I’m sure most of us have heard of Threadless, but recently their Select Series has been getting a lot of notice. And with good reason. In case you haven’t heard of the line before, it’s this: originally, Threadless would put up certain t-shirts done by well known artists and designers, not using the traditional voting process but instead featuring that shirt as a kind of choice item. Eventually those speically-curated shirts were collected into the “Threadless Select” series, which has now been spun off into its own website, called www.theselectseries.com.
The recent news is: the storied Rhode Island School of Design (check out this list of alumni) will be participating in the Select process, with four new t-shirts curated by John Maeda, president of the RISD. Four different faculty members created the shirt designs, and part of the proceeds cover a $15k donation to the school’s scholarship fund.
My favourite of the four designs are Nature vs. Nurture by Nancy Skolos, and Soojng Ham’s The Journey. You might remember that The Gap tried something similar a while back, getting all the recent Whitney Biennial artists to design t-shirts, with varying degrees of success. This project, however, is the first time in which I’ve seen several faculty members from an influential design school get together and do something like a series of t-shirts. Each of these artist/professors is quite established in his/her field, and thus the translation of the design to the t-shirt medium is a big deal for those of us who pay even a casual attention to t-shirt design.
The very usage of the t-shirt as a “medium” is a movement that has finally matured enough to start seeing major artists trying their hand at it. What’s strange–and enjoyable–is that these are all artists, not fashion designers. As such they’re generally treating the shirt as just another canvas, rather than trying to make a t-shirt that will compete with others on a shelf somewhere. I like the idea quite a bit, although it’s not without its risks: it’s like asking established musicians to try and make a record that will appeal to fickle, critical youth, and seeing what happens. Often it’s a disaster, or a general confirmation of the concept that technical proficiency and even mastery in a medium doesn’t translate to youth-culture appeal.
Here though, it’s working, and the old hands are proving more than able to compete with the best of the new in giving us memorable stuff to wear. It’s also providing us with designer-quality t-shirts made outside the major fashion houses that don’t cost over $100, which is a major difference: the big names all have wonderful designers working for them, or know which ones to hire, and can crank out some absolutely killer t-shirts in a moment’s notice, but unfortunately they tend to be outside the normal price range. Here’s to fresh, contemporary design you can wear for less than $30.