These days, Kanye West’s multiple fashion lines can be seen everywhere from resale websites like Grailed to the stylish streets of cities like Tokyo, London, and New York. But before he was selling The Life of Pablo merch at Madison Square Garden, distressed made-in-France knitwear at legit fashion stores like SSENSE and MyTheresa, Wes Lang graphic tees at PacSun, and making skinny jeans and Airport Sweaters with A.P.C., plenty of West’s previous fashion aspirations never saw the light of day. Or so we thought.
Charles Mangan is a longtime Kanye West and music merchandise fan who has managed to track down some super rare t-shirts, ranging from West’s Mascotte by K West line featuring the Dropout Bear from The College Dropout, to a couple of tees from West’s mid-aughts streetwear-inspired line Pastelle, which was cancelled before covetable items like bold blue varsity jackets were ever released. The result of a half-decade spent scouring eBay, Mangan tells us how he found these gems, and what he thinks of West’s evolution as a designer and cultural fashion force.
How’d you get into Kanye? What’s your day job?
I work in music merchandise now, but I’ve been a superfan of Kanye since The College Dropout, following him from 2004-on. My first-ever concert was the Glow In the Dark Tour. Pharrell actually pulled us on the stage for “Spaz.” I saw that show and got merch there, which was the Murakami shit. I’ve always loved music merch, and I’ve always been a huge Kanye fan. He’s the king of both industries, essentially. If you’re into music and you’re into fashion, he’s the beacon.
How did you find all these T-shirts?
Literally looking on eBay for five years. All of them I got on eBay. I’d search terms like “Kanye Pastelle,” “Premium Pastelle,” and “Mascotte.” I’d seen Don C. wear a t-shirt at the airport—so I knew it existed. I knew the outerwear like the varsity jacket no one has, except maybe Kanye and Chris Julian. But when they printed t-shirts, I figured someone had to have one eventually.
What was Mascotte and how was it different from Pastelle?
Mascotte with the “t-t-e” is Kanye’s holdings company, that all his brands are under. When he was with Roc-A-Fella, he was going to launch his first clothing line when the Dropout Bear logo was first popping off. It was called “Mascotte By K West,” and Roc-A-Wear was going to fund it. So Dame and Jay would basically put that bear on track jackets, and I think they did a few S. Carter sneakers with the bear. And on the Truth tour there’s a photo of Kanye in a bucket hat wearing the shirt, when he was traveling with A-Trak, G.L.C., and all those guys. This was all pre-Pastelle.
Why do you think Mascotte never saw the light of day?
I think Kanye thought: “I’m better than this—if I’m going to do a line, I’m going to do it the right way.” I think he said in an interview something along the lines of how he could’ve made millions just selling shit with the bear on it, but instead he wanted to go the Pastelle route. And before the Pastelle stuff that he almost released came out, there was a lookbook with Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco, and other Glow in the Dark tour mates.
When did you start actively searching for old Pastelle and Kanye merch?
Around 2012 or 2013, when everyone else was searching for Yeezus stuff. No one was looking for Pastelle, Mascotte, or old shit. They were looking for the Wes Lang graphics, and I found the Pastelle basketball hoop t-shirt. The guy was asking for a ridiculous price, like $10,000. So I messaged him on eBay about how much I wanted the shirt, and if it ever came down to a reasonable price, I wanted to have it.
Who was the seller? Did you end up finding more old stuff through him?
It was some guy who said he worked on the line in ’06, and he had other samples. So he showed me this other shirt of this floral print with “Pastelle” in the Neiman Marcus font, because apparently at the time Kanye thought it was the freshest shit.
How’d you find the other merch?
Just by looking for old merch on eBay, I came across that Mascotte shirt. The other blue shirt with the bear has a Kanye West neck tag, and I believe that was sold on his website at one point. And the other sketch shirt was from Kanye West’s fan club in 2004. He actually sketched it, and you got it if you signed up for the Kanye West fan club.
Ian Connor recently mentioned the defunct line on Instagram. Do you think Kanye West still thinks about bringing back Pastelle?
Actually, on the leaked version of “Highlights” that just came out, he’s still talking about Pastelle twelve years later. He’s like: “I might do a baby line and call it Pastelle.” He first referenced it on “Gone” off Late Registration in ’05, and on “Stronger” and “Swagger Like Us,” and he’s still referencing it in 2016. It’s a long love story, at least with that name, he seems to love the name Pastelle. So it’s definitely something I think he would potentially revisit at some point.
You’ve got some rare pieces, but what do you think of the Yeezy collection that actually released?
Obviouslly it’s a lot different aesthetically than even the higher-end Pastelle stuff, which was still on that ’07-’08 vibe of bright colors like BAPE, Billionaire Boys Club, and Ice Cream—when he was working with Murakami and looked up to Nigo. I think that Yeezy stuff is a big change, even from Kanye West Paris, which was obviously womenswear, but I think he’s found his look that he wants to run with. All three seasons have had similarities, even though it’s changed a bit.
Do you own any Yeezy pieces?
I have the camo t-shirt, and I got a girl that I was with some of the women’s stuff. And of course the Yeezus merch is hugely popular too. The Yeezus logo’s changed a bit, there was the first one, the second one on the Glastonbury merch, and now this new one that looks a little different. He’s been wearing that dad hat a lot, the hoodies, and the bomber jackets.
It’s almost as if the Yeezy line is the high-end main collection, and the Yeezus merch is the accessible diffusion. Do you think he’s finally figured out his flow?
Yeah, definitely. If the Yeezus line ever comes out for mass consumption, I think it’ll be extremely successful. The Wes Lang graphics are amazing, and the logo is great, and everyone seems to gravitate towards that. The sneakers are a whole other beast in themselves–he’ll never fail with sneakers. I think he’s found his rhythm.
“The Mascotte shirt was his first line. If you were to chart Kanye West’s design evolution, it would go Mascotte by K West, to Pastelle, and I guess at one point in time he changed that to PAST TELL MUSEUM, and that got cancelled.
“He did the fashion line people mistakenly call ‘DW By Kanye West,’ but that was just a logo on the invitation, it was actually called Kanye West Paris. He did two lines of that, but I’ve seen the tag. It was high-end womenswear with the Giuseppe Zannotti collab, and he had that go-kart track after the show.”
“This is a shirt he gave away to fan club members around 2004. He drew it himself and signed it. If you look at The College Dropout, the actual, physical album with the brown cover, there’s an ad on the back of the booklet to go cop The College Dropout shirts on kanyewest.com.”
“I was super excited to wear this when The Life of Pablo was still called SWISH. I was going to wear it to MSG. This is the one Don C. got photographed in at the airport. This is the only Pastelle piece, besides the stuff Kanye wore and what was featured in the lookbook, that’s ever been seen.”
“The floral piano print shirt has never been seen, except by the people who worked on it. It’s got the Neiman Marcus-inspired logo on it, and there’s another colorway of it, it’s like a cream, but I don’t own that one. I think it was just a graphic he liked at the time, I’m not sure who actually did the print. It’s a gel print too, it’s not a normal screenprint. It’s on an American Apparel tee, and all the other ones are on old Gildans.”
“I think this was a Mascotte tee that was sold on his site. The bear is on the neck tag.”