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#ItemsMoMA: The Future of the Graphic T-Shirt

Currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Graphic T-shirt is included in Items: Is Fashion Modern? as one of the 111 items that have had a strong impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries—and continue to hold currency today.

From the unofficial uniform of factory and mechanic workers to rock bands merchandise and Fashion Week outfits, how did the Graphic t-shirt became such a style icon?

The item

Like many other fashion trends (i.e. The Breton shirt), the Graphic T-shirt started as a military garment, used by the army with the member’s branches names and training programs. But it wasn’t until Marlon Brando skyrocketed the item to Hollywood fame in the 1951 that the graphic tee popularized, becoming a $180 million dollar business in the same year.

Marlon Brando

With the graphic tee becoming popular, it quickly became also a marketing asset. Print advertising on the t-shirts followed suit for consumer brands, as it did for the music industry – starting the tour merchandise that is huge until today.

Faye Howard, WGSN Retail & Buying Associate Editor, reports that being a blank canvas for the expression of a variety of sub-cultures and generations, it’s no surprise the graphic tee has stood the test of  time.

“From tour merchandise popularized by the 90s to the slogan tees of the current day, we have all grown up with this item in one form or the other, meaning it will never go out of style. And in a time of increased political and economic turmoil, the demand for statement-making and attention grabbing t-shirts is peaking.

From Vetements mimicking band tees to Dior’s politically fuelled ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ slogans, the graphic t-shirt has a metamorphic capability that will continue to transcend seasons and eras alike.”

Prabal Gurunj at his fall 2017 NYFW show

What’s coming next?

Get to know Modern Meadow – an American firm that is re-imagining leather. Its first animal-free garment is Zoa, a Graphic T-shirt created from a bio fabricated leather as a prototype commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art for Items: Is Fashion Modern? .

Zoa. A new animal is born. Modern Meadow Graphic T-shirt. 2017. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on the occasion of the exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?

Able to morph, to take any shape, and combine with other materials with no stitching required, the Zoa prototype constructs a t-shirt made completely through liquid assembly.

“Our technology allows designers to explore materials in exciting new ways, enabling never-seen-before functionality, aesthetics and performance possibilities. We are thrilled to be showcasing an example of Zoa bioleather at MoMA, an institution respected worldwide for its dedication to design innovation and creative expression. It was an honor to be commissioned to submit a prototype for one of fashion’s most iconic items, the graphic t-shirt; it’s an exciting challenge that has enabled us to demonstrate the unique material capabilities of Zoa.” explains Suzanne Lee, Chief Creative Officer for Modern Meadow.

Zoa. A new animal is born. Modern Meadow Graphic T-shirt. 2017. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on the occasion of the exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?

Items: Is Fashion Modern?  is on view at MoMA with major support by WGSN until January 28, 2018.

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