[Marxism] Style over substance

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Mar 30 11:51:53 MST 2004

NY Times, March 30, 2004
Give Me a Rebel, but Hold the Politics

Sam & Seb is a children's clothing store in the Williamsburg section of 
Brooklyn that specializes in the sort of garments, tiny Levi's, baby 
Dries van Noten tops — that have been created with the assumption that 
3-year-olds don't want to look 3. But a while back the store's owner, 
Simone Manwarring, began getting requests for an item that was unusual 
even by those standards.

"Lots of parents were coming in and saying, `Hey, wouldn't it be great 
to have a Che T-shirt?' " Ms. Manwarring said. By Che, the parents 
meant, of course, the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary executed by 
Bolivians in 1967, whose beret-wearing image once adorned college 
dormitories from Berkeley to the Sorbonne. Ms. Manwarring started making 
the shirts, with sizes even for a 3-month-old. She now sells about 10 a 

The Che industry has been fairly robust over the years, with keepsakes 
including posters, cigarette lighters, watches and nail clippers sold in 
many parts of the world. But lately it is clothing with the image of the 
rebel, from the iconic photo taken in 1960 by Alberto Korda, that seems 
ever more coveted as street wear. It has turned up on Moscow artists and 
on 11-year-old boys in the New York suburbs. In the last six months, 
sales of fitted T-shirts, loose T-shirts, tank tops, hooded sweatshirts, 
caps and camp shirts have increased by about 40 percent at 
Thechestore.com, said John Trigiani, the company's owner. Mr. Trigiani 
began selling Che paraphernalia about five years ago after he returned 
home to Toronto from Cuba with a statuette he had bought for $2, and 
resold on eBay for $128.

Why the renewed interest in Che, when so many communist governments have 
failed? Mr. Trigiani said, "I think there are many reasons for this and 
one of them is Mike Tyson."

A few years ago, the prizefighter got a picture of Che etched onto his 
rib cage. Other catalysts include two coming movies, one "The Motorcycle 
Diaries," based on the journals Che kept during his travels through 
South America as a medical student in 1952. That film appeared at the 
Sundance Film Festival in January and is due in theaters later this 
year. The second film, an epic called "Che" to be directed by Terrence 
Malick, is beginning production next year.

Revolutionary ideology seems to have almost nothing to do with the 
emerging Che style, which is manifest also in men's sweaters, high-end 
bikinis and underwear. "I met a college student who wanted the T-shirts, 
and she had absolutely no idea who Che was," Mr. Trigiani said.

The image seems mostly a visually compelling logo to those who are 
buying Che-wear today. "Mao Zedong's is another head we're thinking of," 
Ms. Manwarring said. "Both of these have become strong pop cultural 
images; I don't think people want these things on their clothes as a 
political statement but I think they are drawn to the graphic intensity."

Patrick Symmes, the author of "Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey in 
Search of the Guevara Legend," said, "I think the more that time goes 
by, the chicer and chicer Che gets because the less he stands for 

About two years ago, Mr. Symmes said, he discovered a bar in London 
called Che. "It's ultradeluxe and a young guy was the owner," Mr. Symmes 
said, referring to Hani Farsi, a wealthy Saudi Arabian. "I asked him, 
`Why Che?' and he answered, `Oh you know, rebellion and all that.' "


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