Summer’s Best T-Shirts: Exclusive To Us
Introducing The Tee Store – featuring limited-edition designs from KAPITAL, Aries and more
“I don’t like the word ‘hype’,” MR PORTER buyer Mr George Archer says. “This collection isn’t about the latest fad or trend.” Instead, he says, The Tee Store, an exclusive capsule that debuts 44 T-shirts spanning 17 brands, is about celebrating design talent – the freshest contemporary labels and the voices that accompany them. It’s why, along with some of our favourites, the line-up introduces a handful of new labels to MR PORTER: Billionaire Boys Club EU, COME TEES, Reese Cooper®, Carhartt WIP and 424 have all recently been added to our shelves just in time for summer.
So, why T-shirts? “A T-shirt is style at its simplest,” Mr Archer explains. “We really wanted the designers and brands involved in this project to take risks and step outside their comfort zone a bit,” he continues. “A tee is the perfect canvas for that kind of creativity.” And so, with the promise of warmer weather just around the corner, we’ve picked our favourites from the collection and spoken to some of the brains behind them to get the lowdown on 15 of the designs.
1017 ALYX 9SM
Experimentation has always been 1017 ALYX 9SM’s forte. Headed up by Mr Matthew Williams – the streetwear doyen who served as one-third of art collective Been Trill along with Messrs Heron Preston and Virgil Abloh – the brand lives and breathes innovation, particularly when it comes to fabric treatments. “We mix technology with artisanship to find the human soul in our products,” he says of the brand’s mode of manufacture. Hands-on craftsmanship still sits at the core of its cutting-edge designs. Take Mr Williams’ addition to The Tee Store – your typical logo T-shirt it isn’t. “The tee is first hand-sprayed with a special glitter fabric treatment, which is then lasered with our signature camouflage print,” the brand details of the time-consuming production process. After printing with the label’s logo – a reference to Mr Williams’ birthday, daughter’s name and the address of the label’s first NYC studio – the T-shirt is washed to achieve that lived-in look and feel that’s perfect for this time of year.
“MR PORTER has supported us since our early days,” says Noon Goons founder and Mr Kurt Cobain lookalike – and namesake – Mr Kurt Narmore. “I wanted to put together a collection of graphics that have a notion of friendship,” he muses on the inspiration behind the brand’s exclusive tees. The feeling is mutual, of course. And we challenge anyone not to feel slightly warm and fuzzy at the sight of the prints, which include tongue-in-cheek meditations on love (“young love is love’s most true form”), a bouquet of roses (“everybody loves roses”) and even a pictorial representation of a budding friendship between a bumble bee and a kitten. All that cuteness is tempered by a punkish graphic treatment – something Mr Narmore calls a “cut and paste and photocopy process” – which reinforces the surf and skate outfit’s underground SoCal spirit.
Fresh from collaborating with us on The Japan Edit – a one-of-a-kind collection celebrating the very best of the country’s homegrown brands – KAPITAL is returning to lend us a helping hand once again. There is, of course, an easy explanation for why we keep going back for more: we can’t get enough of the stuff. It’s folksy. It’s fun. It’s also really well made. There are just two tees up for grabs this time – both archival designs from the brand’s vast store – a painted hand and a charmingly Zen iteration of the label’s coveted smiley-face print to brighten your day.
PASADENA LEISURE CLUB
“It actually wasn’t intended to be a brand at first,” says Pasadena Leisure Club’s founders (the enigmatic owners prefer to refer to themselves as simply “the management”) of its tee brand. “It was just a bunch of designs on paper that we thought would be cool to put on shirts.” Inspired by the laid-back, mellow vibe in Pasadena (“a place that takes its leisure seriously”), the vintage-style varsity and gift-shop graphics in MR PORTER’s collection (think palm trees, herons and sports team logos) embody what they call a “now-retro” aesthetic that, while more than a little bit nostalgic, looks forward not just back. “Today, streetwear and sportswear blend seamlessly. It’s what we grew up wearing. So naturally we have an emotional attachment to that and have our own interpretations of it.”
POP TRADING COMPANY
Pop Trading Company’s less-is-more approach to skater-specific sportswear has won the brand a dedicated following both in and outside the community since its inception as the Benelux distributor for Palace, Magenta and Wayward London skateboards in 2013.
Fans of the label’s standout graphics will find plenty to fawn over in the exclusive tees MR PORTER has managed to bag – three of them, one for each letter in “Pop” – but the brand has also deviated slightly from its minimalist modus operandi by commissioning Amsterdam-based cartoonist Mr Floor van het Nederend to illustrate an island print spelling out one of the Ps in the label’s name. “My work is always inspired by nature and comics. I like the unorganised beauty of flora and fauna,” Mr Nederend tells us.
