Kendall and Kylie Jenner’s new line of faux-vintage t-shirts backfired immediately. The shirts are oversized black concert tees, their distressed “original” prints superimposed with photos of the Jenners lifted from Instagram or the initials “KK.” The initial plan was “Rock vs. Rap”: Half Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., half Metallica, Pink Floyd, and the Doors.
Printing one’s own face over the face of a beloved and relatively recently dead rapper is gauche as hell, and as the internet swiftly realized, it’s not a great look for two white starlets who just got raked over the coals for a fake-woke Pepsi ad and accused of ripping off an independent black designer, respectively. Overnight, the rap half of “Rock vs. Rap” vanished from the Kendall + Kylie website. And around 2 p.m. Thursday, the rock tees disappeared too. (Here’s a cached version, while it lasts.)
Even the Jenners appear to realize they screwed up on the rap tees, and I’m not here to defend them. But let us turn our attention to one of the newly discontinued (or sold out?) rock shirts: Kendall Jenner’s visage glowing lurid neon yellow under the Metallica logo, or the Doors logo, or with the Dark Side of the Moon rainbow arcing through her forehead. You don’t get to choose which band you get. The shirts only come in one size, and they cost $125 apiece. The Jenner shirts are power moves—of course their rap tee appropriation felt oppressive.
But reworking a classic rock logo is just plain old pop-art appropriation, and I’d wear the fuck out of it. “Kylie Jenner’s Instagram bikini shot on top of Metallica letters with a John Mayer quote in the caption” sounds like something dreamed up by your friend of a friend who makes edgy mashup memes. It recalls the work of the artist Richard Prince, whose “rephotographed” Instagram posts from celebrities and strangers sell for as much as $100,000. It recalls letters to the editor from bitter Vogue subscribers who just want to see “real models.” And as anyone who’s tried to screenprint a shirt will tell you, it’s harder than you’d think to make two unrelated images look good as layered transparencies IRL.
I doubt the Jenner sisters are paying anyone to screenprint their t-shirts by hand. I very much doubt that the originals are authentically vintage. Yet I marvel at their ability to be simultaneously regressive and avant-garde, to align a rare outrage cycle of half contemporary cultural activists and half angry dudes who just realized that popular girls (pretend to) like the Doors. The only thing more audacious than pasting a selfie over a classic concert tee is handing the Kardashian family $125 for the privilege of wearing it.
I’m still not buying, because the most I would pay for a classic rock tee with Kendall Jenner’s face on it is $60.
I take it back, I’d pay anything for Kendall’s face on a Cramps t-shirt.