UO Profiles —
Project White T-Shirt
Thirty one designers. Thirteen countries. One big idea.
A white T-shirt constructed from 2,000 marshmallows, one that moonlights as a dream catcher, and a shirt that was buried in a garden and left to decompose for 185 days are just some of the results of Project White T-Shirt, which asked 31 international designers to re-imagine fashion's most classic garment. The results were auctioned to raise money for Designers Against AIDS, and are currently on display in Planet White T-shirt at Space 15 Twenty's Gallery Space.
Curated by LA-based fashion agency and studio Triple-Major, Project White T-Shirt's aim is out to start a fashion revolution, one deconstructed tee at a time. "It's an attempt to re-inform popular culture," explains Ritchie Chan, director of Triple-Major. "Since the white tee was invented, it's stayed pretty much the same, so no matter what country or religion you're from, you're all wearing the same shirt. We wanted to create an alternative of personal expression."
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chan questioned the limits of the mass consumer culture from a young age. "The word 'fashion' pretty much means 'fashion industry.' It's all about buying and selling and branding," he says. "The materialistic culture of Hong Kong defined personal worth and identity through branding. This dissatisfied me, but it also inspired curiosity. Not all fashion has to be a form of commercialism; it can also be a form of art, pure expression. I wondered: What would avant-garde, transformative designers do with a ubiquitous, global symbol outside of commercial pressures?"
Project White T-Shirt presented a straight-forward challenge—create an alternative to an iconic item—and the solutions were anything but predictable. Kostas Murkudis, of Berlin,
created what he calls a "tee towel shirt," which is exactly what it sounds like: a white tee that doubles as a towel, and Slow and Steady Wins the Race designed a white t-shirt pillow. There were tent-inspired pieces, a three-in-one T-shirt, T-shirt necklaces, and a negative T-shirt, in which the whole body, except, of course, the T-shirt area, is draped in cotton. Many used recycled or vintage materials to advocate environmental sustainability. One designer, Daniel Palillo, simply burned his white T-shirt to ashes and framed it. Designers layered, wove, ripped, and bejeweled, ultimately constructing a powerful body of social, political, and aesthetic commentary, one white T-shirt at a time.
Chan's vision for Project White T-Shirt is characterized by a mischievous sense of humor and an optimistic, if slightly nihilistic, philosophy of fashion. "In 1988, designer Walter Van Beirendonck said that a serious way of thinking about fashion is to end it," Chan says, laughing, "That has always struck me as being really radical and inspiring."
Chan visited each of the 31 designers, in 13 different countries total, to document their T-shirt-making processes, and posted all the films on the Project's website. "There are a lot of gallery shows that involve clothes and want to do something revolutionary, but you don't see the stories behind the pieces," Chan says. "What makes this project really unique is that you get a chance to meet the artists through these videos, to contextualize the T-shirts. You travel with me to Iceland to see designer Mundi wear his tee everywhere for a week. He goes to volcanos and beaches, random people attack the shirt, cars roll over it, birds poop on it. With this process you get his sense of humor—otherwise it would just seem like a really dirty, nasty shirt with holes in it."
—LUCIA DELLA PAOLERA
Planet White T-Shirt opens Saturday, March 20 at Space 15 Twenty,
1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.