Exclusive: Gay orgy Pleasure Chest t-shirt Malcolm McLaren détourned into shocking Joe Orton/Warriors/punk design classic
The trickster’s function is to add disorder to order, and so make a whole; within the fixed bounds of what’s permitted, an experience of what is not permitted.
Karl Kerenyi quoted in Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography Of Joe Orton, John Lahr, 1978
In January 1978, after the break-up of the Sex Pistols in San Francisco on the last date of the group’s ill-fated US tour, their manager Malcolm McLaren shifted base to Los Angeles for a few weeks to work out his next move.
Discussing options with record companies and holding meetings with movie companies to drum up business for biopic The Great Rock N Roll Swindle, the late McLaren had a ball, staying at the legendary rock’n’roll hang-out The Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, hard by Duke’s Coffee Shop and a few blocks west of the sex shop The Pleasure Chest.
As was his wont, McLaren purchased a number of items from The Pleasure Chest which offered potential for appropriating and compacting into future artworks and designs for Seditionaries, the “punk enclave” boutique he operated at 430 King’s Road with Vivienne Westwood.
Among them was a t-shirt blazoned with an illustration depicting a gay orgy. It is credited to the company Pop Porn, which produced designs for West Coast adult businesses including the Pussycat Theater chain, according to 70s clothing expert Ben Cooney.
Recently, during research for my forthcoming McLaren biography, I found the very shirt McLaren bought 38 years ago in LA and today publish these images of it for the first time anywhere.
The shirt is significant because a year after that acquisition, McLaren was spurred into action by the publication of John Lahr’s Joe Orton biography Prick Up Your Ears and the release of Walter Hill’s dystopian gang movie The Warriors to use it as the base image for one of the final punk designs sold in Seditionaries.
Noting the orgiastic scenes detailed in Orton’s diaries, he used the illustration to celebrate the provocative and impish 60s dramatist as a punk rock kindred spirit, and tied the abandon with which Orton lived his life into the brutalism of Hill’s film, taking The Warriors distinctive spraycan lettering to increase the immediacy (“look to the current event” was one of McLaren’s key maxims, after all).
In Situationist style, McLaren détourned The Pleasure Chest illustration by “punking up” the individuals with tattoos (among them ‘Joe Orton’ and ‘The Warriors’), slogans such as Destroy and Chaos, Anarchy armbands, spiky haircuts and paraphernalia.
McLaren added dimension by overlaying a two-colour screen of a photo close-up of a sexual encounter and dropped in text from Lahr’s book, specifically a paragraph from a 1967 entry in Orton’s diary.
It is exciting to note the ways in which McLaren realised the artwork. Just as he approached such designs as Vive Le Rock! in 1972, Cowboys (1975) and the use of the figures from the cover of the 1958 Folkways album Dances Of The World’s Peoples across the Nostalgia Of Mud and Witches collections (1982-83), McLaren appropriated and recast a found example of ephemera and juxtaposed it with fresh elements to produce a bold new statement.
The Pleasure Chest shirt is just one of a number of McLaren’s own clothes which will feature in the Spring/Summer 16 issue of British biannual magazine Man About Town, which is dedicated to McLaren’s relationship with fashion.
This includes a 5,000 word essay by me and a substantial fashion story featuring designs from Let It Rock in the early 70s through to Ancien/Dead In England in the mid-90s. Commissioned by MAT editor Ben Reardon, the story was a collaboration with the leading international fashion photographer Alasdair McLellan and superstar stylist Olivier Rizzo.
Man About Town: The Malcolm McLaren issue is available in a few weeks and will be accompanied by a major event at a prominent London arts venue. Keep an eye on the Man About Town site.
Read more on the Prick Up Your Ears design in my 2008 post on The Look blog.