The Maus that roared:
the fashion of Christopher Lee Sauve
By Drew Rowsome
Christopher Lee Sauvé was already a renowned graphic designer when, in 2008, he was inspired by the rumoured retirement, possibly forced, of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, to create t-shirts emblazoned with Wintour’s face and the slogan “Free Anna.” The cheeky shirts caught on with the fashion cognoscenti, then mushroomed into more provocative shirts and finally into a dizzying assortment of products. His newest line of t-shirts, the MAD MAUS series, feature iconic designers, musicians and cult figures adorned with Mickey Mouse ears in order to honour, mock and titillate. The MADMAUS shirts are not only available in, somewhat of a fashion icon herself, Patricia Field’s New York store but also here in Toronto at The Bay.
Though born in Canada, Sauvé is a New Yorker/Brooklynite and has never attended Toronto Pride. He hopes to make an appearance this year and to check out just how many of Toronto’s gay cognoscenti are wearing his shirts. In the meantime he took time to answer a few questions.
Drew Rowsome: The MADMAUS series is hilarious but also a distillation of themes that you have been working with in your art - the Warholian influence is blatant so I won't distinguish between commercial and fine art. Was a fashion line your ultimate destination or a step along the way?
Christopher Lee Sauvé: Definitely a step along the way. I am trained as a graphic designer but I have always loved collecting t-shirts and the immediacy of the messages attached to them. As a visual communicator the t-shirt is a walking billboard and provides a voice and a statement, whether it be a protest, humor, or personal remark.
The mouse ears go all the way back to at least the Gerd Beyer photoshoot with the studded mouse ears (your design?). What does Mickey mean to you?
I have always loved Mickey Mouse. My grandmother also. I have her Mickey phone from the ’80s right now on the desk! I also have a Mickey tattoo.
What’s not to love about Mickey? It is the ultimate expression of American commercialism. Sort of like Paris Hilton during the recession. Keeps our minds off of things.
Is Mickey Mouse or Amanda Lepore (who was also the subject of, and enthusiastically modelled, a Sauvé t-shirt) more of a cartoon character?
That is a great question. Amanda is a living work of art, Mickey is an animation. So I would say Amanda is the ultimate icon. Also she has such a sweet heart and is so kind.
"Save Anna," "God Save the Queen," and "I Was Touched by Terry Richardson" are all very insidery fashion celebrity concepts. What would the Christopher Lee Sauvé design be?
"I'm Like Britney, Bitch. Stronger Than Yesterday"
Madonna, Prince, Boy George, Klaus Nomi, Kurt Cobain, Karl Lagerfeld . . . How do you choose who deserves to be an icon?
I like to use the theme of rebel throughout my work. Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote with the late Anna Piaggi before she passed away last year on the theme of rebel:
We are taught many things as children, to obey, to learn, to smile, to work hard and follow the rules. When we “rebel” we are punished.
The rebel is always punished even in the spotlight of pop culture.
Is the rebel of American pop culture, the Saint in which
we worship and wish to turn into an icon?
“The beautiful tragic rebel smiles on your silver screen.
Her love life is one that is scandalous and creates a media race.
She is a saint to the people, a romance novel to bored housewives, and a fantasy to men. We try to protect our rebellious god until the last day of our newsprint acquaintance.”
Do you have fashion design ambitions beyond t-shirts?
Yes! This New York Fashion Week is going to have a very exciting announcement!
There is a real punk rock aesthetic to much of your work. If, as you have said, "nothing looks as good as pop feels," how does punk feel?
Punk feels that you are dressing for yourself and not others which I have always admired. Punk is also a lifestyle that you choose to live the way you live and not for others. Non-conformity. I think punk culture and being gay have a huge relationship. But I see this changing today as more and more gay people try to conform to the “norms” of society.
My personal favourites are the MAUS giving the finger, BEARMAUS and TATTOOMAUS. Or maybe ALADDINSANEMAUS or . . . Which is your favourite? Which is the best seller?
The best seller is the MADMAUS print and MADMAUS (middle finger). Also everyone loves MADONNAMAUS!
Which fashion personality would it most excite you to see wearing one of your designs?