Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Harry Remembers Slogans

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with some new acquaintances. It was a very pleasant evening and in the course of the conversation (which did not include the subject of long sleeved evening dresses) , it transpired that they were old friends of Katherine Hamnett. A name , I suggested , that doesn’t come up that often nowadays.
I was curious to know if she was still in business. Indeed she is. I gather most of her business is web –based ( this is the link)
I recalled her campaigning for organic cotton, and her anti nuclear stance in the eighties. Her web-site shows that her campaigning continues with vigour. Including Concentrated Solar Power, which I confess is news to me.

Of course I remember most vividly her encounter with Margaret Thatcher in the 80’s when she was famously photographed with the T –shirt that boldly proclaimed ‘No to Pershing’. A coup of a very high order. And an understanding of the dynamics of slogan T –shirts that nobody has bettered.

Ms Hamnett is still marketing similar shirts. But it occurred to me that I don’t see any slogans on the streets any more.
Shirts often seem to be ‘decorated ‘ with type, but it’s usually decoration with no content.
I asked my daughter and a friend ( 20) whether I was missing something. Apparently I’m not. The slogans they are aware of came from the likes of Topshop and are merely modish cultural references. Even if they appeared to have some content they were explicitly superficial and, as is often the case nowadays, ironic.

I don’t believe I am lamenting the demise of the slogan so much as I am bothered by the absence of seriousness and originality. Which has been elbowed out of the way by the trivial and a form of consumer idolatry ( half the population are apparently fulfilled by turning themselves into walking billboards for Diesel and Abercrombie and Fitch and their ilk).

But then…. who am I to talk?
Way back , in early teenager-hood , I was a big fan of satire, exemplified by the esteemed magazine Private Eye. They produced their own merchandise and I coveted it. I saved my pennies and bought a t shirt by mail order. They were amongst the first ( as far as I am aware ) to create such cultural artefacts.
When it arrived my joy was unconfined. In big black type it proudly proclaimed: 'Death to Sir Albert Strume'. I thought it was hilarious . (Sir Albert was , of course, entirely fictitious.)

At the earliest opportunity I wore it when I next played tennis.
After half an hour the club secretary ( a diminutive woman with massive thighs and a powerful forehand) appeared on the court in a state of high officiousness and promptly ordered me off. It wasn’t just that I was in contravention of club rules , but she was visibly agitated and outraged.
I had no idea it would be so provocative.
And of course I was delighted that it was.


Linda Grant said...

Played tennis? At a tennis club? And does this activity continue?

greying pixie said...

If I remember rightly Katherine Hamnett got the information wrong on the front of her T-shirt and allowed Thatcher to have the last laugh.

Marian D said...

Harry -
You can buy "Lives not Knives" T-shirts on the Matches Fashion web site, supporting Grazia magazine's campaign to end knife crime. And Alexander Rose sells "Stop" T-shirts for his own campaign to end gun and knife crime.
I can't decide if it's good that people care enough to start these campaigns, or just sad that they're needed. Both, I suppose.

California Dreamer said...

If my own twenty-somethings are any indicator, the indie tee is like the indie band--it's coolest if nobody's heard of it.

They like to shop for tees in the Haight in San Francisco, or at or have them made up with their own slogans. Middle child had one made up that says "Life Unfolds" (a favorite quote from her grandfather).

My favorite belongs to my son, who is in business school: "Advertising helps me decide."

It's got to be cooler than my "Keep on Trekkin'" tee from the '70s, which was neither serious nor original. But truthfully I don't often wear my heart on my tee anymore.

Ms Baroque said...

My oldest kid is now 19, and quite a stocky, muscular guy. From about 11 to 15, though, he was what you'd have to call plump. When he was 13, he went to one of those make your own T shirt places in town & came home in a shirt that said "Fat kids are harder to kidnap". He wore it till it fell off him.

Gabrielle said...

My uncle inscribed "we might as well be here as where we are," in one of his prints. I've always thought I would like that on a t-shirt.