The old success story of Alexander Wang and the Olsens tells of a magical Holy Grail they all tried to find. One went for the perfect white t-shirt while the other two swore off to find the layer of the perfect pair of jeans. And off they went, in the mesmerizing depths of the tribulations that awaited for them, because this is no ordinary fashion fairy-tale. They tried for hundreds of times and failed for just as many. But then they tried one more time, and after the 101 time that they tried, they were successful at last. The story tells of the three 20 something year-olds that have empires of clothing and the fashionistas at their feet. But what they don’t repeat all too often is that they started with the most basic of all things, that which lays at the very bottom of the apparel industry: the jeans and t-shirts, the simple things without which we wouldn’t survive rainy Sundays.
What is remarkable about the t-shirt industry is that, just the same as the jeans industry, it continues to develop so that now you have the designer t-shirts and the designer jeans. It’s no longer unimaginable to pay a few hundred dollars on the finest cotton money can buy you, as long as it comes in dark blue or off-white. And it’s not just the label that umphs the price: it’s the quality of the fabric, the thought that went into the pattern making, the fit and, only at last, the designer label. The difference between wearing a $25 Gap t-shirt and wearing a $150 Wang is about the same as wearing shoes and wearing Choos. They’ll both get the job done, but by God, so much differently.
What I’m extraordinarily happy to see happening is the Romanian designers taking a chance and going for the basics. The t-shirt is the front line of the battle, and there are some that pushed through and really made a splash. The first was probably the talented Andreea Badala of Murmur. Now, don’t get me wrong- Murmur is not about t-shirts, but one of their most sensational product is the corrosive t-shirt. Basically you put it in the washer and wash by wash it tears apart- once the right amount of tear is achieved, the process stops. It’s beautiful in it’s complexity, but it is, after all, a basic item- you can wear it at the office under a blazer and go all out for dinner with the girls.
The most intriguing things about the basics industry is that they are a stepping stone, the means to an end. Wang never ditched his T-shirt line once he had runway shows every 6 months in NY. But those T-shirts enabled him to really show us what he can do, and there’s that electricity in the air, like it’s just on the verge of blowing up.
To be cont’d.