WHAM, Slogan T-shirts, and Katherine Hamnett

Although George Michael (1963 – 2016) was not a fashion designer, he was influential in bringing success to English designer Katharine Hamnett. The 32-year-old English born Hamnett was a graduate of London’s Saint Martin’s School of Art when she founded her label in 1979.

In 1983 Hamnett launched a collection of oversized t-shirts with large block letter slogans. When George Michael and Andrew Ridgely of WHAM wore Hamnett’s ‘Choose Life’ shirts in their Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go video in May 1984, Hamnett’s shirts became not only successful political statement fashions, but also internationally-recognized iconic images of the 1980s. After the Choose Life slogan, intended as an anti-suicide message, was appropriated by the anti-abortion movement, the slogan was dropped from Hamnett’s production.

In 1996 Hamnett won the first ever British Fashion Award as Britain’s favourite designer, and in 2011, Hamnett was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her service to the British fashion industry.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Marci Lipman

Marci Lipman T-shirt with graphics by Robert Kitchen, c. early 1990s

Marci Lipman (born 1948) opened a poster framing business in 1974 on Avenue road in Toronto. In about 1985 she shifted her business to creating screen-printed T-shirts of her own animal cartoons (one T-shirt pictured a cow with the phrase  ‘Udder Delight’), as well as with work by artists Ruth Adler and Robert Kitchen.

Her flagship store on Avenue road became a neighbourhood landmark, known for its brightly coloured wall murals inside and out. By the early 1990s Lipman’s logo, a spotted cartoon dog, could be seen on T-shirts all around the city. Her product was always advertised as 100% Canadian made, which was partly why her T-shirts were not inexpensive wardrobe investments – they were wearable art. However, sales were good and Lipman expanded her product line to include children’s sleepwear called ‘granny baiters’ and opened several more stores until 1996 when there was a total of nine stores in Toronto, plus wholesale to specialty stores across the country.

However, the pressure from American chain companies infiltrating the Canadian market, and off-shore manufacturing upon Canadian retailers was devastating in the late 1990s. Lipman’s product wasn’t changing with the times, she had over-saturated her local market and grew too quickly during the wrong economy. Lipman declared bankruptcy in January 1997 and closed her business.