The Return Of The Tee Store: MR PORTER’s Exclusive T-Shirt Collection

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The Return Of The Tee Store: MR PORTER’s Exclusive T-Shirt Collection

Words by Ms Molly Isabella Smith | Photography by Ms Hannah Rose | Styling by Ms Sophie Watson

27 July 2020

A T-shirt is a T-shirt is a T-shirt, right? It’s ostensibly the most straightforward item in our wardrobes, so it would certainly seem that way. But the humble tee is a richer and more nuanced garment than its simple design and sheer ubiquitousness would have you believe. Where would the style world be, for example, if the late Mr Milton Glaser hadn’t scribbled a hurried design for the “I ♥ NY” T-shirts in the back of a taxi? Or if rock bands had decided to forgo tour T-shirts in favour of branded socks? And what of the T-shirt’s history as a wearable protest?

Over the years, T-shirts have provided a fertile canvas for artists, creatives and designers. And practically everyone of us owns one. We wear them to work out. To sleep in. To make a statement. To show our political or musical allegiances. Or just to throw on when we can’t decide what else to wear. Now in its second year, The Tee Store is MR PORTER’s way of celebrating the T-shirt in all its unassuming glory. This time around, we’ve partnered with 19 of the most exciting brands in the world, from Aries and Billionaire Boys Club EU to Sorry In Advance, to produce 61 exclusive prints and designs. We hope you like them as much as we do.

Shop The Tee Store here

In case you hadn’t noticed, few clothing brands are simply clothing brands any more. The way music shapes fashion and vice versa is something AFFIX, the utilitarian streetwear brand founded by Messrs Michael Kopelman, Kiko Kostadinov, Taro Ray and Stephen Mann, knows only too well. To drive home that symbiotic relationship, the brand launched AFFIX Broadcast Network, a platform to showcase up-and-coming electronica artists with live guest mixes and audiovisual performances. All of which explains the boldly graphic sound wave logo that graces the exclusive tees the design collective has created for us.

The Tee Store is the perfect project for Aries co-founder Ms Sofia Prantera. The designer has been collecting T-shirts all her life. The tees, a series of punchy, cartoonish prints inspired by Mr Massimo Mattioli’s darkly funny Squeak The Mouse comic, are in line with the brand’s idiosyncratic vision. “We wanted Aries to be a return to that 1980s sensibility where streetwear was fashion and vice versa,” she writes in the label’s brand book. “This is the challenge for any new brand now – to keep it original, experimental and a little subversive.”

“Art for every day” is how Beams bills its concept T-shirt store and exhibition space. And you can’t argue with that, given the calibre of the offering. Packed with one-off designs, exclusives and collaborations from some of Japan’s most in-demand artists and designers, the store in Harajuku, Tokyo, used to be the only place you could pick up its wares. Until now, that is. The brand has generously offered up 10 designs for The Tee Store, which showcase the combined talents of Shinknownsuke, Hikaru Matsubara, Kosuke Kawamura and Nil Ultra.

Pasadena Leisure Club spends most of its time capturing that quintessentially laid-back SoCal vibe, but for the MR PORTER Tee Store, it decided to do things a little differently. Yes, the prints are typically easy-going, but the brand also looked further afield for bright ideas. “We were inspired again by classic vacation tees, but also wanted to bring in MR PORTER’s roots as a UK establishment,” says the brand. “We wanted to give a nod to European football in an American way. Hence the soccer reference.” Closer to home, techno music’s mid-West origins in Detroit served as the template for another, rave-influenced design. “We also used it as a reference to Technics turntables, which have been instrumental in spreading music of all kinds of genres all over the world.”

It’s never a bad day when we get the opportunity to see what Mr Stevie Anderson, the Bali-based artist behind Endless Joy, is dreaming up. Usually, he reserves his mythological and philosophical musings for aloha-style shirts, but he made an exception for us. His four designs for the MR PORTER Tee Store variously depict “a motley crew of deities, shamans and spirits”. Expect references to Bengali proverbs, the surreal and symbolic meaning of our dreams and a representation of the “reconciliation of spirit and matter”. Oh, and they look great, too.

Another brand that’s not typically in the business of making T-shirts, New York label BODE has carved out a niche at the forefront of a new guard of artisanal brands. You’re much more likely to see a pair of shorts stitched from a patchwork of Victorian lace and antique broderie anglaise than a graphic print from founder Ms Emily Bode and her team, but for MR PORTER, she’s imbued her canvas with the same homespun ethos. The two Turneresque prints – one featuring a flock of gracefully rendered seagulls, the other a study of a pride of lions on a plinth – could have been torn from a leaf of the designer’s own sketchbook.

Up there with Mr Glaser’s “I ♥ NY”’ print, “Have a nice day”, with its accompanying smiley face logo, is one of the purest, simplest and most enduring T-shirt slogans of the 20th century. Even the most committed pessimist would find it difficult not to crack a smile at the sight of one of KAPITAL’s signature beaming pieces, which are inspired by the original by commercial artist Mr Harvey Ball. We find its cheerful presence in our wardrobes so welcome at a time such as this, we’ve even penned a whole story about it. The iteration in MR PORTER’s Tee Store collection is based on a print from the cult Japanese brand’s extensive archive and radiates low-key, easy-going charm.

Founded by French-Moroccan designer Mr Charaf Tajer, Casablanca blurs the lines between streetwear and super-luxe resortwear. Think louche, languid tailoring paired with in-your-face prints and heaps and heaps of silk. For our collection, the brand has supplied four exclusives, including a taster of its autumn/winter collection: an endearing dalmatian logo tee. Go fetch.

