Text by: Riccardo Slavik
As Amber Easby and Henry Oliver write in The Art of the Band T-Shirt, “While Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Monkees all participated in early music merchandising, the T-shirt was one of many products for sale in their names. […] Along with Ringo wigs and toothbrushes, T-shirts were considered another fad.”
Clothes weren’t a big part of merchandising until promoter and entrepreneur Bill Graham had the idea of designing T-shirts for music events, and founded Winterland Productions – which o became one of the most prominent merchandising companies in the US by capitalising on the idea that you could wear your subculture, as it were, on your sleeve. Even in mainstream pop culture, back in the days of vinyl and cds, tour merchandise would serve as a cherished reminder of an event. Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour book bought in Turin in 1990 could always bring back memories of a magical night, yet wearing the actual tour t-shirt might have been considered slightly ‘uncool’. Back then only die-hard fans would collect all the available merchandise, all the records, cds, tapes, and in every possible edition. As actual record sales drop and the sale of printed, physical, albums or singles is relegated to a very underground and niche market, tour related (or otherwise ) merchandise is rising not only as an important means of income for artists but also as a tentative foray into fashion. It responds to a deeply seated fetishistic aspect of fandom that the virtual disappearance of albums with posters and liner notes, cds with booklets or postcards, colored vinyl editions and the like used to satisfy; a fetishistic desire that’s like a gaping black hole in the market.
The recent merchandise mania seems to have been started in 2012 with the collaboration between Riccardo Tisci and Kayne West for the ‘Watch The Throne’ album and tour, and Tyler, The Creator’s Golf-Wang pop-up store in L.A. It’s no surprise then that today’s ubiquiti of tour merchandise, hard rock t-shirts and music/fashion crossovers have a strong streetwear-streetstyle vibe.
This new fad was apparent last year when top editors, bloggers and stylists were shot in the streets of Paris in Bieber Purpose Tour apparel. A touch of normcore, a nod to Vetements, a pinch of irony, perhaps? And then the most iconic meta-merch moment: Celine Dion attending Couture in a Vetements Titanic oversize sweat, not necessarily ‘tour’ merch, but a remake of bootleg merchandise worn with fabulous irony, hard to top.
The current king of the merchandise game is undeniably Justin Bieber, it’s a close call between him and Kayne West but his Yeezy line is more ‘fashion masturbation’ than proper merchandise and Bieber has turned the craze for his Purpose Tour merch into a capsule collection, an online craze, and a collaboration with H&M. After their success selling Bieber merch, US store Barneys is now retailing vintage metal tour shirts for hundreds of dollars. The new merchandise-streetwear look is androgynous, monochrome, oversized – crossing the divide between high and low fashion. This isn’t a coincidence as Bieber collaborated with Fear Of God’s designer Jerry Lorenzo on his Purpose looks, a 90s inspired, neo-grunge meeting of pop and streetwear that is quite at the core of the merchandise boom.
‘Me and Mark Riddick came up with the logos, the Bieber logo, the Purpose Tour logo, you can kinda see the Fear of God hand on ‘em, and we started to place the different tour logos with the art of the rock tees and the Marilyn Manson one just really hit when we made it. And it immediately spoke to The Beatles’ ‘Bigger than Jesus’ thing; it spoke to his spirituality and his story of redemption, which is one of the greatest stories of our recent pop culture—of him going from a punk kid to this ascension and this level of forgiveness, and his own story of defeating and overcoming Satan and being redeemed and having faith in God. So it played on so many different things that we knew that it was a hit when we saw it.’ Jerry Lorenzo, Fear Of God designer.
Ironically the new designs for his Stadium tour have been first seen on Justin just after he cancelled it, prompting a rather irate online reaction from fans, who thought it very cruel of him to flaunt merchandise they wouldn’t be able to buy, but they need not worry, thanks to the latest collaboration between the Biebs & H&M.
Where the Purpose march had a grunge-metal inspiration with a nod to the repurposing of the banal that has made Vetements such a hit, the new items have a distinct dirt-bike racing, feel and depending on whether you’re a hardcore Belieber or just want some fun merch to give a nod to current trends you can choose among a nice selection of pieces at prices that range from €14.99 to €49.99, so you’ll be sure not to destroy your Autumn budget…
The collection is available from September 7th in selected H&M stores.