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Buying Stenciled T-Shirts in New York City - from the street to boutiques

[ NEW YORK, NY - NYC - 6/14/2006 - www.Littleviews.com ]

>>  Andre the Giant: Have you seen him? If you haven't yet in Manhattan, after the first time you spot him, you'll start seeing him everywhere.

Andre the Giant in New York

Fairey's Andre the Giant stencil on a downtown lamppost on the corner of Mulberry and Prince Streets.

No, I'm not describing some bizarre psychological obsession with the late French wrestler; I'm referring to an urban phenomenon that spawned the Obey movement in the early 1990's. Let me explain.

On your next trip to downtown Manhattan, look around and you'll surely catch sight of him (in the form of a heavy black stenciled face) on street lampposts, on stickers, and on sidewalks and walls.

Graphic designer Shephard Fairey created the original stencil in 1989, while he was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. It all started when Fairey began handing out stickers of the wrestler, accompanied by the phrase "Andre the Giant has a posse."

Since then, the speculation and wonder surrounding the design as a trademark (but for no apparent product or brand) led to it actually becoming a trademark of sorts. The stencil now represents the growing Obey movement, Fairey's experiment in phenomenology (what makes a phenomenon), which seeks to "stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the campaign and their relationship with their surroundings." (www.obeygiant.com)

The Andre the Giant image characterizes the campaign in the sense that it can be seen in tens of thousands of locations throughout hundreds of cities - nationwide and around the world - and yet despite its ever-present nature, it doesn't represent a familiar, tangible product, such as Coca-Cola or McDonald's.

In New York, especially among the downtown crowd, you can also spot Andre the Giant stenciled on t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags. Some are purchased from the Obey website, while others are handmade by craft-savvy New York City hipsters.

Fairey's iconic image is just one example of popular "street art" that shifted to street fashion. Other common street-to-fashion icons include recognizable rock 'n' roll faces, political figures -- people most often associated with rebellion.

Village X on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, for example, is just one of the city's countless t-shirt shops where you'll find the now-famous stenciled image of Che Guevara's face ($18).

New York tee shirts of Fidel and Che

Che Guevara and Fidel Castro: two popular rebel icons who have made their way onto clothing items and accessories.

At Dirty Jane's Sloppy Joe's in SoHo, another popular spot for stocking up on novelty tees, the Che t-shirts reside next to a pile of Fidel Castro tees. Not too far away, you'll notice a whole row of shirts adorning famous-face stencils that include such figures as Burt Reynolds and Bruce Lee ($15-$20). In addition to single-colored stencil designs, there are hand-created designs of every type. Dirty Jane's overwhelming spectrum of stencil-designed t-shirts is a perfect display of the progression from street imagery to everyday clothing, from rebel movements to pop culture references, and, ultimately, from underground to established trend.

Tip: Looking for an unusual New York City experience, plus gifts to take home for kids, their parents, and hip grandparents alike? Dirty Jane's Sloppy Joe's (and their parent shop, Yellow Rat Bastard, which is across the street), are the places to go! You’ll enjoy the atmosphere of movie-set-envisioned grit, plus proximity to other delightful shops, like the colorful French toy and gift store, Pylons, shoe shops, and numerous costume jewelry emporiums.

I recently discovered a terrific (and incredibly stylish) top that takes the stencil trend one step further. At Vlada, a sweet corner boutique on New York’s Lower East Side, a standout in the shop's tiny collection is a double-layered cotton jersey tank top emblazoned with a sequined and stenciled image of a woman and her dog (LP&P, $88).

New York tee shirts of woman and dog

Stenciling goes glam: A sequined version at Vlada.

In this design, the woman's face isn't one of a celebrity, making the top a rather cheeky fashion item. The shirt uses a stencil as a graphic statement without reference to fame, and, in this writer's opinion, it is very chic.

More casual, stencil-inspired tees can be found at Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters ($24-$50). Many of their versions include animals, inanimate objects, and generic clip art icons such as hearts and stars, with birds a popular icon for both stores.

Public art stenciled on a wall

A constant art form: another stenciled image (person unknown) on the corner of Houston and Allen Streets.

If you love the imagery produced by stencils, consider making your own tees. Brooklyn-based Stencil 1 has an awesome collection of stencils to choose from, along with humorous instructions. Buy directly from their site or at the New York shops listed on their site. Most stencils are priced at $10.50.

For more information, check the following:

  • The official Obey Website: www.ObeyGiant.com

  • Village X at 36 St. Mark's Place (between Second and Third Avenues)

  • Dirty Jane's Sloppy Joe's at 444 Broadway (between Grand and Howard Streets)

  • Yellow Rat Bastard (YRB) at 478 Broadway (between Broome and Grand Streets) www.YRB.us

  • Vlada at 103 Stanton Street (corner of Ludlow Street)

  • Anthropologie. Check website for locations: www.Anthropologie.com

  • Urban Outfitters. Check website for locations: www.UrbanOutfitters.com

  • Stencil 1. Located in Brooklyn, but sold through selected retail stores, check website for products: www.stencil1.com

Questions or comments?
Laura Neilson

Article and photos by Laura Neilson. First published on 6/14/2006. All rights reserved by www.LittleViews.com.

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