Kim Kardashian and North West are seen during the Paris Fashion Week on July 05, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/WireImage)
SNEAKERS & FASHION

The History of Kanye’s $10,000 Pastelle Jacket

North West, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s eldest child, shut down Paris with an archival wear from her dad’s Pastelle catalog.

This week in France, style savants congregated in Paris to witness what’s next for fashion. Couture collections from Balenciaga became bigger thanks to red carpet talent taking the runway. It wasn’t unusual to see Kim Kardashian as the center of attention, but it was North West that totally stole the spotlight.

The nine-year-old fashionista, daughter of Kardashian and Kanye West, signaled the future of fashion by paying homage to both the present and the past.

Donning Balenciaga boots and Louis Vuitton Millionaire 1.1 sunglasses that honor Virgil Abloh, Marc Jacobs, and Pharrell Williams in spirit, North West presented a masterclass in menswear history by way of her Pastelle varsity jacket originally worn by her dad.

Why does this singular article of apparel demand mass attention among fashion circles? Boardroom breaks down the deep significance of the iconic item from Kanye’s clothing line that never was.

Streetwear’s Superteam

Since the days of dropping The College Dropout, Kanye West has long considered himself a designer that raps rather than the other way around. After amassing worldwide success as an artist, Ye quickly proved he could move the needle with more than just a record scratch. Aiming to optimize and monetize his influence, Kanye and his camp began designing shoes for Reebok and attempting to launch their first clothing company, Mascotte.

Rapper Kanye West arrives at the 2008 American Music Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on November 23, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Inspired by the Dropout Bear designed by Sam Hansen, popped-collar polos with collegiate teddy branding appeared in sample fashion in the “New Workout Plan” video but never made it to market. For Ye, leveraging his endorsement of preppy Polo with an embroidered logo of his own was too much of a layup. To really be taken seriously, he needed to overtake France with the same thunder as Vince Carter in the Olympics.

Never afraid to delegate, Ye called up all his highest-taste friends to create Pastelle. Led by the likes of Virgil Abloh, Matthew M. Williams, and Kim Jones, the team forecasted the future for Louis Vuitton, Givenchy, and Dior — and that was just on the apparel front. When it came to accessories and graphics, Kanye called in Ben Baller, KAWS, and Daniel Beckerman from Retrosuperfuture.

“It was [the] X-Men coming together,” multi-talented multi-hyphenate Taz Arnold told Complex in 2018. “[Kanye] had some colorful individuals and creative people working to his benefit.”

The team aimed to take the ethos of Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, and American Apparel and put them all in a blender. By fusing all of Ye’s favorite brands at that time, the intent was to offer runway palettes on wearable items with the same steez as the eventual Air Yeezy. As Ibn Jasper recently recalled on The Complex Sneakers Podcast, the production was handled by A Bathing Ape and none other than NIGO himself.

Between blog posts by Kanye and commotion surrounding his every outfit and public appearance, the buzz around Pastelle began to mount publically around the release of Graduation and mounted even more after the media run for 808s & Heartbreak.

From an exposure standpoint, the closest look anyone ever got at an actual item was in November 2008 when Kanye West arrived at the 2008 American Music Awards. Taking home the trophy for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album, Ye delivered on his “especially in my Pastelle and my Bape s–t” line by rocking a KAWS co-branded camo hat with an unreleased Pastelle varsity jacket. Created in part by Fruition founder and vintage extraordinaire Chris Julian, the bold blue piece was inspired by archival Troop jackets — branded with the fun, flavor, and font of Spike Lee joints like Jungle Fever and Do The Right Thing.

Because the award show was broadcast on ABC during primetime hours, the visibility of the varsity jacket eclipsed that of items previously previewed at fashion shows. Though items like the infamous shark-fin hoody were modeled in look books by Rihanna, TV still overpowered that of the internet in 2008. With the holiday season soon approaching, news suggest an online launch was looming.