BILLIONAIRE BOYS CLUB EU
Here in Britain at least, the acronym “BBC” refers to the British Broadcasting Cooperation. In streetwear circles, though, it has an entirely different meaning, being shorthand for Billionaire Boys Club, the brainchild of Nigo, one of Japan’s most in-demand designers, and Mr Pharrell Williams.
For the MR PORTER exclusive T-shirt, a trip to the archives was in order: “We rarely reissue old designs, we are always moving forward and innovating,” the duo tells us. “This is an original design from the brand’s extensive vaults, when all the graphics were created by [graphic designer] Sk8thing.” With one important difference, of course: the label’s signature astronaut mascot has been given a gentlemanly (and very MR PORTER) makeover. Watch this space – there’s more to come.
The story behind LA-based brand BILLY’s contribution to our crop of exclusive T-shirts starts with a beat-up vintage skate tee already hanging in the wardrobe of founder Ms Holly Jovenall. “I’ve been wanting to do my own version for a while… It just felt like the perfect time to dig deep into making it special for both BILLY and MR PORTER,” the designer says. The T-shirt itself is made of specially-sourced Japanese cotton designed to replicate the love-worn feel of tees from the 1970s and is printed with a menacing-looking skating skeleton clad, as it happens, in BILLY’s Western-inspired AW19 collection.
“I went through a handful of sketches until I knew it was the right character,” she explains, but her work still wasn’t done. “We wanted to go deeper, really mess it up and make the tee look worn in, lived in and feel like, although new, it had a life and some history.” This is the point, she confesses, she “went a little mad”. Ms Jovenall personally hand-distressed and painted each individual tee (right down to the scrawled Sharpie signature in the neckline) to make sure no two are alike. “Nor will they ever be redone,” she adds.
When it comes to describing the philosophy of Très Bien, the brand’s designers get straight to the point. “The brand is defined by a fusion of classic cuts and sportswear,” the Swedish outfit says, succinctly. Despite operating within an increasingly-crowded streetwear segment, it’s this uncomplicated outlook that has set the brand on a course for success.
With 1990s nostalgia in full swing, the brand has expanded its references. “Music, counter culture and present expressions” all come into play in their own way but, the brand notes, it’s about finding the right balance between novelty and quality. “Our collections are product-oriented, rather than revolving around seasonal themes.” Still, it hasn’t stopped the label having a bit of fun, particularly with the MR PORTER capsule. An homage to skate and style subcultures, the Wavy Toys logo tee is a tribute to retro graphics and graffiti, while the illustration on the Fashion Meltdown tee is based on unlikelier source material: a 1990s rave flyer. “We chose this mainly because it perfectly shows the feeling you have when multiple deadlines are approaching,” the brand says. We’re sure you can relate.
It’s settled. Fairfax Avenue in LA is the coolest road in the world. Partly responsible for transforming it from a graffiti-filled passage into a streetwear mecca for “hypebeasts” is the existence of FourTwoFour on Fairfax. Described by the founders as “a boutique space to feature cutting-edge ideas in design, be it fashion, lifestyle and art, without limitations,” the store heeded the call from fans to create its own line back in 2015.
Headed by designer Mr Guillermo Andrade, the in-house label navigates the tricky space between politics and fashion. The latest collection is a celebration of Americana and was the starting point for the MR PORTER exclusives. The two tees, which are each emblazoned with looming star-spangled banner graphics, starkly juxtapose one another – one printed in radiant red, white and blue, the other in a distressed greyscale.
Whatever you do, don’t call Ms Sonya Sombreuil’s COME TEES label an “art brand”. “I really detest the idea,” the designer tells MR PORTER. “I don’t like the hierarchy that it implies between art and fashion.” Her underground LA-based brand has been around for a decade or so but has enjoyed a spate of attention from the mainstream thanks to Ms Sombreuil’s multiplying celebrity client list (Mr Kanye West, Rihanna et al).
The draw is obvious – even in a crowded market, there are few operating with such an idiosyncratic design ethos. Ms Sombreuil, who sketches each and every print by hand, says the process of coming up with her ideas is organic. “I’m always researching and getting into new things, but also deep-diving from a lifetime of references and especially stuff I grew up on,” she explains. “It’s highly personal [and] highly subjective but also working with a shared culture that I think a lot of people can get to.” As for the pieces in the MR PORTER capsule? “They represent a polarity between reflection and breaking out… I don’t really think about it while I’m making it.” Spoken like a true artist.
