I've always had a bit of a crush on Louis Theroux. So when I saw my friend wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with his face – emblazoned twice, in fact: young Louis and older, sterner, arms-crossed Louis – I knew I had to have one. Lucky, then, that she knew exactly where it had come from: Homage Tees, a clothing company specialising in putting iconic faces on T-shirts, from Sinead O'Connor and Björk to David Hasselhoff and Princess Diana.
I sent the Louis shirt to him on Twitter and replied: "I don't think I'd get away with wearing one," adding that it had "given me an idea for a Christmas present for my wife" – simultaneously crushing my dreams of a potential union and reminding me how lovely he is.
Anyway, I got in touch with Homage Tees, and after some back and forth – and a 10-hour flight on his part – I managed to have a chat with the secretive, Hackney-based founder.
VICE: So who are you?
Homage Tees: Here's the thing: I don't want anyone to know that it's me that does it. I'd love to keep it anonymous. I don't want there to be any focus on me. It's about paying homage, and it's about the people. It's an anti-brand. There's no logo. I'd just rather the focus was on the products.
When did you start doing this?
It started about six months ago. I've worked for quite a few brands, and basically I didn't want to have to wear them any more. You know when you wear a brand you're repping what that brand stands for? There wasn't really brands out there that I wanted to do that for. But there was people. So I made a couple for me and my friends. Then Skepta took one and he wore it on stage at Glastonbury, and then Reading Festival, I think, and people just wanted them, so I started selling them online. It just snowballed from there, really.
So you're mates with Skepta?
Nah, I'm not. I don't even really know how he got it, to be honest. I left the T-shirt in my crib, and obviously some of my friends know him and it just ended up with him. But that was a Wiley tee. There's a few different umbrellas under Homage Tees. There's Grime Tees, Homage Tees and then Homage Tees US, and the EU website as well. After Skepta wore one I did the Crazy Titch tee, because I've got a link to him, and I gave him a percentage of money. After that I just wanted to do other people that I wanted to wear, innit.
Anyone else in particular you've been chuffed to see in a T-shirt?
There's a little list. I saw Lily Allen post a picture of her wearing one recently, and I hadn't given it to her.
How do you design them?
All the designs are done by me, and it's just for the people. It's straight up for the people. I think in time more people are going to be making their own shit. You see people flipping logos all the time as well. There's a bootleg culture, which is cool, because it's anti, innit. It's going against the mainstream. I think Homage fits into that a little bit.
Do you love the 90s?
I'm a late 80s baby; I grew up in the 90s and 2000s. The style of the tee is more like a late-90s thing, I think, rather than an old school, hip-hop feel. Maybe the Mark Morrison one is a bit more like that 'cause it's a rapper, innit. But the Louis Theroux one is a lot more simple and clean. It's not as inspired by 90s rap tees. The concept of putting a person on a T-shirt comes from that, but the style of the T-shirt and the design doesn't.
Why is Diana your cover photo on the webpage?
She's in the background because she was the first tee we did. She was the first Homage Tee. She's like a people's hero. Out of all of the people we've done a Homage Tee for, she's the one, I think, who deserves the most props. Or maybe not deserves the most props, but is seen in the highest regard. She's Princess Di, innit! When I was thinking who should be the first person and who I wanted to wear, she had to be first because it was almost like, if you're gonna start by doing only British subculture heroes, you would have to pay homage to her before you pay homage to the other people.
Would you say most of the people you feature have already got a bit of a cult following?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. As I said, it's more of like a subculture following. Even though we know Louis Theroux is mainstream. David Attenborough is very mainstream, it's ironic and it's fun. It's niché to have them on a tee. Whenever you wear one of the tees people are like, "Oh shit, where did you get that from?" and that's 'cause it's such an unexpected thing to have on the T-shirt.
Do you wear your own stuff a lot then?
Yeah, I wear everything. I've got my particular ones. Catherine Zeta Jones is my favourite one personally. Even though it's basic design-wise, it's the one I like the most because it's so simple. Maybe because it's the one I've seen the least people wearing. I like the Tom Jones one as well.
Are there any other icons that you're gonna add to the roster?
Yeah, I got a list that I'm working through. But it's a secret list, I can't disclose it.
Just one on the list? Okay. Stephen Hawking. There's going to be Stephen Hawking one coming soon, still.
What's been the most popular ones?
The David Attenborough and the Louis Theroux. People love them. They're the people's heroes.
How does it feel to know that Louis has given it his stamp of approval?
Did he give it his stamp of approval?
Yeah, I tweeted him about it earlier and he said he was into it, that it gave him an idea for his wife's Christmas present.
No way, that's crazy – I didn't know that. That's beautiful news. Big up, Louis. The OG. That's dope. Respect for the man.
I'm just imagining, on Christmas Day, at Louis Theroux's house, his wife opening a present with his face on it.
Yo, that would be wild.
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