notes from the editor
I’ve become fascinated with a period of time before the manifestation of the internet. The period between mid 80s and late 90s represents a fairly vast chunk of my youth. When looking back I found it interesting that many of the bands and clothing labels that myself and friends grew up around had absolutely no internet prescence. I think this was a time before culture became homoginized and we all fed off the same global source. I’ve always had a keen interest in T-shirts, their ease of production and relatively low cost has made them a vehicle for every conceivable subculture and their much loved status often meant that they were worn until they literally fell apart, which often adds to the rarity of old pieces.
Can you tell us about the Very Ape (Bootleg) tee in TSHIRTTHEN?
I got it from a shop in Berlin that was the only place I knew at the time that was selling Very Ape. I think they had an ad in one of the many free magazines that were distributed through record shops at the time. When I called the store the guy who picked up sounded super annoyed and arrogant. He told me he had a T-shirt he could send me. He didn’t describe it, though, and I didn’t care. I sent him cash in the mail (Around 100 DM – 100 EUR or 72 GBP). One day this post-card sized package arrives – in it this crumpled, yellowed, stained Very Ape T-shirt. I was so upset that he had sent me this piece of trash that I scanned the graphic, re-built it, and had a friend screen-print me two ‘new’ T-shirts in navy. They looked OK but it wasn’t the same. I never wore the navy ones in public. I was still happy, sort of, to have this original. I tried to get the stains out but not a chance. At least not so that the graphics would stay untouched...
And what about the Union T-shirt?
In 1995 we went to Supreme to ask them whether they’d be interested in selling their line in Germany. The politely declined (not really). So it was funny to see that a few months later a store called „Supreme“ opened in Munich. I found out as my boss at the time did their awning. One day I came to the office and there they were with a really badly printed-on Supreme logo. I asked whether he knew what that was... but he didn’t care. So I checked out the shop and they did have some Supreme and UNION T-shirts. That’s where I picked up this one. It’s one of my top three T-shirts... ever.
Any other significant tees?
I picked up the Keith Harring Tee from the original Pop Shop on Lafayette Street in New York in 1992. I remember walking down there all the way from 52nd street. On broadway all these shady stores had the collectible Swatches in their windows, next to carpets and other crap, at ludicrous prices. The one I wanted was the Keith Haring set... I couldn’t get it, so I thought the next best thing would be a T-shirt. Lafayette was quite a rough street back then and the shop was barred and you had to ring the doorbell to be let in. I still have the plastic shopping bag, too...
And the Mike Mills Tee?
If I remember correctly, this design is from the last X-girl collection before they sold the license to Japan. After that it pretty much disappeared from shops outside of Japan. The design is by Mike Mills. I remember going to the first X-girl shop on Lafayette street, opposite of Liquid Sky. Two of the most progressive shops at the time. I regret not having bought the first two posters Mike Mills did for the store...
Please tell us about the t-shirt’s you contributed to TSHIRTTHEN?
All of these were made in London. The Judy Blame was one of the first tees g5 made when we started. We made the Very Ape box set with another box for Gimme5 at the same time. The Wild Bunch tee was made as merch for The Wild Bunch aka Massive Attack around 1991
What makes a great t-shirt design?
The overall balance between content message composition & colour.
Why have you kept these tees all these years?
They represent an echo of the spirit of the times.
Thunders / Zoltar
How did you get into the business and particuarly t-shirts?
I was a kid growing up in the 70s, I guess really the only thing happening as a teenager was the punk rock thing. When the punk rock thing came about I was fanatical about it straight away. The easiest thing to do was to stencil punk rock things on your t-shirt. You’d do it yourself just out of necessity. Everybody ended up with those Seditionaries t-shirts, and clothes..they were really, really expensive, but what people would do is swap them. You’d see everybody out every night with different clothes on because everyone was swapping clothes all the time.
I heard you did bootleg tees?
