Monsieur Robot – Geek Chic vs High Fashion

Cult Japanese streetwear label Undercover has produced a collection inspired by the Talking Heads, one of my favourite bands. Various pieces of album artwork and the awesome words of David Byrne appear emblazoned across jumpers, t-shirts and shirts. So here’s the conundrum – if I love the Talking Heads and I love Undercover then why can’t I get excited about this collection? When I heard that Comme Des Garçons were making Star Wars clothes I was so excited I almost puked – two of my favourite things, collaborating. That’s bound to be awesome, right? But when I saw the t-shirts and bags on offer I was pretty disappointed: they were boring. As a massive nerd, I know I can get literally hundreds of better designed Star Wars t-shirts that won’t cost you more than £15. Paying £85 for a boring Star Wars t-shirt, just because it was made by Comme Des Garçons, seems like a waste of money to me. 

Top: Undercover x Talking Heads, Bottom: Comme des Garçons x Star Wars
So this is the question, if I wear a nerdy £15 Star Wars t-shirt now, will I look like a geek or a fashionista? Have Comme des Garçons made Star Wars cool in the fashion world or does my Star Wars t-shirt have to have a Comme Des Garçons label in the back? What if I wear my £85 Star Wars t-shirt to a comic convention, will anyone there know that I’m wearing Comme Des Garçons or will they just think that my £85 Star Wars t-shirt doesn’t look nearly as good as the £15 one they’re wearing? 

There probably isn’t a huge cross section between Star Wars fans and Comme Des Garçons fans or Talking Heads fans and Undercover fans. I don’t want to get all Naomi Klein on you but the capitalist aspect of brand power means that people (me included) will happily pay much more than the true value of something because we love the brand. After all we buy into a lifestyle, or rather the concept of a lifestyle. But in these two examples I’m paying for the brand power of Star Wars or Talking Heads, not Undercover or Comme Des Garçons.

Raf Simons

When Raf Simons used Pater Saville’s Joy Division and New Order graphics and splashed Ian Curtis’s words over his collection the effect was extraordinary.  Raf succeeded because he didn’t just reproduce a Joy Division t-shirt. Raf aligned himself with a cultural phenomenon that evokes the same teenage melancholia that his aesthetic aims to do. Raf added to the Joy Division mythos – expanding that brand into cultural circles it didn’t traditionally belong in. In 2004 Veronique Branquinho made a collection inspired by Twin Peaks. No slavish reproductions of the Twin Peaks costumes – but instead an extension of the Lynchian aesthetic, modernised and augmented for the purpose of fashion. 

Veronique Branquinho

Clothes act as a highly complex system of signifiers that when subjectified reveal aspects of our personalities, tastes, class etc. It’s a language of its own and one that, subconsciously, we are all fluent in. Brands and logos dismantle subtleties of perception and project the ideas perpetuated by the brand behind the logo. So do the Comme Des Garçons/Star Wars or Undercover/Talking Heads collections aim to straddle these divergent cultural aspects, meshing them together in order to provide the wearer with the ability to convey a knowledge of both fashion and the geeky subcultures of sci-fi movies and new wave bands from the 80’s? Or is it a crude way for fashion brands to borrow the cache of other cultural phenomena and charge us for the privilege of being a fan? 
Comme Des Garçons are no stranger to the cult of branding. Previous collections have featured excessive use of other brands and logos from the Rolling Stones lips to the Beatles Yellow Submarine. These iconic logos were turned into a mind-numbing tapestry of repetition, printed all over trousers, blazers, t-shirts and anything else you could think of. Was it a comment on capitalism and brand power? Was it an attempt to turn the logo, as a capitalist expression, against media culture? Was it detournement?  It seems to me more like a case of ‘culture jamming’, but without the political rhetoric behind it. After all we’re talking about Rei Kawakubo here, not Noam Chomsky. 

Comme des Garçons
So while I initially jumped at the chance of purchasing both the Undercover collection and the Comme Des Garçons Star Wars pieces I think I’ll save myself some money and buy neither. If I want a Star Wars tee I’ll buy one in Forbidden Planet and if I want a Talking Heads tee I’ll look on eBay.