Mr Reese Cooper is one of the freshest talents on this list. The LA-based designer himself is ris only 21. “I’m not sure age has anything to do with it,” he says. “I think the advantage comes from being excited. As long as I’m excited about what I do I don’t see myself slowing down.” And it doesn’t sound like he’s planning to anytime soon.
After spending most of his formative years in London, Mr Cooper recently decided to make the move to LA to be closer to production, but, he says, the City of Angels plays a more central role in his work than mere manufacture: “Working in this city is very important to me because I’m so close to nature, different landscapes, good friends and a creative community – all the things that inspire and support the brand vision – and I can still be hands on with the development and actual garments,” he explains.
It’s this new life-work balance that serves as the inspiration for the exclusive T-shirts in MR PORTER’s capsule, too. “I’ve been painting a lot more recently as a form of meditation, which helps me focus on the main work of creating and shipping a collection. There’s a lot going on in my studio and life, and these two T-shirts represent all of that.”
Mr John Elliott’s collections are a contradiction of sorts. Nothing about the clothes screams “this was made by John Elliott”. There are no loud logos, no overt signatures and, rarely, any graphics. Instead, it’s the little things – palette, fit, fabric – that give them their identity. Yet, as the designer puts it, “interesting people live outside of their comfort zones.”
“As someone who creates largely unbranded product, I’ve found strength within that range, and our brand DNA is largely based around it,” Mr Elliott continues. “But late at night, or when I’m concepting collections, I’ll daydream about new processes or elements of construction.” The MR PORTER capsule, he says, was the right opportunity to let loose. “Sometimes something as simple as a print will come up, and I’ll look for the perfect reason to incorporate it into a collection.” The butterfly that features heavily in the capsule is particularly fitting, then. It’s inspired by the place he calls his home and office, the Californian coast, as well as a butterfly’s metamorphosis. “They transform over time, which personally, is relatable,” he explains, adding, “I also thought it was a beautiful graphic, objectively.”
As one of the more recent additions to our shelves, we’re very much in the honeymoon phase when it comes to Carhartt WIP, an offshoot of the Michigan-based workwear specialist. It should come as no great surprise, given its ancestry, that utility and Americana are constituent parts of the brand’s collections. The MR PORTER capsule is no exception, consisting of four boldly graphic tees – the handiwork of contemporary artist Flossy – that reference everything from varsity athletics to military training.
AIMÉ LEON DORE
Forget LA or London; streetwear, Mr Teddy Santis believes, is a New York state of mind; the city’s hip-hop history makes it so. Mr Santis’ Aimé Leon Dore brand, which was founded in his hometown of Queens in 2014, is heavily influenced by the legacy of the likes of Run-DMC, A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy, but the designer also finds ample inspiration in his own ancestry. Born to immigrant parents, Mr Santis spent his childhood summers with his grandparents in the Greek countryside, giving his designs a notably European flavour. It’s this Hellenic lineage that serves as the starting point for the two T-shirts in the MR PORTER capsule: the Uncle George fisherman and sailboat graphics are a tribute to his trips to his family home and are, speaking strictly from a style perspective, pretty damn summery.
Like it or not, we’re judged on what we choose to wear, something Ms Sofia Prantera, one half of streetwear brand Aries, found out the hard way. While ordering breakfast at a bar in Milan with her friend and co-founder, Mr Fergus Purcell, the waitress asked if they could pay before receiving their meal. It wasn’t until Ms Prantera reached for her purse and the server spotted her designer handbag that she withdrew the request, offering profuse apologies in return. It was then, Ms Prantera says, she was struck by how much style rules the way we live our lives. “I’m not sure… why it made any difference. But for me it summarised how fashion can be so defining. It made me realise why I have always been so compelled by it,” she explains in the label’s brand book.
And so, Aries was born. “A brand is a vehicle for ideas,” the designer tells MR PORTER. “I never wanted to design under my own name and having a brand allows you to work collectively.” Indeed, Mr Purcell was one of her first collaborators – the duo met just after college when she staffed the counter at Slam City Skates – but since then, the label has gone on to work with a host of other like-minded artists and designers. “It’s what inspires me, working with others.”
T-shirts, too, are another fertile source of inspiration. “They’ve always been a passion and I’ve collected them for many years. We are communicating more and more with images and T-shirts have become part of that language,” she says. “First, they are comfortable and relatively inexpensive. But most of all they have become a way of expression and belonging, they say something about who you are, what you are interested in.” The MR PORTER capsule, then, has a little something for everyone: there’s a neon-saturated headbanger tee, a bootleg version of an iconic 1980s logo rendered in pop colours and a comic-book graphic referencing the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s.