Norteño Shirts

A fantastical pageantry of AK-47 rifles, marijuana leaves, money, pickup trucks, religious saints, wild animals and bags of cocaine is ornamented with Italian Renaissance and Baroque motifs. Like the originals, these imitations carry Versace’s signature style of wild colour and pattern in the elegant material of pure silk, some with mesmerising patterns of metallic gold and silver embroidery. There are countless variations, but all the designs exemplify an extremely psychedelic vision of Mexican and Norteño drug cartel aesthetics: a kind of Op Art you won’t believe until you get a closer look or do a double-take. The images are modern hieroglyphs that tell stories of narc culture – stories that become myths of the old West.

One of the most popular images is ‘Tres Animales’ (Three Animals), a visual code in which each animal symbolizes a specific drug: the rooster, marijuana; the goat, heroin; and the parrot, cocaine.

The shirts are designed at an undisclosed location somewhere in Mexico, manufactured in China and sold exclusively at swapmeets throughout Los Angeles. They are geared towards the everyday man – the average guy who dreams of the hard knock life of a gangsta cowboy.

Cameron Jamie, from Frieze Magazine

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