Elevated to new heights this season, the ultimate essential is anything but basic
It’s been more than a decade since Henry Holland burst onto the fashion scene with his collection of 80s-inspired ‘Fashion Groupies’ T-shirts. With tongue-in-cheek slogans like ‘Get Yer Freak on Giles Deacon’ and ‘I’ll Tell You Who’s Boss, Kate Moss’, they were love letters to the designers and models he admired, and they also acted as a platform for what would later become his hugely successful ready-to-wear line, House of Holland.
Cut to 2018 and tees are very much a thing in their own right. Take unisex label Blouse, for example; the brainchild of creative director Geoffrey J. Finch. Focusing primarily on T-shirts and shirts means that the brand is agile – launching new collections every couple of months – and able to produce deceptively simple garments that have a wealth of detail woven into them. Finch peppers his designs with references that vary between Hyacinth Bucket – see the glorious ‘Keeping up Appearances’ T-shirt – and Prince Harry with the Royal wedding- inspired ‘My Heart Belongs to Harry’ tee in baby pink.
“We put a lot of work and consideration into the brand’s execution and getting the balances right – all of the subtle things on such a basic garment are what really make it a treasure,” says Finch.
“For a digital world, the T-shirts are designed to be very graphic but I hope that there are IRL levels of discovery. All of the elements, from the text, to the choice of font, or the nuances in the word placement, spark lots of triggers for people. Blouse is all about recontextualising those familiarities," he adds.
After working for cult London label Antipodium and later Topshop, Blouse was born to reflect how people actually dress. “After consulting for some very big businesses and seeing how they had their knickers in a twist about where to take fashion, I just thought ‘What do people wear?’ I wanted to design stuff that I could wear, my friends could wear, whatever their gender,” he says. “There’s a simplicity and an ease to T-shirts. I’ve noticed with Blouse that people connect to it in a much deeper way than anything I’ve done previously.”
The utilitarian and democratic nature of the T-shirt means that it also lends itself to younger creatives and shoestring brands. “It’s an easy purchase, it’s an entry price point, it’s an easy fit, and with the graphics and artwork that I’ve been working on with various people, it’s a way to make a personal statement,” says Finch. In fact, following the collapse of the fantastical fashion house Meadham Kirchhoff, Edward Meadham turned his hand to T-shirts, launching the far more affordable and accessible Blue Roses in Dover Street Market in 2016. Always at the forefront of fashion, Rei Kawakubo’s groundbreaking concept store DSM London has had a dedicated T-shirt lounge since 2014 and stocks some of the brightest, coolest and most niche T-shirt brands.
From Youths in Balaclava – a Singapore collective whose tees are an extension of the weird and wonderful Avi Gold’s Better Gift Shop, to the explicitly political Bianca Chandôn – who launched its Arabic script tees on Instagram with the following message: “Bianca Chandôn was created to celebrate diversity and celebrate differences; regardless of gender, race, sexual preference, religion or nationality... this season a portion of proceeds will be donated to support refugees.”
Speaking of charitable donations, over in Blouse world, Finch has teamed up with LGBT mental health charity London Friend for his latest collection (see above, top). Available at Net-A-Porter and Selfridges, £10 from every sale of four rainbow styles, which include the standout embroidered ‘Heaven’ tee, will be donated to the charity. “The tragic suicide of a friend really kicked me into gear,” says Finch. “He wasn’t the first either. Life ain’t always rainbow leopard and 3D embroidery, so all the better that we can use our T-shirts to help save and improve lives.”
Wearing your embroidered heart on your sleeve – shoulder, chest or waist – has never looked so good.