Feeling Like Pablo: Inside (and Outside of) Kanye West's New York City Pop-Up Shop
On the same block as high-end boutiques Celiné and Moschino in New York's SoHo shopping grid, zealous Kanye West fans with saintly patience have shut down the street, waiting -- and hoping -- to enter 83 Wooster, the rapper-cum-designer's Pablo pop-up shop.
On opening night (March 18), the Yeezy Hive included a mixed bag of consumers, from the suited business folk to Yeezy Boost-clad hypebeasts, as well as West's inner circle, like model Luka Sabaat, Ian Connor and producer Mike Dean. Day two offered the early-rising weekend crowd with the same fervor as a Jordan sneaker drop.
The storefront mirrored the flier West shared in his Twitter announcement: a large square maroon floor-to-ceiling sign that read "Pablo" in burnt orange gothic lettering, a staple design in the inventory. Artist Cali Thornhill Dewitt, who used the same typography for previous designs like his "Pour One Out" sweatshirts, lent his vision to the minimalistic yet bold apparel, fitting of the Pablo personality: loud and proud.
The Pablo mini-emporium was bare with white walls and wooden racks. A lone projection with a montage, including menacing canine faces, violent explosions and rose bouquets plays on loop as a playlist of West's seventh album, The Life of Pablo, mixed with Future's catalog, blare through the black Sonos speakers. The clothes are more muted. Hoodies, short- and long-sleeve shirts, bomber jackets, windbreakers, beanies and caps available in azure blue and maroon red (the latter was first spotted at Kanye's Yeezy Season 3 fashion show/ TLOP listening session at Madison Square Garden last month) line the walls in color-coordinated fashion.
A New Yorker named Rory Johnstone had copped nearly $900 worth of swag for himself and his friends on Friday, and then returned on day two (a personal hook-up allowed him to skip the line drama) to potentially purchase a jean jacket.
"I am a huge Kanye fan," he tells Billboard. "In his discography, [The Life of Pablo album] is in the top three, a more minor work than say Yeezus or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
As a design creative himself, Johnstone appreciated the garb, commending the colors and typography. "[The merch is] fine for what he's trying to do -- a sort of high volume merch," he says.
Like Kanye's tweets, the designs are hard to miss, especially in the denim department. Tattered vintage Levi's jean jackets, retailing for $400, range from darker dungaree hues to the washed and faded. Each jacket boasts a different collar from soft wool to red lumberjack plaid to leopard animal print. Even the imprinted black scrawl on one jacket asks the shopper "The Life of Pablo Which one?" West also tributes his family on $45 airbrushed cotton tees that bear illustrations of the face of his late mother Donda West on the front and his late father-in-law Robert Kardashian on the back.
Pablo customers emerged from the store with multiple clear shopping bags of merch, a sight that would have made Kanye -- who once tweeted "not smiling makes me smile" -- beam. Despite being a revered wordsmith and producer, his recent aspirations have been to conquer runways and closets with his Yeezy Season line (a zine worth $120 of Seasons 1 and 2 was also on sale at the shop).
He told Zane Lowe during a 2013 BBC interview, "I've got ideas on color palettes. I've got ideas on silhouettes. And I've got a million people telling me why I can't do it. You know, that I'm not a real designer... I'm not a real rapper, either! I'm not a real musician, either! Like, I don't know how to play the piano. I'm an artist. I went to art college."
By his own definition, the Pablo pop-up shop -- like the TLOP album -- is art, free of judgment and open to interpretation.
While buyers had different agendas for their purchases -- memorabilia, immediate wear or reselling (as one customer who copped three jackets, two hats and several shirts admitted -- grabbing Pablo gear was a God dream I.R.L. to those who shivered in the 40-degree weather outside with no guarantee of entry.
"I feel like it's better to get a knock off," one man in line for almost three hours on Friday evening contemplated aloud to his friend. "Kanye would appreciate the DIY spirit."