exclusive: join the dots of ashish’s pornographic new t-shirt collection
The London designer is known for presenting a vision of diverse beauty on the catwalk, and now he’s celebrating sexual diversity in a capsule collection of playfully pornographic T-shirts.
London designer Ashish is asking us to join the sexual dots with a new capsule collection of playfully pornographic T-shirts. Called T'aint by Ashish, the seven designs show line-drawn illustrations of people engaging in a range of sexual acts, the details of which are obscured by incomplete dot to dot instructions. Presenting gay and straight couples and a threesome, the T-shirts celebrate sexual diversity with the same joy that Ashish celebrates ethnic diversity on his catwalk each season at London Fashion Week.
After having his Instagram account for T'aint deleted as pornography, and eventually reinstated, Ashish speaks to i-D about sex, censorship, the rise of 'modest' fashion and the American sex slang from which the collection takes its name...
Where did the idea for the T-shirts come from?
It's something I've wanted to do for quite a long time, a T-shirt line. Seeing as our main conversation in the studio usually revolves around sex and boys, I thought let's do something super sexy for the first one, because we're planning to do three or four T-shirt collections every year. I wanted to do something that was kind of explicit, but not explicit, so you have to stare at it for a little while to make out what is going on. I love it when you're on the tube and you see somebody wearing something that you can't quite make out. There's that slightly voyeuristic idea. If you saw somebody wearing one of those T-shirts, you'd want to know what it was if you joined the dots.
Where do you think people can, or will, wear them?
I think you could probably wear them anywhere. I test-ran one of them, and it was hysterical. I wore it to the gym and nobody reacted! My trainer didn't quite get it, and then I asked, 'Do you like my T-shirt?' and he said 'Oh, yeah, it's nice. What is it?' and I said 'Well, look at it carefully!' and then he was, well, slightly shocked! I thought that was quite good, because it means you can actually wear them out and people don't really see it, unless they really stare at you! The whole point of them is that you can customise them, you can join the dots yourself if you wanted to, you can colour them in, do whatever you want to do, or you can just leave them as they are. It's pretty explicit, but without it being in-your-face.
Sex is often something that people keep to their bedrooms and hide away. Why do you want people to wear it on their T-shirt? Do you think people should be more upfront?
I don't think that people do necessarily keep it in the bedroom, people talk about sex so much! I know that in our office, after a weekend, we're like, 'What did you get up to?' and we're constantly discussing it. I think it's a good time to be really open about all that stuff. I think it's one of those things that it is quite good to talk about.
It's probably easier to talk about it in some offices than in others! Generally it's not talked about that openly.
Absolutely. You know, I come from India, and I think India's a lot more regressive in that sense: it's still illegal to be gay, for example. So, I think the more people talk about sex and sexual things the better, so there's much more information about it and there's more dialogue about it - I think that's really healthy.
There's an idea that sex is deviant.
Yeah, there's an idea of it being slightly filthy, and I find it shocking -- in this day and age -- that my Instagram got blocked because I hashtagged the word porn! They blocked me literally within 30 seconds of me hashtagging that word! So, I emailed them and said, 'Listen, I don't see anything pornographic on my Instagram for T'aint; there's sexual stuff, but it has all been censored as per your guidelines'. And then it turned out that basically you're not allowed to use porn as a hashtag. If you search #porn on Instagram, nothing comes up! It's absolutely bizarre! For me, if you're talking about true obscenity - I think violence is obscene, I think war and inequality are obscene. I don't see sex as being obscene. I'm really against this whole idea of censorship, of the body and sex. I think it's bizarre that you can't show a nipple on Instagram.
There's a real moralistic bent.
Yeah, it's moral policing. I find that appalling. I don't know why you can't have a disclaimer to say you're over 16 or whatever, so you can see certain accounts on Instagram. Personally I don't think [we need to hide it], but if there had to be a system in place, I would rather they just said, 'Ok, if you're under 16, you can't view that profile'. I understand that certain content might not be appropriate for children. But I don't like this blanket moral policing where Instagram tells people what is appropriate and what's not!
The T-shirts have a range of sexualities. Was it important to show that diversity, in the way that you show ethnic diversity on your catwalk?
Yes! I just wanted to make sure we did gay, we did straight, different skin colours, hair colours. There's one where there's a guy sucking dick, and I actually thought it would be really interesting to do three versions, each with a different colour of dick! But then I thought it's more interesting to just leave it, and you can fill in a colour if you want!
The T-shirts are obviously really playful. We've spoken about moral policing online, but I wondered if they were in any way a response to so-called 'modest' fashion?
Not consciously, but I suppose that my thresholds are a lot higher than other people's -- it's very hard to shock me with sexual stuff. I'm trying to make it less shocking for people, I just want to make it more out in the open.
Do you worry that the concept of 'modest' fashion suggests, by default, that some clothes are therefore immodest?
People should be allowed to wear what they want to wear. There's that whole debate about the SlutWalk, with women saying they should be allowed to dress exactly how they want without being perceived as... something. I completely agree with that. You should be able to wear what you want to wear and look how you want to look. If you want to dress like a 'slut', I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I don't understand why there should be a moral implication about that, it's just fashion!
Where does the name T'aint come from?
I wanted it to be different from the main line, and I thought it would be quite funny if it sounded almost bootlegged, like somebody's copied it and done a dodgy T-shirt line! We could have called it, "It Ain't Ashish," but Taint is also the word you use for the area of skin between your arsehole and your balls, or vagina. It's quite sexual, and that's an area of your body that people don't usually refer to a lot, when they talk about sex, but it's a very sensitive area! It's called that in America. The joke is, it ain't balls and it ain't arsehole -- so it's called 'Taint'. I thought actually that's hysterical, let's call it T'aint!
The T'aint by Ashish collection is available exclusively from V Files in New York from the first week of May.
Text Charlotte Gush