An Oral History of the Graphic T-Shirt

An Oral History of the Graphic T-Shirt

The Sky’s the Limit (ed Edition): Rarity and Value

Bobby Hundreds: Around the later ‘90s, I got heavy into those brands coming out of New York and Japan. I had to save up so I could fly to New York and go and visit these hole-in-the-wall boutiques.

Angelo Baque: It was this second generation of independent T-shirt companies coming out of New York: Staple, Elements of Style, 10.Deep, indie hip-hop groups doing their own T-shirts. It seemed like every cool person had a T-shirt line back then. It was an inner circle of like 12 heads.

Peter Leonard (King Stampede): Supreme was a major part in this becoming what it is. Unapologetically representing a movement and a culture that hadn’t gotten that before. It had a raw New York vibe but it also had a refined, beautiful, fine-art quality to it.

Sal Barbier: They sold my lines at Supreme which was the ultimate compliment back then.

Angelo Baque: Back in 2000 there were probably six accounts you could sell to and you had to depend on Japan for business. It was like sell to Union or sell to Urban Outfitters. And if you sold to Urban Outfitters, it was a wrap.

Marc Ecko (Ecko Unltd.): The early-adopter communities were the Japanese. Shibuya was more Brooklyn than Brooklyn, a thousand Japanese kids with dreads and gold fronts. They really kind of put the whole scene on, giving [designers] the first opportunity to commercialize in some regard.

Jeff Staple: Back in the day you couldn’t produce that many [shirts] because you didn’t have the means of producing that many. Now you have companies that have millions of dollars but are cutting back to create a limited-edition feeling.

Alyasha Owerka-Moore: The clever thing BAPE did was attach the Louis Vuitton attitude. Shut your shop down for a couple of weeks and tell people [product] is only going to be available for three days, You’ll have a line around the block.

Eric Haze: The Japanese have a different mentality, where if it’s affordable they don’t trust it, and if it’s exclusive and overpriced it must be great. That’s kind of jerking your audience, but for whatever perverse reason, it works.

Alyasha Owerka-Moore: A Bathing Ape was a Japanese interpretation of FUCT and SSUR, basically. Erik Brunetti from FUCT was doing huge canvases that were tons of ape things. We were roommates in California in ‘89/’90. I don’t want to say BAPE started off as a rip-off brand; to be kind, I’ll say it was highly influenced by what was happening in American streetwear.

Eric Brunetti: A parody is when you take something and you reappropiate it and give it a new meaning. Biting is when some asshole comes along and takes what I already did, like the Planet of the Apes, and they just dig through whatever movie stills I haven’t used from that and put it on a shirt.

Painting by Eric Brunetti

Tags: t-shirt, t-shirt-design, history, streetwear
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