Thanks to the past few seasons of logomania, wordy prints have been popping up across the fashion industry left, right and centre. Arguably started by Vetements’ Demna Gvasalia and his DHL t-shirt in 2016, logos have revealed themselves at both women’s and men’s shows since. For Fall 2017, Gucci and Balenciaga dominated with their logo print vests and pullovers. A season later, the ‘90s trend reached the upper echelon with Dior Homme’s branded scarves and suits. Recently, Fendi got in on the act, slathering its iconic double F print all over Kim Kardashian, Bella Hadid and co.
Up until now, designers’ textual obsession has been jovial and jokey - not to be taken too seriously.
But, things are changing. Since being elected, Donald Trump has taken pleasure in attacking a number of major US media outlets for promoting so-called fake news. Transparency has also been a key issue with Brexit and presidential election campaigns accused of spreading false claims. A number of global government-linked campaigns were accused of spreading false claims, leading to Brexit furores and hints at a possible collusion between the Trump election and Russia. Democracy and free speech is now in question.
This torrent of media-aimed abuse from Trump coupled with the ever-growing need for honesty has caused designers to change tack, swapping humorous language for something more meaningful. And what better way to show your support for the critics who sit front row at your show than paying homage to their industry?
The SS18 womenswear shows marked the start of an ongoing trend: old-fashioned black-and-white newsprint. The bold graphic was spotted on designs by Balenciaga, Helmut Lang, Calvin Klein and Gypsy Sport, printed across shirts, bags and cargo pants. It was a similar story at the recent FW18 men’s shows - except the literal newspaper print was swapped out for bonafide collaborations with The New York Times.
Text has always been a staple in modern fashion. From Barbara Kruger’s t-shirt commentary on consumerism to Raf Simons’ handwritten lab coats and Virgil Abloh’s descriptive designs, words have featured heavily over the years. Just look at the bidding frenzy caused by a singular Supreme box logo for example. Inspired by (or lifted from) Kruger’s bold typeface, owning a red-and-white BOGO item signifies an invitation to the inner streetwear sanctum. Wearing a quotational Off-White design has a similar allure. Boots that read “For Walking” and laces stating, you guessed it, “Shoelaces” initiate wearers into the ironic fashion club; a group so devoid of meaning that it’s almost laughable.
Sartorial cults aside, a simple word on a garment can send out a vital political message, evoke a strong emotion, or prompt an audience to do nothing but smile.
But newspaper print is slightly different. While journalism and fashion both have prominent roles in our everyday lives (they’re both a form of language with one evidently being more visual than the other), sticking a large slab of text on clothes and accessories creates a sense of confusion. After all, how can a passerby be expected to read an entire article across your torso with just one glimpse?
So what’s the point of it? It appears that designers choose newsprint not for what it says, but for what it means. Yes, adorning oneself with newsprint can give a wearer a sense of importance and a feeling that they, like respected news publications, have a good sense of ethics and moral compass. But the first uses of newsprint in fashion were intended to bring people right back down to earth.
In 1935, Surrealist couturier Elsa Schiaparelli became hooked on the little newspaper hats worn by fishwives in Copenhagen. She decided to transform her own press clippings (“both complimentary and otherwise”) into silk scarves, blouses and hats; designs that would “never sell” to rich clientele, according to one of the world’s “most daring textile men” at the time.
The humour that now fills the industry then entered the fray. The world’s first bikini was created with newspaper print fabric in 1946, alluding to all the headlines its inventor, Louis Réard, would inevitably create. In the ’60s, newsprint became a popular motif. Dresses were made from actual paper, appealing to the trend-followers who desired to wear something a few times before throwing it in the bin, ready for the next fad to hit. The likes of Air India and Times magazine also used the print as an advertising gimmick, designing wearable billboards to show off their work.
Two decades later, notorious jokester Franco Moschino stuck newspaper prints across several of his collections; a graphic that current creative director Jeremy Scott has brought back to life on several occasions. Now though, it’s less Italian celebration, more hostage-style lettering.
Newsprint’s first controversy came courtesy of John Galliano. The designer’s Spring/Summer 2000 couture show for Dior took inspiration from the homeless people on the streets of Paris as well as 1920s era ‘Tramp Balls’ where rich Parisians dressed like the poor for fun. Dubbed ‘Hobo Chic’, the slouchy ill-fitting collection - which featured pages from the real-life International Herald Tribune and the fictional Christian Dior Daily - was heavily criticised for its appropriation of poverty.
