Who doesn't take pride in the images we wear on our T-shirts? Personal favorites include the A Clockwork Orange number featuring a leering Malcolm McDowell and another displaying a phosphorescent Charles Manson asking, IS IT HOT IN HERE OR AM I CRAZY?
A few years back, Steve Coe, a 34-year-old Brit who splits time between Essex (outside London) and LA, came up with the idea of making replicas of T-shirts worn by rock stars and marketing them to the public. He called his company Worn Free, and immediately began acquiring design rights from high-profile sources — Frank Zappa's widow Gail and Yoko Ono were on board early.
Gary Oldman has been spotted wearing a replica of the NO PICTURES T-shirt Deborah Harry once wore. Johnny Depp favors the Iggy Pop shirt that reads I WIPED OUT THE '60S. Recently on HBO's Entourage, Seth Green sported a T-shirt that read TAXI. Source? The late English singer Ian Dury, who used to wear one like it on stage. Coe says he has "no idea" what it means. (Though he does clue in buyers on the history of the designs and the sources of his T-shirts.)
Worn Free "is a blend of music history and fashion — about resurrecting the coolest T-shirts of the past 30 or 40 years," he says. "I'll pick a shirt because it has a message or a cool graphic, or is from people who have been influential in music." Silk-screened T's from the '60s are hard to find, but the punk and post-punk booms were glory days.
Worn Free has about 100 shirts in its archives. Kurt Cobain had T-shirts plugging Olympia Beer, Flipper, and Teenage Fanclub, and one proclaiming GRUNGE IS DEAD.
"We're not running out of material," says Coe. "There's a lot in the pipeline. It's hard to hold back and edit." Coe, along with his nine cohorts at Worn Fee, says he generally issues 15 to 20 T-shirts every six months.
In the works: a design by Blondie's Chris Stein, featuring work he did in art school. "A demonic ghost with a pentagram in a pastel color," says Coe, which Stein sent to him to recreate the shirt.
He's also excited about a T-shirt for the Jodie Foster movie Foxes (another Cobain fave) and a Straight to Hell T-shirt originally modeled by Joe Strummer.
Not everything's in play. Worn Free won't be honoring Sid Vicious's swastika T-shirt, for instance. But what about lewd 'n' crude? "We don't steer away from profanity," he says. "There's a Rod Stewart T-shirt that says FUCK THE ART, LET'S ROCK AND ROLL. We'll do political shirts if they're funny."
Worn Free shirts are available at Mix and Company, Hootenanny, and wornfree.com.