Tracing Kim Kardashian West’s Journey as a Fashion Muse


At 41, Kim Kardashian West is a certified fashion icon. Since the very beginnings of her stardom, she’s established herself as a paparazzi magnet through her street style and ultimate It-girl persona. We shall never forget her first fashion era in Juicy Couture tracksuits and Louis Vuitton luggage, alongside Paris Hilton, that introduced her to the covers of gossip magazines and early fashion blogs. She’s always loved clothing and accessories, as she used to be a closet organizer and boutique owner, but it wasn’t until Kim and Kanye fell in love that her fashion elevated to a capital F – giving her access to the best designers in the world.

West famously cleaned out her closet with his stylist Renelou Padora in a 2012 episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, replacing the discards with a brand new wardrobe to match the potential he saw in her. He convinced her to get rid of a shearling Louis Vuitton dog bag (“Shouldn’t I keep this for my daughter one day?”) and a sea of neon and stud pumps, to her initial dread. “I find it’s so ironic that I’m the one who’s always giving my friends closet makeovers, so for the roles to be reversed it’s like, oh my god,” Kim said in the episode. The glamour girl met her match with West as he challenged her to imagine a future of “best-dressed list territory.”

And she trusted him. “Kanye’s definitely inspired me to want to be a little bit more of an individual,” she said on the show. “I think my style’s just evolving and changing and I think it should, because that’s, you know, what life is about. He’s a fashion designer and he loves clothes so I’m excited to collaborate with him to see what his take on fashion is.” Ever since, he’s connected her to the most influential names in the business.

In 2016, she told CNN, “I remember one day [when we were dating], he brought me Carine Roitfeld’s coffee table book Carine Roitfeld: Irreverent and was like, ‘You should be studying this book, this is like the fashion bible. And I was like, ‘Who’s Carine?’ I knew nothing. And he said, ‘Watch, one day she’s going to style you.’” And of course, West was right. KKW was the cover star of the third issue of CR, back when she was pregnant with North West. But she was still an underdog in the fashion world, and luckily Carine saw her potential too, regardless of naysayers and gatekeepers.

“A lot of brands refused to give clothes for the shoot. But a few did — otherwise, Kim would have been naked on the cover!” said Carine. “I think that now designers have become used to her in the spotlight. At some point, they realized that a Kardashian wearing their look means that everyone will see it… And, at the end of the day, that is every designer’s dream.”

That’s exactly how KKW became the phenomenon that she is – through her close relationships with designers who weren’t afraid to push boundaries with her and challenged the norms of celebrity and prestige. As both a muse and a collaborator, she served some of the most memorable fashion spectacles of the last decades, started countless trends, and busted the industry open to understanding the power of social media. She’s proved herself a real risk-taker, with faith in her designer and the story they want to tell.

Being a Kardashian, she prefers to mix family and business, which is why the bonds with her favorite designers are so personal. From Riccardo Tisci, Olivier Rousteing, Thierry Mugler, Demna Gvasalia, and West himself, the almost-lawyer libra has explored her fashion with the most innovative designers of her time. Take a look back at KKW’s journey through fashion and designer friendships.

Givenchy and Riccardo Tisci

Kim Kardashian West’s first fashion alliance was Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy. Born from him and West’s long friendship, after Tisci designed the album art for Watch the Throne and cult-favorite tour tee shirts, he enlisted in the “New Kim” makeover. “Kanye and me, we did it together,” the then-Givenchy designer told Details in 2015. “[She was accepted] by nobody.… Every designer is dying to dress her now. I didn’t care what people thought about Kim. In the beginning I met her because of my respect for Kanye, and then I liked her a lot and we became friends. I got killed because of this. But I didn’t care.”

In 2012, she was increasingly photographed wearing the house’s fold-over boots and cocktail dresses and began attending Tisci’s shows with West. But her real debut was the 2013 Met Gala, where she wore a floral Givenchy gown with matching gloves, in attendance as West’s plus-one and pregnant with North West. It was the first time her look went viral (remember the memes comparing the dress their grandmother’s couch?) and was her first fashion risk. While it introduced her to the fashion critics on Twitter, she looks back in appreciation now. In 2019 she revealed that there was a black version of the dress, but Tisci insisted that she wear the floral. “Riccardo had said afterwards ‘What do you give a women when she’s pregnant? You send her flowers.’”