I was working at Boy and they bought the print screens off Malcolm (Mclaren). So basically they had a screen printing outfit going on in the backroom and when everybody had gone home we would just stay there. They had so much stuff there. Then one day there was this big thing with models cutting off the buttons in the Chanel shops and sewing them onto their jeans. It was a weird little vibe happening, people were really impressed by it. It was like a punk rock thing, like street fashion, rather than clothes for old ladies. So one day I got a copy of Vogue and I cut the word ‘Chanel’ out and made a screen out of it and then silkscreen printed it on some t-shirts. Then the next day I put them in a bag and walked up the Kings Road, past Worlds End, and by the time I got to this place The Dome that was on the corner I’d sold the whole bag full to all these posh birds and little trendies that were hanging around Worlds End. A lot of people go on about Worlds Ends like it was this big thing, but it was only the equivalent of your shop (Goodhood) or this place (Thunders). There was not really that much going on. It was just Kensington Market and Worlds End. The hip-hop thing was quite new and Malcolm was right in the middle of it. Anyway, the bootleg t-shirt thing went on for a few months, and it was just
relentless. People could not get enough of these bootleg t-shirts. So we were just printing them up, waiting for the cease and desist letter, because that would’ve been a good t-shirt in itself (laughs). Then all of a sudden everything was fair game; Gucci, Hermes, the whole lot. It was just a general trend happening at the time, in the clubs. In London you’d go to clubs and everyone was wearing Chanel t-shirts that we’d sold to them out of a plastic bag. Then I went on holiday for two weeks, got back and everyone was at it! I turned my back for two seconds and everyone was doing the bootleg thing. So I went up to see this guy in Camden, this guy who owned the shop Rokit, and I said “listen you, you better not carry on printing these Chanel t-shirts, you go and bootleg your own fucking bootleg”. He just shook his head and walked off…
Around 1986, when the Beastie Boys hit when they first came over. They did this show at The Embassy Club, it was Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Houdini. It was great. We went there and they were giving out all these goodie bags with Def Jam t-shirts, slipmats, caps, little jackets and stuff. Then it was like the next week all the clubs had Beastie Boy/Def Jam mania.
Next to the Beastie Boys delirium thing, house music thing was starting to bubble under a little bit. There was a huge rare groove scene going on, loads of people hanging around thinking they were in the 70s. So I thought about the 70s, and thought about the smiley t-shirt, so I went and pressed up a load of smiley t-shirts and couldn’t get rid of any of them. Nobody was interested. I had to sit on them for ages, Christmas passed by, then we’re into 1988 and I managed to sell a few to this little shop called Rap in Covent Garden. Danny Rampling went and bought one from there, and next thing you know it was splattered all over his Shoom flyers and about a month later it was everywhere you went. You couldn’t move for Smileys.
So that was like the original round yellow face smiley t-shirt?
Yeah. By this time everybody did loads of different versions. I remember going to clubs, like Land of Oz at Heaven when that was new and one week you’d go there and there’d be like 12 people and then the next week there was so many people you couldn’t move. There was this guy who had a little shop inside the club selling smiley t-shirts with bandanas. It was the worst dressed fashion of all time. Fucking horrible. Anyway this guy selling rave gear would have a queue outside his stand, with literally normal blokes in their hooligan gear or office clothes and they’d go and buy this smiley gear and then walk straight on to the dance floor screaming “ACEEEED”. People buying their clothes inside the club to wear straight onto the dance floor.
You don’t actually have to be Albert Einstein to go and make a t-shirt. Anybody with a bit of dole money could go and buy one screen, nick an image from somewhere and make a silkscreen.
I used to have this Dover Books ‘Copyright Free Artwork’ book that had things like pound notes and dollars, Red Indian things, ying and yangs, all that kinda stuff. One day a week i’d tear a few of these copyright free artworks from the book and sell them for £300. The guys i sold them to took them to the printers and did quite well with them. Then he’d be back the next week and get some more… He was making these really horrible looking Acid House/Rave sweatshirt things and everyone would be wearing them. One of them, or maybe a copy of one of them Ian Brown famously wore. The money one. By this point everybody was so out of their mind on ecstasy that nobody really cared about making a longterm business ‘brand’ thing out of it.
Yeah I guess it kinda got a bit more brand focused after that. With Stussy, Bond…
When Bond first opened I used to make t-shirts for them. You know like weird ‘1% Hells Angels’ to all sorts of stuff… We did everything. I remember first using Macs in the early 90’s… I’d been used to cut and paste and fucking hell now I had actual computers. I remember the first thing I thought was “this is good, you don’t have to get spray mount all over your fingers”.
