What is it about T-shirts? They can turn you into a portable work of art, a political statement or quite often an advertising billboards for the company that you have bought the garment from. I have developed a strange love affair with some of my t shirts to the point where some of their losses haunt me now, many years later and other’s I can’t bear to part with no matter how threadbare they are or how fat they make me look. I suspect I may have a bit of a T-shirt problem, I don’t know how many I own but I suspect it is in the low hundreds. Maybe this is why I have, for a long while now, felt the urge to design my own or maybe it is because a truly icon tee, like album covers and film posters can ascent to the point of becoming a work of art.
Here are my top ten favourite T-shirts, some of which I own and some of which I have coveted from afar.
10) Please Kill Me! A version of this was made famous by American punk Richard Hell of the band Television. The version I owned (still own but it is now way too small) was bought from cult shop Sign of the Times at some point in the mid 90’s it’s a ringer tee, having a collar and long sleeves in contrasting colours to the main body. Like many of the best t-shirts it is slightly offensive and confrontational in nature.
9) The Cure, Kissing Tour. Everyone has their favourite gig T-shirt, and this is mine. From a sentimental view, it is the first ever concert I went to back in December 1987 but it is also a nice bit of design. As was the fashion in the late 80’s it was huge, an xxxl with a full colour design on both the front and rear. As my figure has regrettably started to catch up with 80’s t-shirt fashions I could probably still fit in it but seeing as it is now nearly 30 years old it is too fragile to wear.
8) Pop Will Eat Itself Pepsi logo. Pop Will Eat Itself (PWEI) had a close relationship with, Sheffield graphic designers, The Designers Republic who produced many iconic designs for them before creating the look of classic Playstation game, Wipeout amongst other things. This play on the Pepsi cola logo is encircled by the phrase “Sample it, Loop it, F**k it and Eat it.” a line from their song “Very Metal Noise Pollution” I never owned this T-shirt as I always held out for one of the long sleeve ‘rude’ versions sans asterix.
7) Another shirt I never owned was the Vivienne Westwood “Gay Cowboys” shirt mainly because, like most original Westwood clothing, it is now worth a small fortune. Sold when the shop was called “Sex”. The two cowboys with their winkies almost touching was guaranteed to offend in repressed 1970’s Britain. I had a few Westwood tees in the late 90’s but as the sizings were always quite small, I sold them off as I put on weight.
6) Anarchic Adjustment was the archetypal 90‘s skatewear company designing ‘edgy’ T- Shirts, often with a strong moral or political message. The shirt I owned hand a huge hand covering the entire front of the shirt. In tiny lettering beneath it are the words “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist”. The designer would use unusual design techniques including black on black printing and creating images using a photocopier.
5) Strawberry shirt. Another iconic skatewear firm was Insane who’s images had a very bold style with thick outlines to them. The images were often quite wonky in construction. It is a deep irony now, after years of debilitating mental health problems that I spent much of the 90’s with the word “Insane” emblazoned across my chest or back.
4) W< I Love You! Dutch designer Walter Van Beirendonck was at the cutting edge of the rave and cyberpunk scenes. Using manufacturing techniques only commonly used, sadly, in small children’s clothing. Designer primarily for members of the rave scene, clothing had a high level of play value. One of my favourite t-shirts had a sheriff’s badge attached and a large print of a gun across it. This shirt had a mechanism built in where the eyes of Puk Puk, one of Beirendonck’s trademark characters flashed and a voice box says “I love you!” from with the t-shirt.
3) Maharishi has for the past few years been my go to designer of T-Shirts, mainly because of their high ethical standards of manufacturing and their intelligent use of images. I tend to go for their slightly cheaper and bigger belly friendly MHI range. I have too much of their stuff to really have a favourite but I do love my Psychomania, an obscure British 1970’s B Horror movie, ones rather a lot (I often get the same shirt in a variety of colourways (I said I had a problem)). They have gone through an annoying phase recently of emblazoning their logo across their shirts which has forced me to cut down my nasty habit as I dislike the idea that after paying thirty odd pounds stirling for very basic garment, I am expected to give them free advertising too.
2) Kidrobot was for the most of the noughties probably the best producer of t-shirts. Kidrobot was first and foremost a maker of designer toys, often called designer or urban vinyl, and would get the same cutting edge graffiti and graphic designers to decorate both toys and T-shirts. Of these, my favourite was a graffiti artist called Dalek, whose real name is James Marshall. Marshall worked in the studio of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and has a similar very graphic style with a range of stylised characters.
1) Floral Tee by Takashi Murakami. I have worn this shirt only once because it really doesn’t suit me. Some things, however, are just so lovely that they are work having just to look at. These wardrobe wonders as I call them look better on a hanger than on me. I am planning to get this particular T-shirt frame as it is too lovely to hide away in a draw. Takashi Murakami regards everything he produces in the way of merchandise as being as much art as his sculptures and canvas’.
By now you might have gathered that I am rather fond of T-shirts and in this spirit, I have tried my hand at designing some of my own. The first to be produced is a design based on the poster for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Where the knife wielding Alex, the protagonist of Antony Burgess’ dystopian novel is replaced by a flower waving Dweebling. I have taken great care in it’s production from tracking down one of the best screen printers out there, through to designing special labels and hang tags. Hopefully my love of the T-shirt and my knowledge of what works and what doesn’t has been transferred into this design. If you want one, you can get one Here:-