Americana has always held a special place in streetwear and menswear communities. Iconic cartoon characters such as Popeye and Betty Boop have found themselves sitting next to Supreme logos, vintage military pieces and varsity jackets are as relevant as ever and the American influence on Japanese brands such as Neighborhood and orSlow is evident season after season.
Here in the UK we have embraced American culture more than most and one brand that truly embodies the independent spirit of the States is London based TSPTR. Hugely influenced by both ‘60s and ‘70s pop and counter culture, TSPTR combine well known icons, those such as Taxi Driver’s psychotic Travis Bickle, with military and collegiate influences. The result is clothing that pays respect to the past yet retains a contemporary twist.
While TSPTR draw inspiration from a variety of different sources, one thing that has had a huge influence on the brand are the characters from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts. While it may be easy for some to dismiss the comic strip as merely a cartoon, Schulz’s creation has long had a significant cultural impact ever since its publication in 1950. TSPTR’s admiration goes far beyond a simple homage to a beloved American classic, they use Schulz’s shrewd social commentary as the basis for many of their recent collections.
“Schultz is hugely relevant in the sense that his work subtly, and at times explicitly, engaged with many serious national issues,” explains TSPTR founder Russ Gator. “The 1960s were a turbulent decade for the United States, the assassination of JFK in 1963 signaled the beginning of a period of massive social upheaval and Schulz’s work began to channel the anxieties of many average Americans. The Peanuts characters came to embody Americans’ serious concerns about the real world, allowing readers to consider and debate these issues through an unlikely medium.”
During the ‘60s Peanuts grew into mainstream success and became the most read comic strip in America. This gave Schulz a national platform for his social and political commentary that turned the likes of Charlie Brown and Snoopy into unassuming activists for social change. However, the counter culture potential of Peanuts was not fully realised until 1967 when Schulz’s growing resentment of the Vietnam War became more overt.
It was 1967 when Schulz introduced the Flying Ace narrative that saw Snoopy regularly daydreaming about being a fighter pilot in World War I, chasing an enemy named the Red Baron. Although this narrative was set in the early 20th century, it cleverly mirrored the events of the war in South East Asia and acted as a subtle satirical commentary.
“The Flying Ace narrative began to focus on the soldiers who had been drafted and the tragedy of combat itself, offering mainstream endorsement to the thousands who had burned their draft cards and protested the unjustifiable war,” explains Russ. “Years later he laid his personal feelings out on the page with Snoopy participating in a protest and riot against the Vietnam War.”
Schulz’s criticism of the war made it over to the American troops in Vietnam and the Peanuts characters became unofficial mascots of the soldiers growing discontent and resentment. As an act of rebellion towards a war they no longer believed in, they painted the characters on military gear, including their planes and uniforms.
“They appeared on many unofficial unit insignia such as patches, helmet art and Zippo lighters, often exclaiming their disapproval of being shipped halfway around the world to fight someone else’s war,” explains Russ. “Snoopy in particular served on the helmets of assault helicopter pilots and on the noses of combat aircrafts alongside such anti war statements as rainbows, peace signs and slogans such as ‘Draft LBJ’.”
This civil act of defiance is a huge source of inspiration for TSPTR, so much so that the brand regularly pay tribute to it throughout their collections: “This period is really at the core of the brand’s ethos, so much social and political change happened between the mid ‘60s and mid ‘70s, it’s a fascinating time to focus on.”
When it came time to choose the graphics for the exclusive Peggs & son collaboration with TSPTR the choice was clear. The Peanuts characters are a classic motif with a strong message behind them that is still relevant today. Couple this with Brighton’s thriving skateboarding scene and love of all things vintage, and the result perfectly sums up the city.
Words and images: George Metcalf