Most people would be familiar with the Marxist revolutionary guerrilla leader Che Guevara on T-shirt designs and hippie bars. The communist soldier isn’t who people would usually consider a fashion icon, but he has become one anyway. So how did a rebel’s face become the face of many t-shirt designs for a few decades? Let’s find out.
History of Che Guevara
In order to know how Guevara became a fashion icon, we have to know exactly where he came from and what happened to him. Actually, his face wasn’t always the caricature that we’re very much familiar with now. It was actually modeled after a photo named Guerrillero Heroico taken by Alberto Korda after Fidel Castro’s victory.
The photo was published in the papers and eventually made its way to Paris Match, a well-known French magazine. This happened while Guevara was actually fighting for communism in 1967. When Guevara was captured and executed in the same year, artist Jim Fitzpatrick decided to use the photo to create a new piece of propaganda art.
Now, it’s very important to note that Fitzpatrick was actually a fan of Guevara. He met Guevara in Ireland and was deeply impressed by the communist guerrilla fighter. After Guevara’s death, Fitzpatrick decided to create a protest against his death. He drew the original photo and placed it on a red background, symbolizing revolution and youth propaganda. From there, young French students used it as their banners for their propaganda movements in 1968.
Che Guevara’s Evolution Into Fashion
Over the years, the picture has been exploited by artists and clothing brands alike to be made into something of a fashion statement instead of a symbolism of radicalism. Because of this, the original meaning of the image was somehow lost, and people started to wear the picture because it was “cool”.
While many people were adopting this style of fashion, no one really knew who Che Guevara was. In fact, Bruce LaBruce, director of the Raspberry Reich, stated that Guevara’s picture was once an image of political idealism, but is now nothing but a useless fashion statement.
Of course, a lot of companies decided to make use of the picture because it was so relevant in the fashion world. You’d probably see many brands such as Gap, Vans, Urban Outfitters, and Louis Vuitton making use of the image one way or another.
But it’s not just the common people who don the face of the revolutionary icon. In fact, a lot of celebrities and high-profile people are seen wearing T-shirts design with Guevara’s face on them. In fact, people like Jay Z, Floyd Mayweather, Carlos Santana, and even Prince Harry have been seen wearing one. A lot of celebrities have also been seen to sport Che Guevara tattoos as well. Soccer star Diego Maradona and boxer Mike Tyson both sport Che Guevara tattoos on their body.
Controversy Surrounding the Picture
Just like any controversial piece of art, there are groups that negatively react to fashion outlets that promote Guevara.
The Human Rights Foundation, for example, fought against Urban Outfitter’s Che Guevara apparel. They’ve stated that the clothing brand was promoting terrorism and tyranny. This was because Guevara was actually in charge of an execution camp where he executed the prisoners of the new state.
Che Guevara Fashion Today
These days, not many people sport the Che Guevara t-shirt designs anymore because it’s out of fashion. That being said, fashions usually come back around after some time, so Guevara’s face might be out in the public again in a few years.
But why has it become such an iconic statement in the first place? Did it simply look so cool that everybody wanted to sport it all of a sudden? To some extent that might be the case but the more likely reason is the deeper meaning behind the picture.
To many, Guevara was actually regarded as a fighter of freedom. That’s why Fitzpatrick wanted to create a legacy out of him in the first place. Of course, the original political meaning got lost along the way and ended up in the hands of companies and brands.
While most of us glorify the death of freedom fighters, brands do take advantage of this by portraying the work of art as expressing an inner “rebellious” side. This somehow appeals to a lot of people, which is why the picture became a global phenomenon in the first place. While brands have marketed the Che Guevara face as the face of “teenage rebellion” and “standing out”, consumers don’t know the bloody history of the man. They just take in whatever the clothing brands tell them.
To put it short, the Che Guevara global fashion phenomenon is just a product of consumerism and really good marketing.