Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

How the fake fashion label meme got cool (again)

Morphing iconic labels for one’s own ironic amusement is back in fashion. It’s a long way from Mark Owen’s Johnson & Johnson t-shirt.

Mon, Feb 18, 2013, 15:43


Back in the 90s *looks through mists of time* deliberately bootlegged takes on well known brands knocked the actual fakes off street stalls around the world.

‘Adihash’ hoodies, with the Adidas logo re-appropriated as a cannabis leaf, Gemini Rising printing ‘Enjoy Cocaine’ t-shirts hacking Coca Cola’s logo which led to this lawsuit, and Mark Owen turning heads with his ‘Junkies Baddy Powder’, the slightly misguided take on Johnson & Johnson’s talc for babies: all of these slightly ironic fashion statements tapped into the brand-overload of the era. This was a time when kids getting their Air Max trainers nicked popped up as news stories in American papers, when Louis Vuitton under the leadership of Marc Jacobs was being knocked off everywhere from Canal Street to Bangkok, and when logos became front and centre of almost every item of clothing you can think of.

The response of warping the recognisability of such logos was a natural one given the saturation of Nike swooshes, Adidas’ three stripes, LV monograms, Chanel’s linked Cs, Gucci’s chequerboard, Prada’s red line, Lacoste’s crocodile, and so on. It was also quite the subversive reaction. The tail end of the 90s was also about Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’. Being a slave to brands was reacted to with a growing resentment towards capitalism and consumerism. Getting fashion kudos for wearing an immediately obvious label was increased by donning a basterdisation of that label. Soon enough, the subversion of a label became more fashionable than the original itself.

As slogan Ts reached a tipping point with Henry Holland’s 2006 Fashion Groupies series, t-shirts became blank again, the rip offs of Holland reaching the bargain basement of the fashion filter that is Primark.

But the cheekiness of subverted slogans is back. This time it’s not instantly recognisable drink brands and baby powder getting the makeovers though, but high end and niche labels morphed and plastered across sweaters, tshirts and hats as a fashionable in joke.

Corina Gaffey, the fashion editor of Stellar magazine, cites Brian Lichtenberg’s ‘Homiés’ take on Hermés as a key marker in the return of this trend. Lichternberg targets Celine and Gucci too, you can check out some of the designs here. A$AP Rocky who takes every opportunity available to shout out to Rick Owens and Maison Martin Margiela in his tracks, made the Commes Des Fuck Down beanie famous in the video for ‘Goldie’ and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, model Cara Delevingne rocked a ‘Cuntier’ hat on Terry Richardson’s blog.

Photo by Terry Richardson via terrysdiary

“I think that it used to be really uncool to flash what labels you were wearing for a couple of years,” Gaffey says, “Now it has become really tongue in cheek again. You have all these ‘it’  sweaters like the Kenzo tiger sweater.” But with the trend of ‘it’ sweaters’ and ‘it’ Ts, there’s the inevitable play on words, “This trend is subverting that in a creative way,” Gaffey says, “People wearing them are saying only are they in the know – that you know about the actual trends – but you’re saying you’re too cool to buy a Celine t-shirt for example, so instead you’re ‘in on the joke’ as it were. You know about the niche labels but you don’t want to buy the high end so you’ll just screw with the names. It has come full circle because celebs are wearing them now. Rihanna is really into this trend. It’s irony eating irony.”

There’s tremendous fun to be had with this trend, of course. Gaffey mentions Mala New York’s phonetic spellings of designers on their popular t-shirts, Radarte’s subversion of Rodarte, along with Le Plus Dores doffing their cap to Margiela, and Reason merging Céline with Celine Dion.

Surely though, the fashion companies themselves are miffed that instead of cool kids actually buying their designs, they’re buying ones that are in fact poking fun at them? Not so, says Gaffey, “The design houses don’t seem to mind. They think it’s funny, and it’s publicising their brand. It’s not like ripping off is new. Walk into any high street store and you’ll see how things are ripped off, but this highlights their brand. It would be really embarassing for someone to wear a rip off normally in fashion circles, but suddenly it’s cool to have a tongue in cheek slogan. It’s accessible for most people as well. Everyone wants a little bit of designer. People want the little luxuries – that’s why Chanel and Dior makeup is popular – and this about buying into that desire in a different way.”

It’s also re-imagining the 90s again. If you thought referencing that decade was old news, then you’re mistaken, Gaffey believes. Attending London Fashion Week over the weekend, Gaffey noticed that the love affair with that decade is far from going stale, “You’d have to say that whole 90s thing comes into this too. At London Fashion Week all the soundtracks were 90s inspired. Ashish did the slogan stuff, for example.” Another aspect of the trend is that it’s taking generally inaccessible labels and bringing them down to street level, “When you think about it, these takes on labels are all casual. This is about t-shirts and hoodies, so the whole streetwear vibe is feeding into it. It’s still really fashionable, but it has that air of ‘I don’t care’.”

Ultimately the real irony is that high end and niche labels sell themselves as cool, yet doing take offs of them is another wink and a nod version of being even cooler, “This is all about validation,” Gaffey says, “People are always looking to be seen to be cool, so they’re showing they know about niche designers. You know what they say, fake it til you make it.”

As for one of the key architects of a fashion in joke in T-shirt terms, Henry Holland, Gaffey doubts that he’ll return to printing ironic slogans now that he’s gone mainstream, “Henry Holland started out that way, but he’s a fully-fledged designer now,” Gaffey says, “You’d wonder if he’d go back to that now that it’s so popular, but I think he knows like most people that this is a fleeting trend.”