career trajectories of both have not only rocketed, but dominated new industries. While many aging rappers turn to other income streams – luxury booze, usually, but also tech and media platforms – West had never been shy about his ambition to tackle the fashion world, in spite of the mockery he often received as a result. Yet, according to Forbes last summer, the vast majority of West’s $3 billion net-worth comes from Yeezy, his fashion brand. In making his wife his muse, West had a ready-made paparazzi magnet to front his new creative venture.
In the process, West gilded his wife’s reputation. There were rumours that Anna Wintour had refused the reality TV star a ticket to the Met Gala for years. (Her 2013 appearance, heavily pregnant and in skin-tight floral Givenchy, was reportedly due to being the plus-one of West, who was performing.) By 2015, Wintour was giving advice on the naming of the Kardashian-West firstborn, North. Together, the couple helped to usher in a new look, with Kardashian-West’s famous hourglass figure emulated across the media. “My wife,” West told Time magazine in 2016, “is the face of the change of fashion, where designers who literally wouldn’t let her sit in shows are now making entire collections based [on] her shape.”
What has West received in return? Patience, steadiness and – crucially – a rudder to steer him through his well-publicised mental-health difficulties. While it may seem like very little of the Kardashian-West household is kept behind scenes, last summer an unusually sober series of posts appeared on Kardashian’s social channels after yet another online outburst from her husband. “I understand Kanye is subject to criticism because he is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions,” she wrote.
“He is a brilliant but complicated person who, on top of the pressures of being an artist and a black man, experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder.” Suddenly, a new door was opened into that seemingly familiar home: one of a woman, and mother of four young children, trying to keep a family afloat.
There have been many times when the Kardashian-West stronghold has justified the eye-rolling scorn that’s so often ladled upon it. Notably, for instance, there was the 2016 Taylor Swift incident, featuring a hoo-ha about whether Swift did or didn’t know about Kanye writing a lyric about the pair of them potentially having sex; it badly affected the pop star’s career and dragged both Kardashian-Wests into a public feud that West had been having with her since 2009. Four years on, it transpired that Swift had been correct all along.
But that fearsome teamwork is exactly what will ossify Kim and Kanye’s marriage, however short-lived, as something of cultural importance. A few weeks ago, Kardashian-West revealed a homemade birthday card West gave her in 2010, on her 30th birthday. It contained a poem that was folded into his landmark album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which appeared later that year. “He took the poem he wrote me and made it the song,” as she put it on Instagram. For so long, it was too easy for people to dismiss a genuine creative partnership as a sham.
As with many divorcing couples, one of the many things the couple’s lawyers will have to discuss is the house. Unlike many divorcing couples, though, the Kardashian-West home is a strange and stark building of Architectural Digest-approved beauty. Thanks to Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt, it’s monastic in its minimalism. The strange sculptures they bring in for Christmas have been mocked by the media, and West sold his Maybach to buy a sofa, but the pair have always spoken about it as a calm retreat – from, presumably, the flashing cameras, the 190 million Instagram followers and all the rest.
I look at photos of that house, of them in it, and I feel like I’ll be looking at those photos in years to come. In coffee-table books and in articles, in architectural magazines and biographies. It’s easy, now, to ridicule Kim Kardashian and Kanye West: this was a married couple who gave one another stocks in Disney for Christmas. But in revolutionising the worlds of music, art, fashion and celebrity, “Kim and Kanye” have left a legacy of which we’re unlikely, yet, to be fully aware.