Fashion has always been a pursuit of self-expression through how we choose to dress.
From personalization platforms like NikeiD and miadidas, or made-to-order custom sneaker services, to embroidered patches or the rise of pins via brands like Pintrill, today our options have never been wider when it comes to DIY customization. Lately we’ve seen another example return to the limelight, in the form of doodled detailing loved by a broad range of musicians and artists, as well as sneaker and couture labels.
Many of us may have scribbled our names or that random “S” thing onto binders or Chuck Taylors in school, and high fashion brands continue to meditate on and instil meaning in this trend.
In the fine art realm, American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat was highly acclaimed in New York during the 1980s for his abstract-bricolage, graffiti-inspired canvases that blended text and images to an erratic effect. Using his “SAMO” tag, Basquiat gained a foothold in the emerging New York art scene, and quickly became synonymous with the strange arrangements of words like “Plush safe he think.. SAMO” and “SAMO as an escape clause” that he was spraying all over New York City. Basquiat featured recurring themes in his work, which is now described as neo-expressionist, yet each individual piece was seen as a sum of its disparate parts.
More recently, Wes Lang’s signature style of self-taught sketching employs a similar method, creating a cohesive piece of art from many smaller components. Informed by tattoo and motorcycle imagery, as well as American history, Wes marries small doodles and diagrams with words to create eclectic collages that have been shown in galleries around the world. Lang famously created merchandise for Kanye West’s YEEZUS tour (however the above Vans x Wes Lang design didn’t end up going on sale).
Margiela and Raf Simons in particular have notably experimented with runway designs that incorporate illustrated graphics. For Raf’s FW15 offerings, the Belgian designer used white garments as a blank slate on which to embellish a range of colorful slogans and cartoons. The vivid creations call back to a Belgian university ritual when new boys are hazed by older students wearing long white coats scrawled with slogans.
Maison Margiela has also riffed on graffiti culture more than once, not limited to a collaborative motorcycle helmet alongside French brand Ruby. Limited to 600 numbers, the premium helmet featured distinctive drawings, inspired by graffiti sprayed on the actual windows of Maison Margiela’s Parisian storefront.
In recent months, names like Kanye West and A$AP Rocky made headlines for rocking specially commissioned bespoke apparel from Pauly Bonomelli, aka @himumimdead, who is known for his one-off pieces plastered with provocative slogans, crude illustrations and rock-inspired logo flips.
Not only that, but streetwear OG Bobby Hundreds recently hand-drew on 40 pairs of cargo shorts, adding original illustrations and distressed details to create a range of one-off products, of which select sizes are still available.
We’re not quite done with Margiela yet, as the fashion house’s graffiti-inspired Replica sneaker constitutes yet another example of this trend being used in fashion. To compliment paint-spattered editions, the graffiti Replica was decorated with yearbook-style autographs and even a KAWS chomper tooth reference on the heel.
Vetements and Reebok also aligned for an Insta Pump Fury that we spotted during Paris Fashion Week – among other customised kicks that have appeared in our ongoing street style galleries – which hasn’t been slated for an official release yet. In addition to a bunch of seemingly random doodles drawn on the white upper, sneaker sleuths will notice a “V” penned on the shoe’s tongue, indicating that this co-op is has to be for real.
In the sneaker world, the examples go on, and this article would be remiss not to mention Tyler the Creator’s affinity for drawing all over his Vans, hats and skateboards among other things. Kanye West has also been on the Damn Daniel wave, lately seen sporting some customized white Vans bearing DIY quotes from The Life of Pablo, as well as the name “KIM” placed over a sunset all drawn in Sharpie. What’s more – during his Saturday Night Live performance this Spring, Yeezy was seen wearing a pair of white Vans on which someone conveniently drew three adidas-like black stripes.
These informally drawn DIY pictorials occupy an interesting place in the social zeitgeist, and hearkening back to cave man drawings or even Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sketchbooks, these spontaneous doodles are not just an abstract way of communicating or leaving a message, but also a way to self-soothe and externalize our unconscious musings.
More recently, these frenetic doodles have resonated in the fashion community, and could tie in with fashion’s current obsession with Rock’n’Roll aesthetics. In a world where we yearn after exclusive products to set ourselves apart, doodling is a stamp of originality that we can create ourselves at no cost.