It's been a long while since the glory days of AC/DC, Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground, when the perfectly weathered concert tee was in fashion. They weren't just badges of music fandom, but the linchpin to a look — the thing that added just the right amount of youthful cool.
But as is the cyclical nature of fashion, popularity dipped in the late 90s and 00s as cheap replicas littered the market and concert tees lost all cool cred and authenticity. 'Band merch didn't exist really until the mid-70s. And they were really created by the fans themselves,' explains Patrick Luis Matamoros, founder of Chapel NYC, who sells some of the world's most exclusive and rarest vintage tees to the likes of Rihanna and Pharrell.
'It was less of an industry. All of that happened later,' he explains. But now, concert merchandise has reached a popularity we haven't seen in decades thanks to Beyoncé, Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Drake and a growing list of A-list music acts.
Long-time fashion obsessive Kanye West is not surprisingly leading the trend with his Yeezus tour apparel, which he's sold at his concert dates as well as in a series of pop-up shops and online. Produced alongside his Creative Director Virgil Abloh (the man behind the women's and men's wear label, Off-White) and his creative collective DONDA, Yeezy enlisted artist Wes Lang to make custom illustrations for his tees, which referenced old Metallica band shirts from the 90s with skeleton imagery and bold death metal-style lettering.
Taking things a step further, he worked with Los Angeles-based artist Cali Thornhill Dewitt, on not just tees, but hoodies, bombers, baseball caps and denim jackets, for his album, The Life Of Pablo.
The result? $1 million worth of merchandise selling out in two days at his surprise Pablo pop-up shop in New York. On opening day, one shopper, Rory Johnstone, bought $900 worth of stuff, before returning on day 2 for more. It was so successful, a recent Los Angeles pop-up soon followed. 'I like the Metallica-inspired Yeezus tees,' Matamoros admits. 'At first I hated it. But it won me over after I saw the way the New York fashion girls were wearing them.'
Justin Bieber is another celebrity to jump on the bandwagon, with a batch of heavy metal referencing t-shirts in tow. As Bieber Fever reached new highs with his Purpose album, he teamed up with menswear label Fear Of God's Creative Director Jerry Lorenzo to produce a capsule collection of cut-off tees, Champion hoodies and jogging bottoms decorated with 'Bieber' in heavy metal font — all of which sold out in record time at a special VFILES pop-up in New York City and on his tour ecommerce site online. His concert merch has been so successful that Urban Outfitters will release a Purpose tour capsule collection of oversized sweatshirts, football jerseys and trucker caps in its stores globally from August 5.
Meanwhile, Beyoncé's Formation world tour has rolled out a complete line of clothing, phone cases and tote bags cleverly made available on her online shop if you missed out on tickets. No doubt her fans will be adding Hot Sauce totes to the collection of black and baby-pink 'Flawless' and 'Surfboard' sweatshirts she released around the promotion of her self-titled 5th album.
But don't be mistaken in thinking this is a trend for your pre-teen sister. Label of the moment Vetements' aw16 collection came complete with its very own ode to Bieber: a tee and hoodie printed with the words, 'Justin 4ever.'
Vetements' isn't the only label driving the mood, everyone from Gosha Rubchinskiy. J.W. Anderson and Alexander Wang have boldly graphic logo tees that feel like high fashion's response to the trend.
Whether the popularity of the concert tee will last remains to be seen. Matamoros is sceptical: 'I'm not really convinced but there are some pieces, like the Bieber/Jerry Lorenzo pieces, that I can see retaining value.' Ultimately, he says, the consumer will determine how long it lives. '[The hype] proves it's always worth it to someone. It's all cool as long as it's done thoughtfully and with purpose.'