Graphic Prints in Archive Fashion: Undercover by Jun Takahashi
Graphic prints on clothing. A classic and simple staple feature that adds that extra something to an outfit. A bold visual with a hidden meaning. A canon of references that the designer may or may not have pulled from. An enigma, or at times blatantly obvious. Archive fashion and the brands that ARCHIVE.pdf follows have seen an extensive use of graphic prints across the years. We’ve covered a large selection of these graphics within our library of scans and reckoned that it was equally right to give some hero brands and their use of said graphics a closer look.
Introducing the new ‘Graphic Prints in Archive Fashion’ series, here we will be profiling our favorite archive fashion brands and the graphic print designs we’ve been spotting time and time again, as well as those one-offs tucked away inside the archive. The first brand we will be profiling is Jun Takahashi’s UNDERCOVER.
Jun Takahashi founded UNDERCOVER in 1993. From conception, pulling references and getting inspiration from culture and close environments has been an integral part of the brand’s DNA, lending to why its use of visual imagery and graphic prints is so striking and memorable. Takahashi’s own personal interests were used as the initial canvas for most UNDERCOVER collections: the brand is peppered with references to punk, the designer’s homeland, street culture, American-influenced streetwear styles and much more.
Takahashi was very outspoken in his own views, oftentimes using his collections and their use of cultural references as a form of social commentary on current affairs. This is why you’d more often than not spot the use of a dark, moody palette than one brimming with color and life, or why collections could feel slightly surreal and very on the nose. Comme des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo called Jun “the only one with courage” for this reason. Everything was on show, motivated by what was wrong and could be changed versus the beautiful, great and easy to sell to the public.
There’s a great introduction by Takahashi in TGRAPHICS, a rare UNDERCOVER t-shirt graphics book that explores the brand’s use of designs and prints since its introduction. The end reads: “On the occasion of publishing this book, I checked all of the many and varied designs from the past, and I found they easily surpassed 1,500 in number. Now that UNDERCOVER has become a collection brand, creation with dresses is important, needless to say. However, designs on T-shirts are just as important to me as a way to express what is in my brain.”
Whatever part of the UNDERCOVER brand you choose to hone in on or fall in love with, Takahashi has let you know that his use of graphic prints on t-shirts is how he expresses what’s in his brain. That’s important and not to be overlooked. Archive.PDF has selected some key graphic designs from the past 40 years to give ourselves and our audience better insight into the context behind each and the deeper meaning to the designer himself.
Tokyo Sex Pistols:
Dedicated Jun Takahashi and UNDERCOVER followers will know that as a young man, Jun was the lead singer of the punk tribute band “The Tokyo Sex Pistols”. “The Tokyo Sex Pistols” was who he first started putting out designs for. The prints that were layered onto short-sleeve t-shirts were minimalist, donning a monochrome color combination and inspired by the British band itself. He appreciated The Sex Pistols spirit of rebelliousness and soon became interested in the connection between rebelliousness in music and rebelliousness in fashion.
This connection would be a mainstay for the brand moving forward, with the motto ‘We Make Noise, Not Clothes’ representing the power that Jun thought clothing had when it came to statements of intent, provoking thought or pushing for change. It had the insubordinate energy of the ‘noisecore’ genre big in the crust punk, d-beat and power violence genres, one that echoed the phrase “Noise, not music” and pushed a radical style of music as a form of true free expression. Jun’s UNDERCOVER journey was first kicked-off by musical inspiration, from which he turned sound and audible creativity into something wearable and visually evocative.
Collaborating with other artists and brands became a staple move for Takahashi, especially those that expressed a similar outlook on the power and impact that art could have. One of these relationships was between Futura and the UNDERCOVER brand.
The New-York graffiti artist became friends with Takahashi when he moved to Japan and founded ‘Futura Laboratories’. Widely celebrated now, Futura’s first foray into fashion collaborations was with UNDERCOVER. In 1998 Takahashi released the ‘Exchange’ collection. It had an overarching concept to it - customizing through zipping and unzipping. You could remove or add pieces to the garment through the said zipping action - whether that be removing a sleeve or adding a collar to a jumper - which was a unique and exciting premise at the time. Releasing alongside the collection was a booklet that detailed the design process as well as information on how to customize your garments. It featured designs done in collaboration with Futura, where the figures drawn by the street artist donned different pieces from the Exchange collection, highlighting the ‘exchangeability’ of the pieces in the range. A t-shirt featuring the ‘Pointman’ figure was also released alongside the collection’s name, with these same graphic figures being featured on many UNDERCOVER pieces since then.
Some other graphic-heavy collaborations between the two include the UNDERCOVER x Futura Samurai School designs from 2000, the 2006 Silly Thing’s Event Horizon Exhibit t-shirt by Futura x Supreme x UNDERCOVER, the UNDERCOVER x Futura ‘Generation Fuck You’ t-shirt and ‘Teaser’ t-shirt both from 2000 and a more recent collaboration between UNDERCOVER, Futura and HYPEBEAST for the magazine’s 27th ‘The Kinship Issue’.