***NOTE: This has now been updated and developed into a three-part special starting here. There’s another link at the bottom***
The National Boutique Show at New York’s McAlpin Hotel in 1973 proved to be an historic meeting place in the story of rock & pop fashion; the hundreds of exhibitors included London’s Alkasura, SF crafted leather gods East West, NYC knitwear supplier Truth & Soul – run by New York Dolls Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia – and Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, then on their first trip across the Atlantic and showing designs from their Let It Rock label.
McLaren and Westwood travelled with accomplice Gerry Goldstein to the show, where they hooked up with the Dolls. “They had some great things: Jerry Lee Lewis underpants…and all these English-style ’50s shirts, like Billy Fury and Adam Faith would have worn,” says Dolls associate Peter Jordan in Nina Antonia’s biography of the doomed group, Too Much Too Soon.
A party was held in the Dolls honour in the couple’s room at the Chelsea Hotel.
“They scattered all these soft-core lingerie magazines around,” adds Jordan. “We went up there and stole everything we could get our hands on.”
Situated at 34th & Broadway, the McAlpin was once New York’s biggest hotel (these days it’s the residential Herald Towers). Among the other companies hustling their wares that year was Jizz Inc, founded by Janusz and Laura Gottwald with their friend Dick Lepre.
During their senior year at Rhode Island School Of Design, Janusz and Laura had created an art project; a “yearbook” containing various items including the design of a white T-shirt with the black and white screen print of a pair of women’s breasts on the front.
The popularity of this shirt provided the basis for Jizz to become a fully fledged fashion label; and among the boutiques which stocked the tits tee was San Francisco’s Water Brothers. It is here that Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts is believed to have bought the one he wears on the cover of 1970 live album Get Your Ya-Yas Out.
//LA Free Press ad 1971/Watts on the Get Yer Ya-Yas Out cover//
Jizz also advertised “The No Bra Look” t-shirt in such underground mags as the LA Free Press – the ad above appeared in the June 18 1971 edition – and, with a store called Cream (tagline, inevitably, “get covered in cream by jizz”), they also branched out into a wide range of men’s shirts, jackets and robes.
In 1973 Lepre and the Gottwalds booked a stand at the National Boutique Show, where Lepre believes McLaren and Westwood may have first come across the design which was to feature in their range at 430 King’s Road and as Sex Pistols stage-wear.
McLaren says that he did not become aware of the design until the spring of 1975 when he acquired one from a New Orleans novelty store.
And certainly it wasn’t until 1975, in the famous spread in British sex magazine Forum, that the McLaren “tits” tee made its first appearance worn by future Pistols guitarist and shop habitué Steve Jones.
He and fellow rhythm section member Paul Cook were particularly keen on the design, as seen in this epochal shot of the band rucking with the audience at The Nashville Rooms in April 1976.
Context is all, and the shirts as worn by the Pistols and sold in SEX (and still available from Vivienne Westwood stores) offer a vastly different proposition from that delivered by the Jizz design: there is something Warholian, not as wholesome, as the fulsome, almost hippy, breasts retailed by Jizz.
Artist/designer John Dove has said that his “breasts” tee from 1970 (currently on display at the Aquariaum Gallery in London) was also an influence. The design is based on a photograph taken by James Wedge of his partner in Kings Road stores Countdown and Top Gear, Pat Booth.
Dove also points out he showed the shirt to McLaren and Westwood in 1974.
THE LOOK believes that whatever the provenance, McLaren and Westwood made this peculiar design their own, repositioning novelty as a disturbing visual. It’s also clear now that there have been a few versions of the simple yet effective image (particularly since the original stock was stolen when the Gottwalds were still at Rhode Island).
“I became aware of Westwood receiving credit for this when her show was in San Francisco two years ago,” Dick Lepre recently told THE LOOK. “I decided to compose a message to the SF Museum Of Modern Art but figured ‘why bother?’.
//Sex tits tee design/WonderWorkshop breasts tee//
Credit for the info in this piece must go to Ben Cooney. Check Ben and his great company Rock & Roll Workshop out here.
***Now visit The tits tee: 40-year odyssey of a design classic as THE LOOK digs deeper into the roots of this design, complete with exclusive images, information and interviews.***