That speckled, perfectly imperfect cactus planter you bought off Etsy?
It’s not twee, it’s “wabi-sabi.” Just ask Kim and Kanye.
“You are familiar with the cultural pursuit of wabi-sabi in Japan?” David Letterman asks the rapper-turned-preacher on a tour of the West/Kardashian estate in California for the second season of his Netflix show, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman.”
(Their spread cost $20 million and is in Hidden Hills, Calif.; photos of it first surfaced on social media last year.)
“That’s what this house is: wabi-sabi vibes,” West retorts, pointing to large asymmetrical ceramics by an artist who is represented by pop-art superstar Takashi Murakami (who is also a friend of West’s).
“I just love these ceramics,” West adds. “I got these as a Christmas presents to myself.”
To the uninitiated, wabi-sabi may sound like some sort of specialty dish. In fact, it’s a Buddhist worldview that goes hand in hand with traditional Japanese aesthetics. These days, though, products in the wabi-sabi vein can also be found at Brooklyn craft markets.
The philosophy of wabi-sabi is derived from the three hallmarks of existence, per Buddhism: impermanence, suffering and emptiness. It is characterized by design elements like asymmetry, roughness and austerity. The difficult-to-translate phrase is often defined as “wisdom in natural simplicity.”
While the “perfectly imperfect” mode of thinking has been a staple of Japanese design for hundreds of years, it’s only recently that it has become the aesthetic du jour of the superrich.
“One of my favorite design aesthetics is wabi-sabi, which I learned a lot from and try to use it in all my work,” Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said at a talk in 2017.
It’s also prominently featured in glossy design and shelter magazines.
While the West abode is certainly salted with a healthy dose of wabi-sabi decor, you might call the rest of the house — as shown on the tour with Letterman — “Soho-boutique minimalism,” with vast open spaces and white everything.
But for West, that’s just another element of the “vibe.”
“I think I use art as a superpower to protect myself in a capitalistic world,” he tells Letterman. “And, also, I can use it to make money.”