V&A acquires Bristol Street Wear Corbyn T-shirt

The shirt bearing a ‘bootlegged’ Nike logo will form part of the museum’s Rapid Response collection

One of the features of the 2017 General Election campaign was the way in which Jeremy Corbyn’s much-documented appeal to younger voters was expressed through a variety of witty, subversive visual messages. We had downloadable posters, stickers and flyers by the likes of Supermundane, Keep it Complex and Studio Operative (discussed by Hannah Ellis here). And all kinds of memes.

Corbyn Nike t-shirt
Corbyn T-shirt, Bristol Street Wear, 2017 © V&A

But we also saw a resurgence of the old-fashioned slogan T-shirt. One of the most prominent was Bristol Street Wear‘s Corbyn shirt, which reworked the Nike Swoosh into the name of the Labour leader.

The V&A has now acquired one of the shirts for its Rapid Response Collecting gallery which explores how global events, moments of political and social change, and pop cultural phenomena bear on design, architecture and technology. “Inherently digital in its translation of online culture and memes into material form, the T-shirt enables us to ask questions about the role of data and social media in the recent election campaign,” Corinna Gardner, Acting Keeper of the V&A’s Design, Architecture and Digital Department, says. “Added to this, it captures the current vogue for slogan tees and the growing influence of street wear brands.”

Corbyn T-shirt, Bristol Street Wear, 2017 © V&A

Such brands may have a growing influence (as does the high-fashion label Vetements) but ‘bootlegging’ has been going on for decades. Skate brands in particular were in the vanguard, with the likes of Fuct and World Industries running the gauntlet of cease and desist notices from corporations such as Disney and Ford as they subverted logos and characters for boards and merchandise. Later, T-shirst bearing riffs on well-known logos became a staple of Camden Market and rave culture in the 90s. A new generation has now discovered the thrill of these irreverent acts, just as they have also apparently rediscovered the appeal of socialism.