Naval Officer Erika Lawson On Starring In Yeezy Season 2 And Making Kanye Cry

Erika Lawson, a 23-year-old naval officer, was literally the first person to walk onstage at Kanye West’s surprise fashion week presentation of Yeezy Season 2. While the performance had most of us scratching our heads over what it all meant, Kanye West was moved to tears, particularly watching Erika Lawson march out with the first group of models.

Making the decision to go into service can be perplexing for civilians to understand, but when asked why she chose to do it Lawson replied, “I joined the military because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after high school, but I knew I wanted to do something exciting with my life. Going to U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and joining the Naval Reserves has been a very interesting path. It has been challenging and taken my places I never thought I’d see.”

Including the runway of Kanye West’s surprise fashion week presentation of Yeezy Season 2. At 9PM the previous night, Lawson was about to go out to dinner when she received a call from a woman who worked at her alma mater, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, asking her if she’d like to walk for Kanye West.

Luckily she had the next day off.

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Do you remember what your initial reaction was when you got the call to be in Yeezy Season 2?

My initial reaction was, “Is this a joke? You can’t be serious!” I have absolutely no modeling experience! I was put into the show because of my military background. It was a shock and very different from my normal environment.

What did it feel like to be the only female military officer in the show

It was a huge honor! The other guys in the show with me were from the same military college. This college is over 90% male! So you can imagine it was hard to find a female. Vanessa and Kanye were so happy I was able to come. Vanessa couldn’t stress enough how proud they were to have me. She told me that when they watched the first rehearsal and saw me come out to march, that Kanye had tears in his eyes because he was so moved. It was extremely touching and I was beaming with pride after the show!

How did you feel about Kanye using military influence in his show? Why did he do this?

I thought Kanye using military influence in his show was really awesome! Especially how he approached it. Even though he used it in an abstract way, he was very respectful and honorable about it. I think he wanted to incorporate a marching routine into his show because the clothes have a military vibe. The boots are very similar to the ones I wear for my Navy uniform. The color scheme also matches Camouflage uniforms.

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What was your opinion of Kanye before the show? Did that change at all throughout the course of your involvement with the show?  

I didn’t really have an opinion of Kanye before the show. I love his music, but of course you do see a lot of controversial coverage of him in the media. Regardless, being in his show was such an amazing experience I now regard him very highly! Kanye and his team were so friendly and professional. They all worked very hard to bring his vision to life. It was such an honor to be apart of it.

Is Yeezy clothing as comfortable to wear as it looks?

Yeezy clothing is extremely comfortable! The material is very soft. The boots are very similar to the ones I wear for my navy uniform. I’m glad I got to wear boots and not the high heels! I was already so nervous walking in heels was one less thing to worry about.

Is the marching routine you and your fellow servicemen put together for the models something that would actually be done in the field? 

The marching routine is something that would be practiced in the field. Kanye and fashion director Vanessa Beecroft told us that we were the choreographers! We had no fashion or choreography experience, so we just went with what we knew. We used very common marching commands used in almost every marching tour. Even though we are experienced marchers, I could not believe that they put the whole routine into our hands!

How long did you have to put it together?

We only had two hours right before the show to come up with this routine and teach it to the models! It was crazy and stressful but really came together in the end. Originally we were trying to teach the models how to march, but Kanye then decided that he just wanted them to walk while following the commands.

What did it feel like to be part of the most buzzed about show in fashion week? 

The show itself went by really fast. I was very nervous watching the audience file in from backstage. Knowing that I had to march in front of Kim Kardashian West, her daughter North, all of her sisters, Anna Wintour, Lorde, and many more huge celebrities was terrifying to say the least. Right before the show I just kept reminding myself that I had do this for Kanye! That he was counting on me to make his show work! Once it started I was so focused on what I was supposed to do that I hardly noticed anyone around me. That, and Kanye also had me wear a hat so low on my eyes that I could barely see! I remember people backstage kept adjusting my hat low, and I kept raising it in an attempt to see better! Then Kanye came by for a final look over and pulled my hat back down, so then I thought, “Well Kanye himself adjusted my hat so I better keep that way!”

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What were your thoughts on the fashion industry before the show? Have they changed?

I do not know a lot about the fashion industry and I had no idea what to expect going into the show. I have to admit I was very nervous because I was kind of expecting everyone to be stuck up and hard to talk to. But that was not the case at all! Kanye and his team were so friendly and professional. It was such a fun experience.

How did friends and family respond to you doing the show?

My friends and family were so shocked! Of course nobody knew about it! Everyone is fascinated by the story! But they are proud of me as well. A lot of people have said, “Only in New York would something like that happen!” I agree.

What’s next for you?

I’m still working on ship’s and continuing my Navy training. But what I love about living in New York is how the possibilities are endless. I have been pursuing acting and singing. I’m having fun auditioning for roles and collaborating with local musicians. As Yeezy Season 2 has proved, this city can take you anywhere and lead to opportunities you never dreamed of.

All photos curtesy of Erika Lawson.

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