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Insights — 8 months ago

10 Best Ever Bootleg T-Shirts

We trace some of the most seminal iterations of the best bootleg T-shirts. 

 

2019 was the year that fashion got introspective, with designers attempting to address issues of mental health, activism, and the environment in their collections and on the runway. It’s funny to think that only a few years ago, things felt less earnest. Taking it back to 2016, the collective answer to the elitism of the fashion industry was a short-lived, popular culture of bootlegging. From influencers in the infamous Vetements x DHL bootleg tee, to fashion houses parodying counterfeit copies of their own logos, it was a great time to be tongue-in-cheek.

 

To celebrate the golden age of unlicensed ‘borrowing,’ we’ve taken a look at some of the best bootleg tees to have come from luxury fashion houses and streetwear designers alike.

Words
Morna Fraser
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Image courtesy of Fuct

VETEMENTS

Fashion’s enfant terrible, Vetements was arguably the brand to set off 2016’s bootleg craze with its now-notorious DHL T-shirt. A major talking point of 2015’s Paris catwalks, the divisive piece was priced at £185 and sold out within weeks of hitting fashion retailers.

Vetements’ DHL T-shirt

BRISTOL STREET WEAR

When an early UK general election was called in 2017 (we’re getting déjà vu here), the youth vote was integral to the Labour party. This T-shirt, which featured ”Corbyn” brandished over a Nike tick and created by Bristol Street Wear with ”Corbyn” brandished quickly became the people’s favourite during the campaign.

SPORTS BANGER

Tottenham-based brand Sports Banger represents bold, no-frills streetwear for the masses. It was a “Free Tulisa” tee that catapulted the brand to fame, but its clever reimagining of the Polo Ralph Lauren logo into a dynamic equestrian scene featuring Margaret Thatcher is a collection highlight.

EU Ralph T-shirt, courtesy of Sports Banger

BALENCIAGA

Vetements were so fundamental to the recent wave of bootlegs that we had to feature them twice (sort of). Their head designer Demna Gvasalia joined Balenciaga as Creative Director in 2015, carrying some of the same unpredictable elements of Vetements with him into his new role. For his collection debut with Balenciaga, he emblazoned a clear reimagining of Bernie Sanders’ campaign logo onto T-shirts, tracksuits and padded scarves.

Balenciaga AW’17 show, courtesy of Balenciaga

DAPPER DAN

It would be impossible to do a run through of bootlegs without mentioning Dapper Dan. One of the originators of the luxury bootleg, his bespoke counterfeits of high-end brands gained him fans on the hip-hop and sports scenes of ‘80s New York, until his boutique was officially shut down after a legal battle in 1992. Things came full circle in 2018 when Gucci partnered with him to launch an exclusive Gucci-Dapper Dan collection.

GUCCI

Separately to its collaboration with Dapper Dan, Gucci created a range of parody “Guccy” pieces based on real misspelled counterfeits of the brand’s logo. It was a playful way of shaking off the elitist image that haute-couture has become synonymous with, and paying homage to the tenacious power of the knock-off industry.

Gucci Cruise 2018, courtesy of Gucci

CHRISTOPHER SHANNON

Menswear designer Christopher Shannon has long been experimenting with ironic pastiches of branded garbs; a nod to his own reality of London youth culture. His most notable T-shirts feature the Sports Direct logo reworked into “Lovers Direct,” and Coke into “Broke,” they were created as part of a collaboration with Slam Jam and Buffalo Magazine.

Buffalo Zine x Christopher Shannon x Slam Jam

IDEA

Publishing house and lifestyle store IDEA has had a lot of attention for its viral “Keanu” and “Winona” tees, but it’s a collaboration with bootleg designer Ava Nirui in an homage to ‘90s fanzine “MY KEANU” (run by Ava’s Meredith Nirui) which gets the award for most self-referential bootleg merch.

FUCT

Part of our best brands of 2020 line up too, Fuct was a trailblazer for anti-establishment brands of the ‘90s, with its rebellious philosophy ingrained in brash graphics and logo reworks throughout collections. Its most notable bootleg tee came complete with a logo adaptation of Capitalist figurehead, “Ford,” and was famously worn by Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine.

Zack de la Rocha in Bullet in the Head Video

BOOTLEG IS BETTER

When we spoke to T-shirt connoisseur Chris Black, he sang the praises of an off-kilter bootleg tee – “Most of the stuff that I find interesting is weird bootlegs people send me, that are like $20 online, like an Oasis bootleg that I really want, and there’s no design to it really.” Bootleg is Better channels exactly this energy, making a name for itself with clothing that doesn’t take itself too seriously by referencing everything from Seinfeld to Buju Banton and more. Its Larry David-inspired collection in 2016 featured borrowed graphics and quotes from the show as a nod to ‘90s nostalgia and vintage tees.

Bootleg is Better x DSM

Read More: Remix and Persist: How Bootleg Fashion Flourished

Michael Wilkin
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Michael Wilkin
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