Kanye West appears backstage on Day 2 of KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Xmas at the Gibson Amphitheater on December 14, 2008 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Sadly, as 2008 ended, so did the dream of Pastelle.

In December, Ye made a media run in an embroidered tiger jacket deemed Pastelle, wearing it on Saturday Night Live. Shortly after, the early months of 2009 instead shifted the energy to Kanye’s collaboration with Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton for a range of footwear. That year saw West’s work with Nike come to retail by way of the first Air Yeezy and almost yielded a Levi’s line.

What it did not see was the official launch of Pastelle. Shelved shortly after it was unveiled, The Cut deemed it dead in October 2009, only 11 months after West won an award in the blue piece of outerwear. From then on, both the line and the AMA jacket became buried in the infinite idea vault curated by Kanye.

Amplified Sample

At face value, the name Pastelle plays off Old Kanye’s admiration for Easter egg tones and prep apparel. By the time the brand actually began producing sample products, the vision had ventured more into Ye’s infatuation with merging the worlds of international items — filling the gaps between the runway and fast fashion in a medium that blended Japanese streetwear with Americana classics.

This never happened in 2009 at a retail level. Ominously enough, the branding around Pastelle transitioned to Pastelle Museum and the phrase “The Past Tells Everything.” By 2016, this proved prophetic as iconic items from the vaulted collection began popping up in curated auctions and galleries both online and at Paris Fashion Week.

PARIS, FRANCE – JULY 05: Kim Kardashian and North West are seen leaving the Jean-Paul Gaultier headquarters on July 05, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pierre Suu/GC Images)

Around the mid-2010s, talks of a Pastelle revival revved up. Led by AWGE associate and fashion provocateur Ian Connor, sample shirts baring Pastelle branding began popping up. Additionally, artist Quavo and model Bloody Osiris appeared in the infamous AMA jacket. In that era, HYPEBEAST hinted that an official rollout would be double-pronged in attack, beginning with auctions on Grailed for original items as an energy play and appetizer while new products became ready for retail.

Famously, the AMA jacket was listed for a whopping $3,000 in 2016. Perhaps more famously, the relaunch of Pastelle never happened.

In the following years, Complex uncovered the tale of the tape on Kanye’s unreleased fashion line. As recently as this May, the AMA jacket resurfaced on fashion outlets when vintage curator Justin Reed listed a medium-size sample for $10,000.

One could conjure that it’s that very rare auctioned item that North West wore in Paris. It’s also possible that the jacket seen on North is the same one worn on stage at the 2008 AMAs.

Family Business

Nostalgia aside, the wear from North West adds nuance to Kanye’s recent raps about not just proximity to his children but the influence on their aesthetic.

On 2021 Donda track “Come to Life,” Ye sings about giving a gift to North but all she wants are Nikes — the competitor brand to his Adidas Yeezy empire. This year, on XXXTentacion’s posthumous single “True Love,” Kanye complains about his kids being dressed in “what are those” despite him having his own shoe line. Whether it be his in-laws, famous friends, or his own kin, Kanye has long been vocal about the importance of family ties to all his various ventures when considering his quest for generational wealth.

Kanye’s kids have been spotted recently not just in archival apparel from Ye’s career but also Adidas Yeezys.

Psalm West, Kim Kardashian and Saint West are seen in Midtown on June 21, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)

The wear of the AMA Pastelle jacket by North in Paris, specifically, is full of commercial context.

In the world of fashion, influencers are using their celebrity spawn to showcase upcoming launches. (See: Stormi Jenner proving team early on this summer’s Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Low launch.) In the universe of Kanye, not only are his new designs helping build a billion-dollar brand, there’s potential for his old aesthetic to be embraced by new consumers. By bringing back the Pastelle jacket quite literally on the back of his daughter, an array of audiences are introduced to a product that still matters much despite the fact that it was never actually released.

This makes us wonder all over again: Is this a sign it actually will?

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