In May 2014, Tisci designed her gown for her Florentine wedding to West, as well as the groom’s suit and a matching look for North. The dress was elegant and sophisticated, made custom with sleeves, lace paneling, understated waist cutouts, and a long sweeping veil. She wrote in a throwback post,”There is no one else I could imagine designing a dress this special.”

Lanvin and Alber Elbaz

One of the first designers to take a chance on Kim was the late Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, who tragically passed away this past April. Elbaz also had a friendship with West, inviting the couple front row and eventually dressing her first official Met Ball. She wore a teal, tuxedo wrap gown that showed a sophisticated, old-Hollywood glamour side of her. Unlike many talented designers at the time, Elbaz embraced her with open arms.

“Alber and Lanvin dressed me to the first Met Ball I was invited to on my own,” KKW wrote in tribute post on Instagram. “Our fittings were filled with laughs and hugs! What a sweet soul. I will cherish all of our memories forever.”

“When I heard the news of his passing today my heart broke… My first time to Paris I was surprised with a lunch with Alber and I almost fainted when he walked in. He was the most warm and welcoming.”

Sitting front row at Lanvin shows was her first taste of Paris Fashion Week. where she stepped out in striking looks, including fully sheer tops or a bleach blonde bob, and started experimenting with a more editorial look.

Olivier Rousteing and Balmain

Kardashian-West soon became a Balmain muse after meeting Rousteing at the 2013 Met Gala. They were instant BBFs – he was one of the three designers she considered to make her wedding gown.

“I choose muses that are actually really different and modern — I chose them because they are contemporary, they are part of this new world,” Rousteing said of Kim to CNN. “First, I think she’s powerful. She’s representing the new world and she represents the new family: Kim, Kanye, North. I also think she’s pushing boundaries when it comes to the female form. I love dressing her, she’s a different body type to the models on my catwalk—she’s part of my world.”

The selfie queen embarked on her Balmain Army era, sitting front row at all of Rousteing’s shows and representing on the red carpet. She wore one of her best Balmain looks to her bachelorette party in Paris, a long-sleeve mini dress inspired by Marie Antoinette and encrusted in diamonds and pearls. Rousteing is ever-present in the beginnings of Kimye’s love story, as he essentially dressed her for the most important job of her life – motherhood. “[The first dress that I made for her] was a long, electric blue dress that Kanye requested,” the designer said in a Q&A video, referencing the 2012 Angel Ball. “And you know what is the most amazing thing was about this dress? I don’t know if I can say it, but I’m going to say it. I’m sorry, Kim, I want to say it. It was the night North was conceived.”

The Wests (and Kylie Jenner) wore Balmain to the 2016 Met Gala “Manus X Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology,” which she described her look as a “sexy, blingy robot,” and were named the best dressed couple of the night.

Yeezy and Kanye West

Kim’s most important designer love affair includes Kanye, of course. Arguably the second face of Yeezy, she’s modeled almost everything by the rapper, from sneakers to slides, to those trend-setting bike shorts. She was the star of the genius Yeezy Season 6 campaign, where she was photographed in the new collection running errands and eating McDonald’s ice cream. Styled by Carine, the queen of chic neutrals, KKW broadcasted the athleisure-loungewear in her signature strategy of a paparazzi photoshoot. “The Wife of Pablo” later enlisted Hilton as a “Yeezy Clone” in the same campaign, and continued to model seasons 7 and 8 on Instagram. Besides her own skin-toned brand Skims, Yeezy is essentially her off-duty uniform.

“I literally just wear all of the Yeezy samples,” KKW told People in 2018. “I’m totally inspired by Kanye and the Yeezy team—and listen to the advice of everyone over there who is making all the clothes. I basically get this wardrobe and I don’t have to think too much about it.”

