The strange and intriguing tale of the “tits tee”

***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.

Charlie Watts and Free Press pics

//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.

Sex shop clippings

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.

As Jon Savage noted in England’s Dreaming: “The effect was both androgynous and, in the double-take it forced upon you, distinctly unsettling.”

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?’.

Tits t-shirts

//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.***

music said,

January 9, 2008 @ 9:34 am

very interesting.
i’m adding in RSS Reader

rockpopfashion said,

March 22, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

And here’s a clip of Siouxsie wearing an original during a Banshees performance in Manchester in 1977, not at the 100 Club as billed:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKESdJY0swg

richard said,

May 12, 2008 @ 6:09 am

I have one of the original Jizz shirts. I’ve never seen another one “in the flesh” (pun intended). Great to see you’ve brought this story to light.. Everyone thinks McLaren/Westwood originated the design. Thanks!
Richard, Seattle

Laura Gottwald said,

May 13, 2008 @ 6:48 pm

I would like to make a few corrections to your otherwise excellent tit t-shirt story. Janusz conceived it and we both designed and produced it as part of a limited edition RISD “yearbook” consisting of a corrugated box in which were various editions of art & design items, one of which was the tit OR the hairy chest t-shirt. Janusz was yearbook editor and every student in the graduating class of 1970 was to receive a box. Word got out and the closet storing the boxes was raided and tit t-shirts stolen. Our multidisciplinary design firm started producing the shirts under the name Jizz, Inc. Dick Lepre was Janusz’s best friend from Notre Dame, living in Las Vegas and later San Francisco who financed the project in between working as a physicist and producing rock concerts for which I designed posters. I believe your dates are incorrect: we started in ‘70. We also did NASA photograph moon and saturn shirts, several Jesus shirts (Catholic and Protestant versions) and a gorgeous snake shirt, among others. The key to our shirts was their quality. They were silk screened, using a very fine dot screen like art by RISD students. I canget you more info if you desire. I was really annoyed that Vivienne Westwood got credit for the shirt in the British fashion show a few years ago at the Metropolitan Museum.

rockpopfashion said,

May 13, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

We have asked Laura for a full and detailed version of the events so that we can run an update – probably in conjunction with info on the Doves’ “Breasts” shirt from around the same time.

meantime check out her excellent site: http://www.lauragottwald.com/

The Look

Laura Gottwald said,

July 2, 2009 @ 12:41 am

Love your site!!!
And thank you so much for mentioning my interior design website! That’s so sweet of you! Janusz is an architect, by the way. His practice is in Mount Washington, MA, near Great Barrington. Dick is in finance, in San Francisco.

But a few more corrections. Ready to stand corrected?
Before Jizz, Janusz and I already had an interdisciplinary design studio, Amperzand Design, Inc., in Providence, where we were still undergraduates at Rhode Island School of Design. Janusz, Dick and I started Jizz, Inc. all together, not the two guys, alone, please. Thanks!

Also, I designed the mens’ smoking jackets and satin cowboy shirts with embroidered yokes which were featured in both Playboy and Esquire. I actually won a designer of the year award from Esquire for the robes. I never heard of Norman Stubbs before reading this site.

Thanks. Cool site!

Laura Gottwald said,

July 2, 2009 @ 12:48 am

And another thing which may be of interest: one of our favorite customers was Goods Department Store, right on Harvard Square in Cambridge MA.

It was a Biba-like, real department store, with merchandise ranging from charming conceptual kitch, like our t-shirts to divine Brit fashion like Mulberry and Margaret Howell.

The owner/founders were genius entrepreneurs Daryl and Don Levy, who now own the famous Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, MA. Check them out!

rockpopfashion said,

July 2, 2009 @ 7:56 am

Hi Laura

Thanks for your comments – really interesting stuff.

Don’t mind at all being corrected; got to get these things right.

One of my ongoing projects in development (so hands off anybopdy else who may be “inspired” by this) is a book about the wild US boutiques of the 60s-80s so I hope you don’t mind if I use some of this info for the proposal.

Malcolm McLaren has cleared the whole thing up so I may do an update. He first came across the tee in the early spring of 1975 in New Orleans after the NY Dolls had broken up (this visit with Syl Sylvain is well documented).

He bought it from a novelty store on Bourbon Street and brought it back to the UK in May of that year. That’s why it didn’t turn up in the shop until then; the memory of him buying one in 1972 must be erroneous (anyway it is firmly established that McLaren, Westwood and their friend Gerry Goldstein went their first National Boutique show in August 1973).

Off to check out the Deluxe Town Diner now!

Judith Muller said,

August 5, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

I was Jizz’s Production Manager and worked with Dick Lepre to produce and sell the the clothing. The t-shirts were silk screened in our basement in San Francico and the Jizz line went on to include shirts and jackets disigned by Norman Stubbs and Bruce Smith. All the clothing was produced in and around San Francisco and Jizz, Inc was in business from 1971 – 1976.

Nude suits « sybawrite said,

April 7, 2010 @ 1:48 am

[...] sides of the Atlantic at the beginning of the 70’s. The Look blog have a great article on the design(s), which turned out popular enough that they extended it to a three part history: Jizz, Wonder [...]

[...] The strange and intriguing tale of the “tits tee” begins here, folks! [...]

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