The entire collection provided the backstory for Zoolander’s Derelicte show (see above) with one newsy dress from the subsequent ready-to-wear collection cementing itself in pop culture history after being worn by Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Galliano denied that he set out to make a political statement, telling The New York Times: “One is allowed to be inspired by India, even though there is enormous poverty there. One is allowed to be inspired by Africa, even though the Masai tribe is a disappearing race. I don't get why, just because this is on [critics’] own doorstep, it's any different. Because they don't want to know about these people?”
Galliano, however, wasn’t put off by the cynics, making newsprint one of his signatures. He carried on Schiaparelli’s narcissism, creating the Galliano Gazette; a paper that talked about nothing but the eccentric designer. The print first appeared in makeshift fashion in his SS01 show with the first menswear piece (a pair of unmissable jeans) ending up on the designer himself as he took his bow in March 2004.
The Galliano newsprint appeared in almost every season thereafter, on the backs of his pirate bad boys and in the form of miniscule Galliano-branded underwear. The headlines that could be read seemed to signify the icon’s torn emotions. After losing the head of his studio, Steven Robinson, to a heart attack in 2007, Galliano chose an article titled ‘The Show Must Go On.’
High fashion adopted newsprint in the noughties but come 2010, it was the turn of the street and sportswear outsiders. In 2012, Supreme released news-covered long-sleeved tops, featuring sports stories by The Daily Star and images of the likes of Princess Diana. The now defunct Hood By Air took on the news for its Empire merch release in 2015 while KTZ debuted bondage-style newsprint jackets for SS16. Nike even named an olive-grey colourway ‘newsprint’ that can be found on 2013 renditions of Lunar Prestos, Roshe Runs and Air Max 95s.
Then came fashion’s ongoing commentary of our all-consuming obsession with the media. Where the past had thrown out a mixture of fashiony headlines and a jumble of text that made no sense, now, brands are taking care with what they convey. What was once lighthearted has now taken on a much more serious tone that’s fighting for the right of free press, honesty from our most revered figures, and personal privacy in the know-everything age.
Demna Gvasalia’s SS18 collection for Balenciaga is just one example of this. He plastered traditional newsprint all over prim-and-proper shirts and cardigans, even going so far as to clash it with tacky paparazzi culture in the campaign. Backstage (while wearing an FBI hoodie), Gvasalia told Vogue he was “investigating!” However, his choice of articles did appear to be nonsensical, written in a mixture of Latin and a made-up language.
Shayne Oliver, the founder of Hood By Air, took over Helmut Lang for the SS18 season, telling models to boldly cover their faces from the cameras with their newsprint-covered bags. Text wasn’t a huge part of the original Helmut Lang’s oeuvre but his minimalist aesthetic was graffitied with the odd uplifting word like the AW03 designs reading ‘faith’, ‘hope’ and ‘charity’. Oliver’s Lang was a little more heavy-hitting with his bag screaming: “UNCOMMON ACTION IN A SOCIETY OF REPRESSED THOUGHTS.”
And as part of the partnership between Calvin Klein and the Andy Warhol Foundation, Raf Simons scoured the archives for the perfect Warhol work on consumerist culture. He came up with ‘Tunafish Disaster’, an artwork taken from a Newsweek article about two mothers who died after eating contaminated tuna. Showing how the media can exploit anyone’s death for 30 seconds’ fame, Simons swapped its original silkscreen canvas for a tank top background.
Alexander Wang too recently hit headlines for his SS18 men’s collaboration with gossip column Page Six. Using customised newsprint from the publication’s archives and that all-important logo, Wang took lines that stood out to him to show society’s voracious appetite for speculation. He was inspired by the “media boom of the 1980s” which coincidentally was the time of Trump’s rise to power.
Menswear designers have followed the Trump-focused lead for FW18. A newspaper collaborating with a fashion brand would have been unheard of circa a few years ago but in 2018, two labels teaming up with The New York Times seemed perfectly normal.
Chitose Abe’s Sacai shouted the paper’s message loud and clear, modernising newsprint by simply using the NYT slogan: “Truth. It’s now more important than ever.” Études felt nothing more than the NYT’s name was enough to strike fear in the hearts of Trump and his supporters, sending out scarves and hoodies printed with the logo of the paper.
The resurgence of newsprint makes sense in today’s tumultuous climate. We’re living in a moment where the President of the United States spends more time tweeting about fake news than he does running the country. Now, transparency is of more importance than ever before, whether it’s being honest about your salary or revealing who really helped your rise to power. By giving people the chance to adorn themselves with broadsheets and tabloids, designers appear to be simultaneously warning of the dangers of focusing on vapid information (therefore and missing out on the real news), and signalling that the truth will always win in the end. It doesn’t matter if the words on the print make sense; its message certainly isn’t gibberish.
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