What influenced you to start making clothes?
Creative influences came from a broad spectrum: Surrealism, cartoons, but importantly Punk ethos. Searching for originality and humour, looking to late 70s UK brands such as Benji Boards and London Skates Dominates, inspired me to start hand painting t-shirts and shoes in the early 80s. My idea was to merge art as product and identity. This developed in the later 80s, injecting stories into image collections in the form of zines, handmade and screen-printed clothes.
Tell us about Insane’s popularity. I know it got picked up in Japan?
Skating and making zines while working for R.A.D magazine helped awareness grow across the UK. In 1989 Slam City began to distribute my collections. Popularity grew in skate and dance culture, we got press in The Face, i.D Magazine and the broadsheets. When Hiroshi Fujiwara introduced Insane to Japan, the resulting exports meant we could expand - taking on Charlie (artist Pure Evil) and later Sofia (Silas, Aries) to design gaments in the early 90s. Luckily my artworks of that period penetrated a strand of Japanese culture and are still sold there today.
What makes a great T shirt?
Imagery that burns into the back of your brain, has humour or a great cultural message.
Lasting impressions of the industry?
It’s evolved at all levels. Home and global production was hard back then - it’s now flexible and accessible. In 1991 I wanted to introduce character toys and art prints as part of the Insane collections, but feedback from shops was negative. Clearly anything is possible these days because retail has changed beyond all recognition. The sheer breadth and depth of independent shops now allows for innovative design.
A Number Of Names
GH: Can you tell us about the Very Ape tee in the TSHIRTNOW exhibition?
It’s from 94 the same time as Ad rock from the Beastie Boys was wearing it. They were my musical, style and general cultural icons then. I ran a club called Sabotage. I got it as my girlfriends sister was the partner of Fats Shariff from Gimme 5. He used to send boxes of gear up to Scotland, I got that tee, some Good Enough rip stop trousers, a Major Force tee and a Very Ape jacket from her.
GH:And what about the Stussy No4 tee?
I got the bus from Glasgow to London with my girlfriend when I was 18 to go shopping and go to clubs. Mainly to buy a Stussy tee and a Duffer sweat. I ideally wanted the white tee with no 4 logo but it was sold out everywhere. I tried M Zone they didn’t have any, I got the black one from Sign of the Times in Kensington Market.
GH: What makes a great tee?
It’s got to be a one liner really easy to understand. It’s a direct form of communication.
GH:Why have you kept these t-shirts all these years?
Good question. I’ve given away so many clothes over the years but these are a few I kept for sentimental reasons really. They all have a personal meaning to me.
GH:How has the medium of graphic tee changed over the past 25 years?
I think trends come and go, in graphic tees like everything else. But certain things resonate and remain as classic.
Can you tell us about the Mad Circle T-shirt in your collection?
It’s from 1994 ish and the artwork was by Barry McGee, before I even knew who he was, Mad Circle and Think were my favourite two brands because of the graphics. This is because it was by writers so it had the aesthetic I liked, but I didn’t find this out til afterwards.
Tell us about the Fuct T-shirts in your collection?
They are so good. The photo is by Bruce Davidson, who is an amazing photographer but I’m sure they just used it without his permission in the days before copyright infringement. It’s maybe from Fucts second round of designs, I could be wrong, but defo one of the early batches.The Big Fuct tshirt..Oh fuck, SUCH A GOOD TEE, again I think 1994ish, so cali, so good graphic, everything that was good about skate graphics at the time... I also remember in Slam a Holmes tee with a Frank Frazetta Girl on it from same period and a Fuct glitter Fleetwood Mac tee too, I loved that period.
What do you think makes a great tee?
It sounds dumb to say but its simple: a strong graphic or an idea which is like..’fuck I wish I’d thought of that’.
Why have you kept these tees all these years?
One.. a collecting problem, two..’cause they are a very important part of mine... and skate’s history.
How has the medium of graphic tees changed over the past 25 years?
So many phases, trends and cycles of styles going round. In and out. Graphics are big then dead. But now is an especially strong time for the graphic tee. The black & white formula has boiled it down to just graphic. It's interesting.
