If one thing can be said of Goodhood’s TSHIRTTHEN/TSHIRTNOW Exhibition—still running until this Thursday, if you haven’t already swung by—it’s that the event was certainly a conversation starter. If such a thing as the genealogy of the graphic tee exists, the event’s juxtaposition of tees of the past with tees of the now exposed a number of schisms and divergences in style and substance that have emerged in the medium over the years, some more obvious than others.
Accompanying the in-store event, a ‘TSHIRTHEN’ book was produced by Goodhood with the latest issue of their ‘Think Zine’ project enclosed within, featuring a number of interviews with leading figures in the UK streetwear scene such as Russell Maurice (Gasius), Russell Waterman (Silas) and Ged Wells (Insane).
One comment that popped up more than once was the t-shirts continuing power as a medium of communication, but in a much more polished/refined way in the present day. Indeed, across the contemporary offerings of TSHIRTNOW was a language slightly more “sophisticated” than that of their ancestry, but then another point was how vital the rudimentary nature of early screen-printing was in empowering and propagating the method—that you could buy a machine and a screen for a lump sum, choose a design from a dollar symbol to a Chanel logo, print it on some t-shirts and go out on the street and sell them, creating a “brand”.
It’s sort of taken for granted in the modern day that society on a whole is a lot more savvy and sophisticated when it comes to branding, marketing, product, identity and so on. I wrote a long essay recently about how Compare the Meerkat, the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck advert and those “100 Best Adverts” shows that Channel 4 churns out every so often exemplify that the public is so versed in promotional culture these days that they are capable of, and often encouraged to consume marketing media independent of the product being sold. CompareTheMeerkat is particularly interesting. How do you sell an insurance broker? By capturing the attention of the one consumer group that definitely doesn’t buy insurance—kids. What a world.
Bringing things back on track, my point is that when you stood these two separate universes next to each other their differences became a lot more pronounced. Even more interestingly, it was the offering of one brand, whose design seemed to cross into design principles of the past more than anybody else’s that garnered the most attention—the ‘Creator’ t-shirt by London label Creation.
Graphic t-shirts, particularly in streetwear, are currently dominated by text graphics, black and white colourways, rudimentary post-modernism and “thanks Raf” quirky graphic hits. Some of these are great, some are bad and some are utter dogshit, their designers needing to go back and actually read some of those Rizzoli designer monographs they bought instead of just looking at the pictures.
The ‘Creator’ tee just seemed to have these hazy, nostalgic elements. A touch of the airbrushed graff tees of old, the exaggerated nature of those “Three Wolf Moon” tees that blew up a few years back and have been mainstays of aging metal veterans and bible belt hunting fanatics since time immemorial, the subversive approach to cultural iconography that was rich in protest movements and counter-culture from punk and reggae to the black power movement and so on. It’s a t-shirt that’s very OTT, but for all the right reasons. For its content it’s subtly named, but if this were released in the 70s you know it would go the ‘Cowboys’ t-shirt and be simply named, ‘Black Jesus’.
Creation was founded a few months back by two veterans of the London scene. Paul Sid is the guy behind Retreat, a London brand that collaborated with a number of UK graff and contemporary artists and the like, whilst Emmet Keane is the founder Answer, a clothing label he launched with Trilogy Tapes / Honest Jons / Mo Wax / general Cav Empt-y individual Will Bankhead. Yeah, it’s like that. Virgil wishes he could piggyback this shit.
There’s something of Creation that touches closer to the heart of original t-shirt / screen-printing culture. References span dancehall, reggae and Rastafarian culture to Malcolm McLaren, tattoos and 16th century woodcarvings. Many of the designs seem quite strongly to come from somewhere other than contemporary trend and design aesthetics from the University of Tumblr. Just as many of TSHIRTTHEN’s streetwear vets spoke of an original culture of bootlegging and reappropriation, Creation has a hint of nostalgia or reflection that continues that same raw method. It’s not necessarily speaking to everyone on the street, but the ones who get it will surely want a piece.
You can learn more about Creation at their website, as well as on Twitter and Instagram. You are strongly advised to head over to Goodhood and grab one of the ‘Creator’ t-shirts while you can, because one day you’ll probably be reading a cloth-bound hardback published by Thames & Hudson or something talking about original printing and graphic techniques and you’ll suddenly realise what a perfect case study that t-shirt was in a contemporary context, and then you’ll look in your wardrobe and it won’t be there, will it? Because you were too busy saving up money for that purile Russian Tommy Hilfiger flip on eBay, weren’t you? “Haha, it’s like classic American menswear, only Slavic! That’ll be hilarious when I wear it out!” Yeah, for about a minute. Think of it. All those years of your life. Wasted.