Malcolm McLaren: A statement

As you know, I opened the stores, designed the interiors, created the brands and worked with my partner Vivienne Westwood on the designs.

I was specifically responsible for the vision, the aesthetic and deconstruction attitude,  above all, to create clothes that looked wrong: anti-fashion. It was to become a style that turned into something that was finally labeled PUNK by the media.

The inside-out look on jackets, shirts and t-shirts and the words CHAOS and DESTROY, were used by me to push to the limits, this anti-fashion aesthetic. We made ugliness beautiful. I spent many a night designing the iconography of the t-shirts: DESTROY was actually put together in my office while managing the Sex Pistols.  

The CAMBRIDGE RAPIST t-shirt was designed by me upon my return from managing the New York Dolls.  It was about a particular incident that occurred in the shop and worried those when they were accused of selling a leather mask to a supposed rapist who was terrorizing the town of Cambridge.  I made that upon the week of my return from NY.

Joe Orton was someone I much admired and PRICK UP YOUR EARS was a t-shirt I dedicated to him.  The nude boy SEX PISTOLS t-shirt was the first t-shirt I designed about the name, SEX PISTOLS and the first and ONLY t-shirt about the Sex Pistols.  It was printed by Bernard Rhodes in his kitchen but Bernard was a little nervous about the imagery of the naked boy.  I ended up simply making a single nude boy Pink t-shirt for myself.  I think I must have worn out more than 20 of them.  One appears, I notice, in a book in Japan self-published by two important collectors, one of whom is the designer Jun Takahashi of Under Cover.

The I GROANED WITH PAIN Alexander Trocchi t-shirt was the first breakthrough for SEX.  After all, we were selling leather wear, fetish wear, etc. and we needed a simple t-shirt with a statement that was evocative of sex (as it was the name of the store) and I chose this piece of writing to do just that.  

The COWBOY t-shirt was a design I brought back from America and added the caption about boredom to use this design and incorporate a nihilistic statement performed what was necessary for me to create this anger and sense of euphoria to be able to scream “boredom” and “murder” and do obnoxious things in the street.  This t-shirt, as gay as it may look on the surface, became one of the true iconographic t-shirts of the Punk scene at that time.  

PISS MARILYN was a fun idea that I had been inspired briefly by Andy Warhol’s silkscreens of a photo of Marilyn Monroe.  I wanted to do a version of that and used the word PISS, designing that writing so it looked like urine in yellow ink across the plain monochromatic print.  

I have never liked mothers and FUCK YOUR MOTHER was a statement I threw over an extremely rude fist-fucking drawing that I again had found in NY, customizing it with Russ Meyer-type lettering.  As you know, I had a brief relationship with Russ Meyer, someone I initially approached about making a movie about the Sex Pistols and got immersed into his extraordinary titles and graphics and borrowed them for this particular t-shirt.  

The Anarchy shirt was a very specific idea.  Along the corridor of my flat, we had boxes of old shirts I found manufactured in the early 60s when the style of “pin-through” collars (an American look) was fashionable. These shirts, all pin-striped made in cheap cotton, I wore and wore but I couldn’t wear enough of them and Vivienne one day decided to paint over them, to customize them, using my son’s little stencil set.

We decided on certain slogans: “Only Anarchists Are Pretty”, “Dangerously Close To Love”.  I attached patches of Karl Marx that I discovered in Chinatown where they sold Maoist literature.  

Chris Farlowe  (a 60s rock singer famous for covering the song by the Rolling Stones’ Out Of Time) had a store next to The Screen On The Green cinema, which was of course famous for a number of Sex Pistols gigs.  This store always intrigued me because it sold a lot of German and Nazi artifacts from the war.  I would stop by and be intrigued by the SS wedding rings and a number of patches and emblems.  

I purchased a lot and with these and the Karl Marx patches. With my own idea of just simply dyeing – but not fast-dyeing – pieces of cloth I then, with a wooden twig dipped in Domestos bleach, would write these wonderful anarchic slogans that had appeared on the walls of Paris like “A Bas de Coca Cola”, an ode to anti-Americans and to those great heroes of the anarchist movement like Bueneventura Durruti and his Black Hand Gang, famous in the Spanish Civil War.  Much passion and love and dedication went into these shirts.

They became pieces of art, like paintings. No wonder collectors like Damien Hirst covet them and want to purchase them.  We only made 30 or so as they took a lot of time and therefore became very expensive.  I can’t imagine there are more than 6, 7, or 8 pieces remaining on the planet.  One of course is in the Japanese book.  And perhaps one is owned by Jim and Debdon at Camden Market, who attempt to make some of the best reproductions of those shirts.

But, as they are customized, you can’t help but reveal each particular artist’s qualities. That can never be copied completely. They are not manufactured. That is the whole point.  

This was the dawn in this store,  Seditionaries, that really testified to a whole DIY aesthetic, that prompted a host of copyists like Debdon and Jim who have had their stall in Camden since the 80s.  The fact is that shirts and t-shirts have been bought from copyists and then attached with newly manufactured SEX & Seditionaries labels in an attempt to make them look authentic and pass them to the unknowing and ill-educated (who sadly include museum curators as well as unwitting fans).

That is what has prompted me to act in this regard.

I suppose this culture needs saving to reclaim its integrity.   

Malcolm McLaren. 

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