Streetwear might be considered a young man’s game, but even by that standard, Mr Evan Mock is a nipper. Fresh it might be, but with his fuchsia buzzcut, the 22-year-old’s face is a pretty recognisable one. After putting in an appearance on singer-songwriter Mr Frank Ocean’s Instagram last year, the skater-slash-model-slash-designer has recently set up his own brand, Sorry In Advance. Its inauguration into the Tee Store marks the label’s much-anticipated arrival at MR PORTER and the collection, which is packed with prints of hibiscus flowers, is a nod to Mr Mock’s Hawaiian homeland. A collection highlight, these tees are not to be missed.

There are some people you meet with whom you feel an immediate kinship – they seem to just get you. We imagine that’s how Mr Jonny Johansson, creative director and co-founder of Acne Studios, and British artist Mr Daniel Silver felt when they first encountered each other. They’re both on the same aesthetic wavelength, as the brand’s entry to the MR PORTER Tee Store illustrates. Fresh from designing a capsule to mark the ribbon-cutting on the brand’s brilliantly brutalist HQ in Stockholm, Mr Silver has turned his hand to a fluid graphic print for our collection.

An ingenious partnership between singer Mr Pharrell Williams, A Bathing Ape’s Nigo and graphic designer Sk8thing, Billionaire Boys Club EU (BBC for short) is one of the most recognisable streetwear labels in the business, in part because of some savvy branding. It’s rendered in camouflage for the Tee Store collection, but there’s no mistaking the brand’s signature spaceman logo, a piece of streetwear iconography that, BBC says, was inspired by Mr Williams’ fascination with all things extraterrestrial.

Doing one thing and doing it better than anyone else is a recipe for success in the style world. Blue Blue Japan has spent the past 25 years turning traditional indigo dying into an art form. Its signature use of bassen dying – a traditional, time-intensive process that uses powder to discharge dye – is on show in the brand’s Tee Store line-up, which comprises a series of three mountain prints inspired by the awesome beauty of the Japanese landscape. Each one takes at least five days to complete, but transforms the humble, workaday T-shirt into something quite precious.

Founded in 1989, Carhartt WIP is the more street-friendly offshoot of the century-old workwear brand. The clothes are every bit as tough as those in the mainline offering, but Carhartt WIP is a little more open to experimentation and has a history of collaborating with in-demand designers. For the Tee Store, it has dipped into its archives to treat us to a set of four quirky prints – think a circus elephant in a top hat and clever logo treatments.

Underground label Come Tees is the handiwork of Ms Sonya Sombreuil. The last time we spoke to her, she asked us not to refer to her work as an “art brand”, but it’s hard not to ascribe that title to an outfit that churns out truly original, thought-provoking pieces. In a departure from her usual painterly approach, the MR PORTER Tee Store collection features a series of hard-hitting slogans drawn from Ms Sombreuil’s personal shibboleths (and, unsurprisingly, a few unorthodox sources). “These were inspired by a love of 1990s rave flyers, the art of Xerox and mantras I have arrived at for myself,” she says.

“Almost everything I design for iggy has an element of humour,” says the brand’s indefatigable designer Mr Jack Greer on a break from creating collages for his new season collection. “Blind consumerism,” he says, is the target of our exclusive Little Tee design, a print of a tee on a tee, which serves as a meta meditation on logo T-shirts. Also filed under “witty”, a doghouse graphic (“I have two childhood friends who asked that I tattoo a doghouse on them because of the frequency with which they found themselves in trouble with their partners”). The Lonely T-shirt, on the other hand, shows Mr Greer’s more sincere side. “This artwork became increasingly relevant as the entire world went into different stages of lockdown,” he says. “Wearing a banner that communicates one’s insecurity may in fact be the easiest way to invite someone’s compassion and time.”

Pop Trading Company is not just a skate brand, it’s a skate brand based in Amsterdam, so please make of that what you will. Famed for its starkly minimal logo prints, for the Tee Store, the label has gone down a slightly more risqué route and employed the talents of long-time collaborator and artist Mr Floor van het Nederend to sketch his mascot Malvin the Cat “not inhaling” a certain substance, a mushroom and a trippy Jiminy Cricket character.

Mr Reese Cooper is another bright young thing. The 20-something Brit set up his brand when he was just 18 and now operates all production from the Giannetti Factory and studio complex in California. Based in Eagle Rock, a post-hipster paradise north-east of Downtown Los Angeles, the space is also home to a community of other designers on the up and up and acts as a sort of creative incubator for emerging talent. For the Tee Store, Mr Cooper has paid tribute to the area with two pared-back designs that celebrate the neighbourhood’s laid-back spirit.

When you grow up wearing a brand, the nostalgia for its wares runs deep. Such is the case with Vans, which has spent the past 50 years dominating the skate market and steadily infiltrating our collective consciousness. For our Tee Store, the company has had a good rummage through its archives and rereleased two bold vintage designs: a signature Off The Wall peace sign print and a graffiti-style scribble of a shaggy-haired skater with one word on his lips. Vans, naturally.

Firmly in the artist-who-also-makes-clothes bracket, Mr Henri Alexander Levy is the mind behind Enfants Riches Déprimés (translation: depressed rich kids) and it seems the young designer has taken on the task of single-handedly bringing back punk fashion, one distressed T-shirt at a time. Actor Mr Jared Leto and singer Mr Justin Bieber are big fans. The exclusive collage prints in the Tee Store collection feature noodle-eating twins, Eames chairs and a figure carrying two impossibly large spoons. We’re not quite sure what they mean, but they sure look good.

Shop The Tee Store here

Down to a tee