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Highsnobiety Commentary February, 26 2013

The Paradox of Parody Designer Tees

High-end designers are no longer relegated to their high-end echelons, the lines are becoming more blurred as spoof designer t-shirts move closer to the tees they seek to imitate. Pastiche designer t-shirts that are a spin on the logo of the brand are the graphic version of a play on words; a printed smirk across the front of the garment, one that we can silently, mutually chuckle over. The prevalence of these t-shirts has certainly grown over the past year or so, as has their proximity to the original they are appropriating.

Satirical spins on popular logos have been a strong factor of many graphic t-shirt designs, particularly in the 80s and 90s when it was a strong part of what defined streetwear brands such as Stüssy, Fuct, and Freshjive. In this way streetwear has always been satirical, but in recent years these high-end appropriations have emigrated from their subcultural origins into the mainstream, contradicting their original elements of parody.

In 2008 for instance, Brian Lichtenberg made a direct nod to high fashion with his RIP YSL t-shirt as a tribute to the legendary designer. The design was sharp, the ‘RIP’ was written in the same style as YSL, and it was a tasteful and appropriate ode to the designer.

4 years later Lichtenberg released a new series of designs featuring an adaptation of the iconic Hermès logo, which instead reads ‘Homies, and an American pick-up truck in place of the French brand’s traditional horse and carriage image. Finally, high and street fashion had merged together in a way that blurred the divide between the two worlds. As if that weren’t enough, these tees are stocked in Browns London, a store that also carries Balenciaga, Balmain, Givenchy, and Rick Owens.

The convergence of high fashion and street fashion has been furthered along by fashion’s close ally, the music industry. It is hard to determine the tipping point, but Rihanna’s stylists probably have a lot to answer for.

The streetwear line of Palace Skateboards released their ‘Versafe Italia’ skate tee in 2012 which featured an identikit Versace logo tee that Rihanna was soon seen wearing. Although the adoption of the Versace logo may not be a completely original appropriation, the timing of the release resulted in an unpredictable consequence. It has now gone full circle – a world-famous pop star who has equal access to authentic Versace opts for the inauthentic version because of its street credibility, something that we can only assume the original has less of.

But Rihanna isn’t the only example. A$AP Rocky helped SSUR’s COMME des FUCKDOWN series explode on to the streetwear scene while Swizz Beats instagrammed himself in Lichtenberg’s Homies sweatshirt and 40 oz NY’s Margiela-inspired snapback.

Many high fashion and street fashion brands share more in common with each other than first imagined. It’s the years of history behind designers such as Chanel, Versace, and Louis Vuitton that contribute to and carve their hallowed reputation. At the head of the fashion hierarchy, they create and dictate the trends of each season that gradually trickle down to the subcultures below. The street fashion brands spawned from these subcultures ingest these trends and then produce their own take. Thus it is a natural consequence for so much streetwear to be a comment on high-end pieces. It has always been running behind high fashion, occasionally catching up and running alongside it, but now it seems it has finally overtaken.

Designer clothes and streetwear brands both encourage similar attitudes of consumption from their clientele, working with limited runs means you have to be on top of your game to get there first if you want a piece of the action. It’s a paradox of the modern world that facilitates constant coverage of these super exclusive items – access to images has grown exponentially through blogs and the Internet, but they’re not any easier to get hold of.

On paper, both industries show signs of compatibility and it’s not a new phenomenon. Hip-hop stars have long been advocates of high fashion; take Gianni Versace’s infatuation with Tupac for example, which culminated in Tupac walking the catwalk. But it’s only now that the two worlds have merged and we see stores selling high-end alongside parody tees from streetwear brands while influential artists champion both. A$AP Rocky, for instance, recently collaborated with Raf Simons on a collection. Allegedly Simons wanted to take the collection to the catwalk but A$AP declined and insisted that it be a ‘friends and family only thing.’

A brand whom he was willing to back on the catwalk on the other hand was Hood by Air. Founded by 24-year old Shayne Oliver in 2007, Hood by Air began as an independent graphic t-shirt brand that has developed into a contemporary designer label while retaining its original ethos that appeals so strongly to an audience that has developed an awareness of high-end brands. Not only is its main logo a take on Paramount Pictures, but its success at New York Fashion Week has allowed the brand to transcend the world it originally appropriated and to become a part of it with an added dose of street cred – the only thing money can’t buy.

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