Look back the Evolution of the “Inkjet Craft” of Streetwear
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Knowing about the Development History of “Inkjet Craft” of Streetwear
Stone Island released its latest Spring/Summer 2023 collection earlier, using Mussola Gommata fabric, continuing the brand’s usual functionality. Notably, items including outerwear, knitwear and T-Shirt are now dyed by hand from the inside with inkjet paint, resulting in a unique three-dimensional effect on the outside.
In fact, Stone Island’s use of airbrushing techniques on clothing is not a new fashionable practice, and has been tried since airbrushes officially became a viable way to paint more than a hundred years ago. The origin of the inkjet painting process in the context of streetwear can also be traced back to sixty or seventy years ago.
From cars to street graffiti, hip-hop music to funeral ceremonies, as the ultimate form of self-expression, airbrushed clothing has had an indelible impact on the fashion scene, and in a sense even gave birth to the concept of streetwear. This time, Hypebeast will follow the timeline to sort out how spray paint paints streetwear.
Legendary automotive artist Kenny Howard (Von Dutch) is considered one of the first pioneers to apply airbrush painting to T-Shirt. As one of the founders of Kustom Kulture, in addition to its iconic modern pinstripes, Kenny Howard’s comic style such as “Flying Eyeball” has also shaped and influenced the style and fashion of this culture.
In the 1950s, when he transformed his painted objects from cars to T-Shirts, patterns that should have been galloping with the car appeared on the T-Shirt, allowing owners to express their individuality even after leaving the wheel with their hands. After Kenny Howard’s death in 1992, his daughters sold the Von Dutch trademark to former drug dealer Michael Cassel, giving birth to the clothing brand we now know as Von Dutch.
Another prominent figure in Kustom Kulture, Ed Roth was influenced and inspired by Kenny Howard’s comic book imagery, creating a series of grotesque comic characters that further facilitated the transition of airbrush technology between the two different mediums of cars and clothing. One of the most iconic is the anti-hero version of “Rat Fink” based on Mickey Mouse.
Similar to Kenny Howard, Ed Roth moved the spray gun from car casings to the T-Shirt and began painting customers at auto shows, and also sold his “Weirdo Shirts” in Car Craft magazine. The rodent with fangs and bloodshot eyes was spotted on surfboards and on the walls of every teen hangout in California.
Nearly a year after Ed Roth pioneered, “Weirdo Shirts” turned into a full-blown craze in 1959, including artist Stanley Miller, who had helped posterize bands such as Grateful Dead and Journey, to sell his own airbrushed T-Shirt on Car Craft. So much so that Ed Roth’s work can still be found decades later on the peripheral T-Shirt that READYMADE built for Billie Eilish.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that airbrushed clothing ushered in a second counterculture wave, this time featuring a group of black graffiti artists from New York, the birthplace of hip-hop. Just as you can’t avoid DJ Kool Herc when it comes to hip-hop music, the name Shirt Kings doesn’t tell the whole story of the origins of streetwear.
Shirt Kings was formed in 1986 by graffiti artists Edwin Sacasa Phade, Clyde A. Harewood and Raffael Avery to locate their shop in Coliseum Mall, Queens. Fabric became a new canvas for this group of artists, spray-painted culture and art into jackets, jeans, sweatshirts, T-Shirt and other items, sampling elements from pop culture and reinventing them is Shirt Kings’ usual trick, such as combining graffiti with cartoon characters and celebrity portraits.
At that time, the clothing brands dominated by white people, whether it was luxury brands such as Gucci and LV or relatively close brands such as Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, had not yet realized how hip-hop music would have an impact on mainstream culture in the following decades, let alone designing clothes specifically for black people, and the emergence of Shirt Kings just filled this gap.
From the mid-’80s to the early ’90s, bigwigs from the streets like rappers rushed to buy jewelry and clothes to show off their success, and the spotless white Air Force 1 did the same, but there weren’t many options for a stylish outfit, and you had to visit Dapper Dan or Shirt Kings. Dapper Dan is more about designers and logos, while Shirt Kings is more about street art and private customization.
Reflecting hip-hop culture through fashion allowed Shirt Kings to quickly attract a large number of fans, including Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, and Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC. Run-DMC even sang on the single “Queens Day”, “On the street, the N*ggas robbed all the jewelry stores and went to Shirt Kings to buy a cool spray painted top.”
The brand continues to expand its presence in audiovisual media such as hit lyrics, album covers and music videos, and even after nearly four decades, Shirt Kings is still a cult of hip-hop stars, with sought-after names such as Jay-Z, Dipset and A$AP Rocky on its customer list. Even Supreme asked Edwin Sacasa Phade to design a series of patterns for his garments for his Spring/Summer 2014 collection.
In addition to hip-hop culture, airbrushed T-Shirts are also used by some African American communities as a memorial to the deceased, first appearing in the 90s. Known as “R.I.P. Shirt,” the form is airbrushed or screen-printed with a portrait of the deceased placed on clothing, often with dates of birth and death, and slogans such as “Gone but not forgotten.”
It may be difficult to trace the roots of the practice, from being born during jazz funeral processions in New Orleans in the southern United States to further back in West Africa and the Caribbean, where mourners often wore headscarves or handkerchiefs with portraits of the dead.
Today, R.I.P. Shirt is one of the traditional funeral rites in many American cities, and these clothing suppliers that provide portrait painting services are thriving in areas with high homicide rates. “It’s a beautiful art, but it’s also morbid, usually my T-Shirt is designed for young victims of gun violence, I love airbrushes, I like graffiti, but I’d rather take a graduation or wedding or even make a T-Shirt for someone’s dog,” airbrush artist Christian Ray told The New York Times.
Returning to hip-hop culture, Drake wore a painted T-Shirt with a portrait of Selena Quintanilla to pay his respect, and Kim Kardashian commissioned artist Alan Pastrana to create a T-Shirt with Donda West and Robert Kardashian sprayed on the front and back of Kanye. In addition, T-Shirt, a Vintage spray portrait of 2Pac, Biggie or living hip-hop musicians that often appears in vintage stores, can also be broadly classified as “R.I.P. Shirt”.
Take your eyes off the streetwear and you’ll find examples of spray painting or graffiti in the fashion world, remember Alexander McQueen’s plain white dress painted by a robotic arm on the spring/summer 1999 runway? Coperni showed us the possibility of spray-painted clothing in a similar form on last year’s runway – creating a “spray painted dress” for Bella Hadid using Fabrican, an instant spray fabric.
Or the graffiti handbags in Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection teamed up with street artist GucciGhost, and Awake NY’s “I Love Bronx” charity T-Shirt, the influence of spray painting has spread from the native streets to the high-end runway.
With the growing individualism, everyone desires exclusive self-expression, clothing is the most self-evident external tool for this need, with the help of different brands and different pieces on the body of a variety of permutations and combinations is an effective way, but only to the extent of “effective”. Mass-produced clothing always has its own established discourse system, even if you use a brand with cultural attributes, you are only piecing together your words in the language of designers.
Spray painting provides the simplest and fastest feasible solution for every consumer to become a designer, spray paint is an extension of one’s desire and imagination, whether it is Mickey Mouse wearing a large gold chain or a portrait of a deceased family, the image on your chest conveys your ideas to you all the time, rather than being limited by the so-called program.
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