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June 18th, 2006
Sun, Jun. 18th, 2006 09:47 am

It's one hell of a "fashion shoot" -- a grotesque collision of the trivial and the tragic -- but I happened to be wearing Graniph t-shirts before and during 9/11. If you buy two, you see, you get a reduction. Just before leaving Japan to return to my apartment in New York, in early September 2001, I'd bought two shirts at Graniph's store in Shimokitazawa. So you can see me here wearing a brown mushroom-themed shirt four days before the planes hit the towers, and here wearing a pink "macrophage graphics" shirt right between plane one and plane two.



My life in the early 21st century is measured out in Graniph shirts: here I am, a year later, having left paranoid, scary, flag-waving New York and settled in Tokyo, wearing a red Helvetica t-shirt boasting one of Graniph's trademark lunatic linguistic borrowings, a German phrase which begins "It is our occupation to give form to language" but then starts disorienteering, google-talking and babbling. It's no accident that I'm talking about this shirt, on that page, as an important part of the preparations for my "Oskar Tennis Champion" album; nostalgia for the rationality of Modernism is evident in the shirt's evocation of Helvetica (Swiss grid graphics), and on the album's evocation of 9/11 (in its title track) as the ultimate silent slapstick bananaskin, played out in a Bauhaus landscape of collapsing Mies and Gropius towers. But you can also see the album's German references gathering in the t-shirt, as well as my extensive use, in the Oskar-Otto-Ocky trilogy, of surreally inept translation, inspired in equal parts by Jinglish and Google's beta language tools. The little t-shirt that could write a whole album!



Graniph used to be called Graphis. It was just one store in Shimo-kitazawa, as far as I know. Now it's a chain. There are Graniph stores in Daikanyama, Ikebukuro, and no doubt elsewhere in Tokyo -- and in Japan. There's also a website, which I believe accepts international orders.

What makes Graniph unique is its amazing fertility. The store has totally different designs every time you go in. You can see the designers jamming constantly, taking their fetishes and themes to new places, but keeping some kind of continuity, too. They like bright colours, but they like cute sobriety too, and to achieve the effect of sobriety they'll raid Swiss design, German philosophy, whatever. Yesterday I was wearing a Graniph shirt with a white-on-grey view of traffic lights and a text (in poorly-copied French) reading "vandoesurg raises here the political dimension of the problem. and he explains that this is incompatible with the principal moments..." You know, really n'importe quoi. Text as texture. Appropriated images spliced with appropriated texts (pakura of startling originality!), in an endless parade which is nevertheless recognizable as the work of one creator.



But what makes Graniph unique also makes it readily copied. Just before I left New York I saw a store on Greene Street in SoHo advertising Uniqlo "graphic" t-shirts which looked remarkably like Graniph's current range. Uniqlo, the low-end, mass market "Gap of Japan"! Sure, they're preparing for a high-end, upmarket launch in the US. And sure, Graniph itself has diluted its original flavor, delegating its shirt patterns to a series of guest designers from all over the world.

But it struck me that this was a convergence too far, another example of how "ubiquity is the abyss". Like iPod pop, or like Superflat, things die not because of obscurity, but because of mainstream acceptance. Spreading yourself so thin that you're available everywhere paradoxically means that you're lost, and nowhere. And Graniph, a little thread that joins up five years of my 21st century life, from Shimokita through 9/11 and right into my records (vain attempts to reconcile irreconcilables by mad splicing) may just have lost itself in the abyss of ubiquity.

Hey, that would make a good text on a t-shirt, maybe spliced with a splashy crow.

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