When Justin Bieber’s Purpose tour merchandise travelled beyond concert halls and into H&M stores in 2017, industry publication The Business of Fashion argued that we’d hit “peak merch”. But just as music merch is starting to feel a little played out, museum merch is seemingly stepping up to take its place, with art institutes teaming up with fashion designs.
Look at Off White designer, Virgil Abloh. Following a successful collaboration with Nike last year, he has designed a line of Nike Air Force Ones, complete with zip tie, with New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Considering Abloh has worked with feminist artist Jenny Holzer in the past – and since the museum has a hugely lucrative retail arm that almost eclipses its exhibitions – it’s not a surprising pairing. Except these trainers have already hit the mainstream – Drake was seen wearing them, courtside, at a recent basketball game.
Earlier this month, MoMA released a capsule collection of embroidered hoodies and black balaclavas, inspired by the Is Fashion Modern? exhibition, displaying the gallery’s logo. It was a similar story at London fashion week men’s, when A-Cold-Wall’s Samuel Ross (a former assistant of Abloh) showed a loving bootleg-inspired logo of the National Gallery. Then there was Raf Simons’s recent multi-year corporate partnership between the Warhol Foundation and fashion house, Calvin Klein.
For something cheaper and idiosyncratic, you’d do just as well to spend some time among the mugs, magnets and tea towels of the world’s gift shops. It’s unlikely you can afford a vintage Schiaparelli x Dalí dress (priceless), or one of the spanking new Louis Vuitton x Jeff Koons’ Masters bag (almost £3k), but you can probably afford a Picasso tee at the eponymous museum in Antibes (I paid less than £40 for two), or a John Giorno “Thanx 4 Nothing” jumper from the Palais de Tokyo, for which I paid less than £50 (best worn if you feel sidelined at work or livid with a lover).
All those fragrant ladies forever buying exquisite scarves, statement brooches and decorative brollies from the V&A were well ahead of the trend. I’m a streetwear fan, but even I’ve noticed it’s in gift shops that I am increasingly finding my best accessories. Museum merch is not only a proclamation of our taste in art and a proud passport stamp, but in a fashion world obsessed with exclusivity, it’s perfectly limited edition. The clothes are usually only on sale for an exhibition’s duration and you’d be hard-pressed to find any of them online.
At this stage, you’d be wise make sure you’re saying something interesting with your slogan tee. If the latest Supreme collab suggests you enjoy spending hours in a queue, then wearing a Jeremy Deller T-shirt with a Jamaican dancehall scene shows you saw the heady Bom Bom’s Dream at London’s thrilling video art show, The Infinite Mix, will set you apart from the rest.
Now that you can buy Bieber or Kendrick Lamar merch in department stores across the globe, the knowing, boastful appeal of the tour tee has been lost. Lucky for you, it’s been replaced by the joy of arriving at work bearing conceptual artist John Baldessari’s image of a paper clip with “AND” written beneath it. It shows you’re not only a subtle questioner of corporate work, but you also caught the Californian artist’s legendary show at Marian Goodman. And it’s probably rarer than anything from Supreme.
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