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Summer of the slogan T

Summer of the slogan T

Summer of the slogan T
August 11
01:05 2015


The printed T-shirt is back, but this time it’s more likely to be branded with skater-speak than any political message

The communicative power of clothing is obvious: authority figure wears a suit; monarch dons a robe; those of religion drape themselves in cloth. The printed T-shirt has long had a role as a means of direct communication and right now it’s having a fashion moment. Brands such as Bianca Chandon, Palace Skateboards and Gosha Rubchinskiy are producing some of the most covetable versions. But what are the T-shirts of 2015 trying to say?

T-shirts were once all about direct messages. The black-and-white photo of Katharine Hamnett meeting Margaret Thatcher on a T-shirt reading “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING” was one of the defining fashion images of the 1980s.

Now, in the place of such overtly political statements, many of today’s T-shirts are inspired by skateboard culture, which — as many a forty-something male will recognise — is as much of a draw for kidults as it is for actual teenagers. Rubchinskiy, a young Russian designer, has drawn on the skate parks of Moscow and St Petersburg to create his Cyrillic slogan T-shirts and the collection has become a sellout success among skaters and non-skaters alike. “When Gosha’s new collection was launched the other day, it was great to see everyone queueing up with their boards,” says Dickon Bowden, vice-president of London store Dover Street Market.

Rubchinskiy’s use of Cyrillic is both proud and canny. While one of his current bestsellers spells out “sport”, it is the bold script, recognisable to those in the know, opaque to others, that makes for the label’s cult appeal. The nascent London brand Palace Skateboards uses an Escher-like triangle, designed for it by Fergus Purcell, as a badge of recognition, while Japanese label Undercover prints slogan statements in the typeface used by rock group Nirvana.

©Adam Katz Sinding

Male models at Paris menswear earlier this year

Such is the growth in the popularity of T-shirts that Dover Street Market has launched a T-shirt Space, full of brands such as Dime, Say Hello and Brain Dead, along with its own range of DSM logos printed on vintage T-shirts. “They’re £20 and they’re flying out,” says Bowden of the DSM range, adding: “It’s important for us that the store is able to offer things to everyone. The T-shirt is a very democratic piece of clothing”.

Woman wearing a Gosha Rubchinskiy T-shirt©Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

Woman wearing a Gosha Rubchinskiy T-shirt

Dover Street Market was initially inspired by owner Rei Kawakubo’s love of Kensington Market, a focal point for London subcultures in the 1980s and 1990s. Much of my teenage pocket money was spent on T-shirts at Sign of the Times, one of the market’s most celebrated stalls. “T-shirts are the ultimate billboard,” says Fiona Cartledge, the stall’s founder. “Their imagery and slogans convey a mood and are a barometer of the times.” Later this year, she will publish a book, Sign of the Times, celebrating the store, its club nights and early 1990s London culture.

Although T-shirts are often designed for men, they clearly have unisex appeal. In New York recently, the first person I saw wearing the new season’s Rubchinskiy was a twenty-something woman, tucking a flag T-shirt into her pale blue jeans (pictured, above right). Printed T-shirts have also made it on to the womenswear catwalks at houses such as Moschino, Givenchy and Christopher Kane. And for his AW15 Louis Vuitton show, Nicolas Ghesquière matched silk trouser suits with logo T-shirts. It was a simple move but one that carried weight, since brands have done much in recent years to move away from overt logo use. Could this herald the return of the luxury logo T-shirt?

T-shirts are the ultimate billboard. Their imagery and slogans are a barometer of the times

In menswear, Sacai designer Chitose Abe showed a layered look centred around T-shirts printed with the logo of legendary 1970s New York nightclub Paradise Garage. “The layering creates a feeling of chaos and unexpected beauty,” she said backstage. “The logo communicated the feeling of the collection.”

Earlier this year, cult T-shirt label Bianca Chandon also used graphics from Paradise Garage and photos of its DJ, the late Larry Levan, to create a line of T-shirts that sold out in a flash.

Of all our clothes, T-shirts put our most tribal instincts on show. I was wearing a Bianca Chandon shirt at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York the other week when a guard stopped me. It turned out he had been to Paradise Garage every week from 1982 to 1986. Levan is a hero of mine, and the guard told me many tales about the club. It was a conversation that would never have happened if I hadn’t been wearing my T-shirt.

Perhaps this encounter reveals the purest reasons to wear T-shirts: to show allegiance, to communicate and to keep memories alive.

Shopping cult T-shirts

A Gosha Rubchinskiy t-shirt

Gosha Rubchinskiy

The Russian and Chinese flags get mixed with a cheeky take on Tommy Hilfiger’s branding (£50)

A Dover Street Market t-shirt

Dover Street Market

Vintage T-shirts printed with the concept store’s logo. And, at £20, one of the cheapest buys in store

A Brain Dead t-shirt

Brain Dead

The skateboard brand combines a canny mix of doomy graphics and coded message (£40)

An Undercover t-shirt

Undercover

Note the Nirvana typeface: designer Jun Takahashi often riffs on musical references (£60)

T-shirts from Dover Street Market (doverstreetmarket.com), Farfetch (farfetch.com) and Browns Fashion (brownsfashion.com)

Photographs: Adam Katz Sinding; Vanni Bassetti/Getty Images

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