How do you feel about designers printing images of their own designs on items then selling them?
It is a phenomenon that seems to becoming increasingly common. First it was Viktor and Rolf with the silhouettes of their SS10 collection (the one with the chainsawed tulle cut out ball gowns) and now Gareth Pugh has followed suit.
In a way, it's kind of the same thing as wearing a Dolce & Gabbana, with a blingy plaque on the back and silver glitter writing logo on the front......isn't it?
Or is it more subtle?
These shirts for the most part assume that these designs are so autonomous with the design house aesthetic that they become a synonym for the house logo itself...but in a language only decipherable to those au fait with recent collections.
While Pugh's designs, unsurprisingly, translate well into strong graphic images when distilled into plain black prints, I still question the lastability and taste level of say, a plain Pugh shirt with subtle detailing versus one that is essentially a plain tshirt with an arguably less thoughtful applique, especially when the two items lie in the same price bracket.

Viktor and Rolf men's tee with one of the iconic silhouettes from their SS09 collection of chainsawed tulle ball gowns.

Gareth Pugh tee with one of his iconic inflatable outfits from one his very early collections reduced to a single flat graphic.

Gareth Pugh 2 layer shirt with slightly bondage inspired detailing.

The struggle between icon and subtlety is one that extends beyond simple shirts. It can be seen in the fashion industry as a whole, where designers like Pugh share the limelight with the likes of Phoebe Philo, who is leading the fash pack to rediscovering sleek lines not seen since Klein in the 90s.
Pugh SS2011

Phoebe Philo for Celine SS2010

You can zoom even further out to other fields of design and the issue still reamians. Case in point is Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, who gained world wide respect for his book Anti-Object, which actively endorsed a subtlety so extreme, that architecture became virtually invisible. Since, Kuma has begun to experiment with the flip-side of his own philosophy, and successfully so, recently winning a competition for the V&A Museum in Dundee. A building seemingly monolithic in scale. While the slightly eroded effect of the facade treatment gives a hint at trying to give lightness to the building, or even instilling an idea that maybe the building is in the process of eroding into nonexistence, it is less than completely convincing, and could easily be mistaken for the work of any global architecture office of the last five years.
Kuma's case is clearly an example of a designer gaining respect and then gaining opportunities, and being approached by clients that want a piece of what he has to offer but still to fit their brief. The problem lies in that scale is a crucial factor in design, and some ideas do not translate well when scale is drastically changed. It's relatively easier to make a tea house that seats a small few fit within a philosophy of non existence, than it is to make a branch of the V&A non existent.

V&A Dundee Kengo Kuma

Oribe Tea House interior Kengo Kuma

Looking at his professional career, perhaps Kengo Kuma is a bad example. He began as a radical Post Modernist, his buildings appearing as a mere collage of classical elements, before moving into his phase of "anti-object" from which he now is possibly emerging from. While it is natural for a designer's work to evolve, the stark variation in his works throughout time do raise questions of integrity.

M2 Building Kengo Kuma

Maybe the real question is not integrity of designers or dedication to an idea or philosophy but the far more realistic problem of money. If an opportunity presents itself to design for a large, world renowned institution, logic says a proportionally large fee is part of the deal, as would be the size of the media attention you would get as a designer.
Same applies for fashion. An iconic design will sell out. Even if it is the distilled image of one of your most forward designs plastered onto the front of a tshirt, a-la Pugh, does that make it tacky or bad? It's kind of every creative's dream to reach as many people as possible...right? But how far is too far? When does it start being tacky? Does it ever really get tacky or negative? It's relaitically only your peers that will judge you about these things...some teen in the suburbs is glad your designs are just a t-shirt away.

Another slab of text, another unresolved topic...but i'm not done thinking.
Coming soon, Iconic vs. Timeless: are they mutually exclusive. I feel this is a good topic to roll onto thinking about. It's kind of an extension of the above discussion (with myself)

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