What sort of man spends more than $500 on a Givenchy cotton T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the Virgin Mary?
The same man who dropped a bundle on Givenchy's best-selling tee printed with a snarling Rottweiler three seasons ago. And if he was really ahead of the fashion pack, the same man who paid upward of $300 back in 2009 for a Christopher Kane crewneck silkscreened with the face of a shrieking chimpanzee.
Three hundred dollars, let alone $500, is a lot of do-reme for a piece of clothing that not so long ago was considered an undergarment. Which explains why, other than deep-pocketed early adopters, it has mostly been high-rolling hip-hoppers and NBA All– Stars, such as Kayne West and Amar'e Stoudemire, who have been rocking these pricey and flashy designer tees.
Setting the exorbitant prices aside for a moment, it is actually the flashiness of these garments that is piquing the interest of regular (albeit stylish) Joes looking to inject a bit of life into their mostly preppy wardrobes.
"Over the last few years, I have been buying a lot of classic men's clothing," says Kent Worth, a Toronto interior design consultant. "My closet is full of practical stuff, but I was missing the fun."
His solution: ordering a black Marcelo Burlon T-shirt featuring an eye-popping bird-feather print through Antonioli.eu, a Milan-based luxury e-tailer and boutique that ships to Canada.
If Worth had waited just a few more weeks, he could have saved the duty and shipping costs and headed to Nomad, a Toronto boutique whose in the– know clientele is eagerly anticipating the arrival of Burlon's tees. Each will retail for about $250 – practically a steal compared to the aforementioned Givenchys.
Such prices raise a question: Is there a difference between today's $250-plus screen-printed T-shirts and those first popularized in the 1980s by skate and surf brands such as Stussy, Fuct and Freshjive? Indeed there is, at least in the opinion of Pete Hellyer, creative director of the Montreal-based e-commerce site SSENSE. "The high price is a reflection of the craftsmanship, expensive printing techniques and premium materials used," says Hellyer, whose company stocks graphic T-shirts by Givenchy and Christopher Kane as well as Lanvin, Markus Lupfer and Maison Martin Margiela, the cheapest of which is $195.
For some, that's a small price to pay for a tee that definitely won't be seen on every street corner. "The limited production run [of these shirts] heightens their allure," Hellyer says, "as well as the status that comes with wearing one."
That's right: The humble tee is now a status symbol, giving new and heightened value to the shirt off your back.