Tonite / Aries / Fergadelic
What makes a great t- shirt?
I think what makes a T shirt great is probably the context...in other words it’s really about the person wearing it & the environment they’re wearing it in. In this way, the T shirt is a very forgiving medium - everything from the free promotional beer T shirt to the photo-print Barmitzvah T shirt can look great.
How has the medium of graphic tees changed over the past 25 years?
I think the main change is that people can wear T shirts which have the most outrageous statements on them & nobody minds...things which 25 years ago would have got you nicked...or got you a punch on the nose!
Holmes / Silas & Maria
So would you consider the tees in your collection as unofficial?
Oh it’s totally unofficial, all of this shit is unofficial. That’s the thing about that time, most of this collection is graphic appropriation, it was the beginning and the end of a really short period of time. Where as now it’s all about collaboration, you’ve got all these little companies going to big companies, getting permission or paying them to do it, but back then everybody just did it until cease and desist came through. What I liked about that period of time (pre internet) was that suddenly we had the means of production ourselves, we were producing this stuff that people where buying in to and all the big mainstream companies didn’t have a clue what was going on.
People just got clued up and wanted to make stuff for themselves, I guess a follow up from the whole punk thing. There was the big surf wear companies doing their thing which wasn’t right for people walking around the streets of London, and from that people got inspired to go out and do their own thing and found ways of getting stuff made. Suddenly people where screening their own stuff or going to small print companies, they realised you could go to Hanes, buy a t-shirt and get whatever you want printed on it.
Was all this while you were at Slam City Skates?
Yeah I was about 21 or 22. Slam and Rough Trade where together then, and I was really into music and skating, so I thought I’ll try and get a job there.
Speaking to everybody, you hear about all these different legacies, but everybody always mentions Slam.
Slam was huge, it was really influential. There were a number of stages, I was only there for a couple of them but they go all the way back to about 1987/88, each one was huge. Bands like Anthrax coming over and having their picture taken with the staff. They were really playing a big part in making skating bigger in the UK, and then when I was there we played a big part in making the whole culture bigger, which is where the streetwear stuff grew from. That involved crossovers with graffiti, hip hop, punk all these different US and London influen es mixed together and spat out through one filter.
What sort of things did Slam sell back then?
Well another thing you can’t forget is the influence of the whole rave thing. For instance you had brands like Mambo, a pretty cutting edge brand back then because of the mental designs, then after Mambo you had Jimmies, which was quite hard to get and everybody wanted it, but the big, big thing was Stussy. Slam were the first people, along with some guys in Bristol and Enzyme in Croydon to import Stussy. Then we started importing brands like Anarchic Adjustment, this was around the same time as the street wear boom in California. Paul (the owner of Slam City) would go over to the US, he was tied up with all the skaters out there, and my thing was to hook up with the street wear distributors to find new brands. It was an exciting time because it was all totally new.
And this was all word of mouth?
Yeah because there was no internet, which made a big, big difference. We also relied on magazines like iD and The Face as well as the skate magazines like RAD.
What brands were doing well? Would stuff sell out straight away?
Yeah some stuff would, but we wouldn’t be buying loads, only a few dozen of each tee. It was also fuelled by the rave culture, people wanted to go and rave with mad t-shirts, people where looking for things that would look good whilst on drugs.
So what happened next?
Next there was a big ‘fuck you’ revolution in the US. Skateboarding was pretty much dominated by big companies. Then these new young companies like World Industries started to come through and would nick the riders, they had a real ‘do what we want’ attitude.
That era was so influential, it was so subversive and antagonistic.
Yeah,people just said “we’re gonna do what we want,” like the Speedy Gonzales’ tee. They had no permission from Warner Brothers. But it’s tricky because you can’t even look this stuff up on the internet due to copyright problems etc.
What happened with Fuct, how important where they?
There was a time when Fuct and XL owned a shop together, which for me was the heyday of the whole scene. It was great, loads of interesting collaborations going on etc. But it got a bit watered down, it was never a tight knit of people like Supreme for instance. Another thing that started to happen was the sub brands, like Dorothy’s Fortress and Deep etc which they’d give to artists. It was interesting because they where picking really odd graphics and obscure references to print on the t-shirts. In the midst of everything we started Holmes, which was great because suddenly we weren’t reliant on other peoples graphics but our own ideas. We brought in Sophie (Prantera), she was producing mental clothes due to her Italian sportswear background of skiing gear etc, they were influenced by brands like Stone Island well before the football hooligans.
