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Graphic tees are the rare clothing item that anyone, regardless of education or creative talent, could design. Go to Custom Ink's website, pick a style, upload a file, hit buy.
Still, Jeff Halmos and Lisa Mayock are banking on the idea that there's something to be said for real design expertise. On Wednesday, the husband and wife duo — formerly the co-designers of Shipley & Halmos and Vena Cava, respectively — launched Monogram, a new brand built on a line of vintage-inspired $65 t-shirts and $90 sweatshirts.
Mayock explains over the phone that she has a big collection of graphic tees at home, some of them her father's from the '80s, others collected on Ebay and Etsy and at flea markets. But she came up short-handed when she tried to find a source for newly made shirts that captured the same charm and "funny, non-sequitur quirk" of a vintage t-shirt. So she and Halmos decided to make their own and manufacture them in Los Angeles near her parents' house.
Many of the styles are '70s-inflected, inspired by the typography and art direction of the posters, record covers, and books that Mayock and Halmos have collected over time. The words on Monogram's shirts might come from a billboard they saw, or a conversation they had. While some phrases are likely to elicit immediate nods of understanding from shoppers — like a black tee with the word "bullshit" typed neatly across the breast — others are more open to interpretation, like a white style that reads "Nudes."
The world probably doesn't need another t-shirt brand, but Monogram is ultimately pretty convincing. The styling is winning: Halmos says they wanted to steer clear of shooting their models in jeans and tees, as many retailers are wont to do, and instead photographed them in high-waisted pencil skirts, metallic pants, berets. The shirts fall right in line with the '70s moment happening in fashion without feeling stale.
It may be more accurate to look at Monogram, which sells straight to shoppers through its own site à la Warby Parker and Everlane, as a design firm rather than a clothing brand. While its product offering is limited to womenswear at this point and men's is a possibility depending on customer feedback, Halmos and Mayock say they would consider creating items outside the clothing realm.
"We decided on the name Monogram because it felt like it could be a record label or a publishing company or an architecture firm," Halmos says. "It could be lots of different things."