Young Helsinki T-shirt designer Emilia Tapprest really digs prints.
There’s no denying it. Print T-shirts are insatiably cool. And not just as garments, but as walking exhibition space for contemporary trends in graphic design.
No Philosophy is an up and coming T-shirt label launched by a loose grouping of young Helsinki talent. The prime mover behind the brand is 16-year-old designer Emilia Tapprest. The inaugural line of shirts is based on designs she made for her diploma work at the Helsinki Art School.
“It started with me wanting to do some prints, cool looks that I would want to wear myself, and it turned into diploma work,” says Tapprest. Her face framed by unkempt bangs and trendy, larger than life eyeglasses, she would easily pass for a more experienced graphic designer. “Word got around and pretty soon people started asking me where they can get these shirts to wear, so we started making small batches. Things sort of picked up from there and now we’re in the planning stages of a second line.”
No Philosophy is now in search of a distributor. At the moment the shirts can’t be found in any retail stores, but they can be ordered straight from Tapprest herself. It turns out she has a particular passion for T-shirts.
“I collect T-shirts,” she says. “Well, when I say ‘collect’, I don’t mean I have like a million of them. But I always make note of things that I find cool. Partly it was because I couldn’t find exactly the kind of prints I wanted, so I decided to start making them myself.”
Philosophy on life
Her prints are a mix of hand-drawn elements and digital editing, simple and chic with a clever punning edge. Instead of pushing any overtly explicit messages the designs, while at times stocked with some powerful imagery (burqa-clad women, anyone?), are largely open to interpretation. Still, no philosophy? What does that leave?
“That’s not to say there’s no substance. It refers to getting caught on things that are useless and trite. You know, sometimes you’re running through some stuff in your head and you just wanna say hey, no more philosophy, stick to what’s essential,” Tapprest explains.
No Philosophy is about more than T-shirts, she says. It is – pardon the cliché – a lifestyle. Fair enough, but what does that entail?
“Just good times overall, a kind of relaxed attitude towards life. Like the shirt says: ‘What time is it? It’s time to chill’,” Tapprest elaborates. “Actually, one stunt we thought up but didn’t get around to doing yet was to bring some couches to the base of the big clock tower by the Helsinki railway station. We’d spend the day there, just hanging out, and when people would look up to see what time it is, we’d be down there saying ‘hey, it’s time to chill, come join us!’”
As a small upstart outfit, No Philosophy is basically organised around a group of friends, hence the strong communal spirit in all of their activities. Their recent sample sales event at Sinebrychoff Park was more of a laid-back box social than anything to do with street fashion, and a new set of promotional pictures were shot during a party at the Suvilahti gas plant/culture centre.
“It was a lot of fun! I called my friends in to model the shirts because I couldn’t exactly hire professional models. We dragged like five or six couches out to Suvilahti, and we just hung out and took the pictures.”
The next line of shirt designs is still some way off. Work on the designs should start in a few months. The long-term plan is to make a name for the brand, get more orders and bring in more resources. Just making small batches of shirts and beating the drum doesn’t bring back too much cash. Still, Tapprest insists she’s not interested in mass-market appeal or even underground notoriety. It’s enough that people like the designs.
“It’s just cool to see people wearing your shirts, I can’t get over it.”
As for the future, Tapprest says she has some vague idea of pursuing a career along those lines.
“Probably not with clothing, but graphic design for sure. I hope to get into the University of Art and Design Helsinki. And it would be fun to build this into a larger company. A lot of people started out doing T-shirts, you just gotta aim high.”
And never snub any opportunity, as one of the shirts says.
Whether big and baggy, form-fitting or skin-tight, Tshirts are the definitive summer apparel. A plain cotton jersey tee is cool, comfortable, easy to maintain and it’s infinitely mutable. Precisely because of its simplicity, the T-shirt is one of the most complex items of clothing.
Originally worn as undershirts, the plain white tee became a fashion staple in the 1950s when youth icons like James Dean and Marlon Brando began to appear on-screen in their “underwear.” Around the same time a number of companies sprang up in Florida, screenprinting text and images on T-shirts, making them into memorabilia and advertisement items. Throughout the 1960s and 70s print T-shirts became a staple in worldwide pop culture, signifying subcultures and brandishing statements – be they social, political or just ironic.
Buttonless, collarless and pocketless, a T-shirt is the most basic garment imaginable. And in a case of function following form, because of its simplicity it is the print which makes all the difference. Hence a T-shirt is a blank canvas for personal expression.
“When you wear a certain T-shirt it’s a really strong message,” says designer Emilia Tapprest. “I mean, sure you can wear it just because it looks cool, but it’s a powerful tool for communicating if you want it to be. You can basically make art on a T-shirt – it’s just a platform you mount it on.”
A T-shirt can say a lot about its wearer. A retro heavymetal shirt communicates different things on a heavyset biker and a teen fashionista. And visual style is one thing, but even the most committed typography nut can scarcely overlook the words. Ever since the giddy 1980s “message” shirts have maintained their popularity.
“I wouldn’t wear a shirt with stupid text. It’s a pretty strong statement to buy and wear a piece of art, so you should stand behind it. I mean, the message is printed straight across your chest, that’s about as close to the heart it can get,” Tapprest notes.
So there you have it. After hiding your expressive fashion under a layer of clothes all year long, now is the time to flaunt it. Go on. Wear it like you mean it.