What was your audience back then?
It was for like minded people, all those people who maybe didn’t skate anymore, or were bored of brands like Stussy and just looking for some new stuff.
The glitter Satan and Patty Hearst t-shirts by Homes from the early 90s are amazing, even people nowadays aren’t producing stuff as nice as this. It just opened up this new door to counter culture.
That’s exactly what we wanted to do, we’d add all these references, it was basically saying to people heads up if you already knew about it, and if you weren’t into it go and find out about it. Nowdays with the internet if you see a Patty Hearst t-shirt in the shops you can find out immediately who she is and what she’s about.
So Holmes was from 93-98, and 98 is when Silas started?
Right, we took Silas Holmes’ first name, Silas and used that. We didn’t want to fuck with Rough Trade and Slam so left them with Homes. It was essentially Homes continued as we probably would’ve done if we were still there, but with our own resources so we weren’t held back - same ideas, same people behind it and we just carried on. We worked out of Sophie’s flat to start with and had all the stock in short term storage and it evolved pretty quickly. It burned bright but fairly short. For me the most out there stuff was probably the catalogues, they were fucking bonkers. Clothes come and go and a lot of times with clothing design you’re just being a stylist, referencing other people and twisting stuff about. But the catalogues are really original, when I look back at it that’s what I’m most proud of. One of the reasons I eventually bailed was because it was becoming more and more fashion, instead of doing really fun catalogues we were doing look books and I had no interest in it. I was thinking “I come from street culture and counter culture” and I finding myself involved in fashion with a big F. I’ve always liked clothes but I’ve always liked fashion with a small F, and that was as far as I wanted to go.
Crooked Tongues / Isle Skateboards
Tell us about you starting in Bond and your experience with selling T-shirts?
I started working in Bond as the weekend and holiday assistant, sometime around 1995.
I’d been a customer for many years, as that was the only place to pick up clothing from certain brands that I liked: they had the best of everything. The stock selection was very carefully chosen by Laurent and Nicky, who would spend a long time deciding which items to carry – there was far more consideration given than people might expect, and often things would be trialled out in specific sections of the shop before moving into the main product areas. Bond was unique for its time: the emphasis was on quality, not quantity, and you’d find premium skate brands sitting alongside authentic Japanese t-shirt labels and even homegrown projects from local graffiti writers. As a result of this carefully vetted stock list, we had a dedicated customer base who spanned a huge range of interests. The word ‘curation’ get thrown around a lot these days, but Bond really was run more like a clothing gallery at times. The founder of Bond, KJ (and his wife Tanya), was a visionary and Bond laid the foundations for many brands, agencies and labels. I was incredibly lucky to have been a small part of it all.
Why did you become so focused on Supreme?
It was something different for the time. I’d previously had some casual work in a few skate shops, such as Mud Machine (later known as M-Zone), and most of the skate labels on offer were born from the Californian lifestyle or even surfwear, which didn’t always resonate so well with the London skate scene. We didn’t have wide smooth sidewalks and blazing sunshine: we had the piss-soaked banks at Meanwhile 2 or the cold, wet slabs of Southbank. The New York aesthetic and skate scene seemed to resonate much more with me. It certainly didn’t hurt that I loved the branding or that they sponsored some of the best skaters to ever come from the East Coast.
It’s been said before, but those early Supreme ads that we saw in Thrasher were more like a Calvin Klein fashion shoot: in many ways it was aspirational, especially as I was getting older and becoming more concerned with how I dressed when I wasn’t out skating. For the first time ever, you didn’t have to look like shit just because you skated.
What makes a great t-shirt?
For me now, it’s more to do with simplicity. If your branding is strong enough to be boldly displayed on a basic t-shirt, then you’re probably on the right track. The Supreme box logo sums up the brand perfectly: it might have been reappropriated from Barbara Kruger’s work, but that’s half of the appeal. Talent borrows, genius steals, as they say.