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Hoe Don’t Do It!
British fashion takes on Meme Culture

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Walk into Urban Outfitters right now and you’ll find the kind of large candles Catholic nations sell outside their cemeteries and secular countries flog in nick-knack shops. But instead of kitschy pics of Jesus and Mary, Urban Outfitters’ variations bear the faces of Drake and Kanye West. Why? Because they’re currently the most memed men on the planet and UO is pop culture’s high street reflection.

For the purposes of clarification, memes, according to Richard Dawkins, “are tunes, ideas, catchphrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body… so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.” Internet memes take many forms, from the Ice Bucket Challenge, to Kim Kardashian’s bum.

Spotting a business opportunity amongst the relentless streams of internet madness, Meme Gold, a label worn by the likes of Madam X, Levelz, and Khan & Neek, has recently produced a line of leisurewear based on the 2015 ‘Hoe don’t do it’ meme. The video that captures the now deleted Vine that spawned the trend has amassed close to 400,000 views on YouTube alone, and the meme-inspired collection that mirrors it takes in crop tops, jumpers, caps, socks, badges and pencils. 

“I spend a ridiculous amount of time on Tumblr and Vine,” says the young designer, who also goes by the name Meme. “Turning memes into something wearable is like a badge or uniform saying, ‘this is what I’m into.’ Meme Gold is an expression of my influences.” 

Gold is sensitive about how she represents these influences. With everyone from celebrity designer Gwen Stefani to high fashion figureheads such as Valentino being accused of cultural appropriation, it’s no surprise that startups like Meme Gold are careful to avoid backlash.

On the opposite end of the scale, culture born on the Internet feels like it belongs to us all. Vines, GIFs and memes are still in their infancy, and due to their virality, their origins are sometimes difficult to locate. Whilst there have been some calls for owners of meme’d images to be reimbursed for the use of their work, this is currently shaky legal ground.

If Theodor Adorno was writing about culture today, he might examine Meme’s social media habit and its resulting work as a symptom of his theory that a society is dulled into passivity thanks to easy consumption of standardised goods. 

American godfather of PR, Edward Bernays, nephew of Freud, utilised exactly such a psychology as a tool of advertising by tapping into what his uncle described as our unconscious desires. By recognising cigarettes as a symbol of male sexual power, he deduced that if women thought cigs were a way to challenge that power, they would light up and cough up. Bernays succeeded.

But if social media is the high and low culture of our times, and with so much content passing before our eyes on our daily social media scrolls, are our creatives not responsible for cultivating lasting memories so we can collectively engage in a deeper understanding of such fleeting moments? Are they, by encouraging a dialogue, not forcing us to question our relationship with both art and advertising?

Rather than trying to earn a quick buck like the Etsy sellers cashing in on blink-and-you’ll-miss-it popular culture events, it could be argued that designers like Meme Gold are more akin to the Warhols of our age, taking time to make aesthetically pleasing apparel in a quest to reflect online subculture. “I created it because I loved it,” Meme reflects. “I wanted to wear that uniform. Any sales are just a bonus for me.”

The reaction to it has been much more encouraging than I initially thought,” she continues. “People responded to it almost immediately and that response is still steadily growing. It seems to be identified with in the same way I identify with it which is so cool.”

Indeed, as well as tapping into a culture obsessed with memes, the designer has managed to create something gender neutral too – not an easy terrain, as exampled by Zara’s recent shoddy attempt evinces. Meme Gold’s success seems to stem from an avoidance of overthinking the process too much. By preferring to exist organically as a part of the culture that she represents, both she and her clothes feel honest and of their time.

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