- Words Matilda Carnall
Saint Laurent have just released the new collection for their Rive Droite concept store, and nothing quite says rock’n’roll like dropping four figures on a band tee.
How much would you shell out for a band t-shirt? £15 at a gig, maybe a little more for something vintage. Well, how about £3K? Saint Laurent have just released the new collection for their Rive Droite concept store, with a series of original vintage tees retailing between £270 for a 1990 The Bullet top, and £3295 for the Nirvana motherlode, an original Incesticide tee – again from around the early 90s.
Now, when Kurt Cobain was being raised by his waitress mother and mechanic dad, little did anyone realise that, one day, t-shirts referencing his later fame would be up for 3K by a hailed French design house. And, when Nirvana’s debut crashed 20 or so years on, that idea would be even further left-field. Yet today, a handful of minted fans will be dropping their hard-earned cash on a nod to the late artist – whose estate won’t see a penny of the second-hand sale.
Original Nirvana tees, and vintage band tees more generally, have seen a huge price hike over the past few years as off-duty models, rappers, and high-fashion wearers co-opted the kit. In 2021, a ‘67 Grateful Dead t-shirt sold at a Sotheby’s auction for a record-breaking $17,640, and a second one from ‘77 went for a slightly more affordable $15,120.
As more customers search for a dwindling number of originals, brands, from fast fashion to designer, have cottoned on to our need for grunge gentrification. Marc Jacobs’ Heaven line recently adopted Deftones as their brand rep of choice, releasing a series of tops, earrings, hair clips, and more to honour the Californian four-piece. This follows the brand’s legal battle in 2019, when Jacobs was sued for breaching the copyright of Nirvana, by using Cobain’s hand-designed smiley-face logo and font in a rock t-shirt design.
Other designer houses took a route with fewer potential legal pitfalls by referencing the design of old-school t-shirts, without using an existing act. Balenciaga introduced us to fictional boyband, ‘Speed Hunters’, that graced their FW18 concert merch-inspired garms. Meanwhile, Louis Vuitton took a more literal approach with their own ‘The Louis Vuittons’ for Pre-SS23. Other houses, including Acne Studios and Vetements, simply imitated the band-tee look for various collections.
The rise of rock and roll merchandise occurred in the ‘70s, 20 years on from its origins via an Elvis fan club, as bands cottoned on to fans producing their own versions. Today, musicians continue to push their merch, with it often making up the lion’s share of smaller acts’ incomes and bringing in a hefty bonus for bigger artists. Travis Scott, for instance, pulled in an impressive $1 million from merch across just two London tour dates in 2022.
So, for those craving the ever-threatening ice-breaker of having to justify your connection to the band on your t-shirt, Saint Laurent’s hand-picked vintage tees are available to shop online or in their Paris store. Or, if you’re lacking the funds, support your favourite artist or local band instead by picking up some merch at their next gig.