She got all the style clout and more, even owning a share of the company. That same year, she told Ashley Graham on her “Pretty Big Deal” podcast that West gifted her part ownership of Yeezy for Mother’s Day. It was in exchange for her declining a million-dollar Instagram deal with a fast fashion brand that routinely knocked off Yeezy designs. “I open the envelope and it’s a million-dollar check and it was a note saying, ‘Thank you for always supporting me and not posting.’ And then, in the rest of the envelope, it was a contract to be an owner of YEEZY and my percentage.” What’s more romantic than West sharing a piece of his artistic legacy? Kimye was a fashion twin flame like no other, though Forbes reported West now owns 100% of the company since their divorce went public.

She still wears her Yeezy’s, though. And she was recently spotted in New York wearing the new Yeezy X Gap hoodie with Balenciaga.

Manfred Thierry Mugler

Kim and Mugler’s inspired partnership began when she wore the designer’s 1998 strappy “backward” couture gown to the Hollywood Beauty Awards in 2019. The sexy, alien-look went viral and swiftly copied by Instagram-based fast fashion brands, but there’s no competing with the exaggerated architecture and complex silhouetting by Mugler himself. That February she attended the “Thierry Mugler: Couturissime” exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in two of his archive creations: a Fall 1999 Couture “Les Medusas” pink and gold bodice and Spring 1994 intricate white mini dress. This marked another turning point for the star, as it flexed her connections to the most prized, vault-locked runway pieces. KKW is an obvious Mugler muse, as his designs reflect hyperbolic structure, optical and unorthodox body proportions, and otherworldly glamour. Only KKW could pull the legend out of retirement for the 2019 Met Gala “Camp: Notes on Fashion.”

“Kim contacted me when she heard that the Met’s new exhibition would be about camp,” said Mugler. “She really wanted me to think about her look for that special night and we ended up doing two amazing couture concept dresses. My first ones in 20 years!”

Now Met Gala centerpiece, KKW stepped out in a “wet” latex beaded gown dripping in crystals, as if she were a sea siren who just earned her legs. The two worked on the look for eight months, she said on the Met steps, “He envisioned me as this California girl stepping out of the ocean, wet, dripping.” She nailed the theme in her own, Kim-K way, representing herself as a modern sex symbol and honoring artifice in the tightest corset of the night – and perhaps the history of the event. Her partnership with Mugler proved her power in fashion, as she went on to wear more archival and vintage one-of-a-kind looks, reserved for a one-of-a-kind superstar.

Balenciaga and Demna Gvasalia

In 2021, Demna Gvasalia hacked KKW’s wardrobe. It only makes sense, for the Balenciaga designer loves to push buttons, challenge rules, and critique today’s culture, whereas Kim represents today’s culture. She is the source of the mainstream, and the perfect canvas to experiment with, say, a black-out face veil at the biggest red carpet of the year.

Last Halloween, she and West stood in full Balenciaga black and red suits from the Fall 2020 collection, foreshadowing similar looks they wore by Gvasalia at the DONDA listening parties this summer, for which he served as creative director.

West and the Georgian designer’s creative bond dates back to 2015 when he tapped Gvasalia to design for Yeezy Season 1, as a fan of his work at Vetements and his sartorial commentary. Now, it appears that West’s newest venture with his favorite designer is outfitting his ex. At the final DONDA listening event in August, Kim was one of several surprises of the night, gliding into the spotlight wearing the first Balenciaga Haute Couture wedding gown in 53 years.

Ever since, she’s exclusively stepped out in Balenciaga, in a refreshing and exciting new vibe of skintight satin, gimp masks, capes, shades, and pantaleggings. Her ghostly tee shirt gown at September’s Met Gala evoked mystery, restraint, and intrigue, though displayed the power of her celebrity as she was easily recognized only by her silhouette. Her Saturday Night Live run introduced hot pink catsuits to her monochromatic Balenciaga black, often paired with a pointed handbag, sock-boots, and, most recently, furry sunglasses (which sold out instantly).

Despite their divorce, Kimye quietly lives on through the fashions Kim wears, the trends the rest of us follow, and the progression of the industry as a whole. It’s only the beginning of the West-Gvasalia era, and they have everyone on the edge of their seats.


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