Late last year, the high-fashion radical pranksters of Vetements released what would become one of the brand’s signature pieces: a misshapen hoodie with a logo on the chest that played off the traditional Champion script logo, rotating the oversize C 90 degrees to make a V.
Ava Nirui, a writer, artist and part of a loose group of bootleg-influenced design provocateurs who use corporate identities as raw material, thought the price, around $700, was outrageous. “A brand on the come-up doesn’t have a right to charge that much money,” she said. And so she decided to poke fun at Vetements by seeing its borrowing, and raising it — or more to the point, interrogating it.
One at a time, she took actual Champion sweatshirts and incorporated the elongated-C logo into the names of other designers — Rick Owens, Chanel, Gucci, Marc Jacobs — by embroidering the names around the C in utilitarian font. She made them for herself, snapping pictures and posting them to her Instagram account with a shrug emoticon as the caption.
“A lot of people misconstrue what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m not trying to start a fashion brand. I’m trying to make people uncomfortable.”
Vetements’s cheeky appropriation and Ms. Nirui’s meta-cheeky reappropriation represent two phases of what has become a mini-resurgence of interest among tastemakers, from high fashion to streetwear, in the Champion logo, one of the most iconic marks in American apparel. In the hands of these recontextualizers, the logo, whether the stand-alone C or the full script rendering, is reborn as something of an ideological and aesthetic blank slate, an axis upon which to turn and a foundation for new ideas.
This year, in addition to Ms. Nirui’s work, the Canadian label Bootleg Is Better put the full script logo on a T-shirt, surrounding it with lyrics from Buju Banton’s “Champion,” and VFiles sold a T-shirt with “Athl’c Dept” on the sleeve, with the single-letter Champion logo replacing the C. (VFiles, which plays at the intersection of cool-kid subversion and fashion-industry legitimacy, declined to be interviewed for this article.)
This burst of renewed interest has extended to the brand’s history. The sneaker reseller Flight Club in New York currently has a floor-to-ceiling grid of dozens of 1980s and ’90s American-made Champion sweatshirts, which have been selling briskly. “The Champion sweatshirt is such a regal piece,” said Josh Matthews, the director of merchandising at Flight Club and a longtime collector of the brand.
“It’s a template,” Mr. Matthews added, citing the brand’s ubiquity with high school sports teams. “They gave a lot of canvases out.”
That’s what the designer Virgil Abloh saw in Champion when, in 2012, he began working on his first clothing line, Pyrex Vision, which, apart from its flannel pieces, was printed entirely on Champion blanks, often with the logo visible. “That was my go-to, because my high school gym uniform was Champion — a specific style of tee, shorts and hoodie,” he said. “So I sought out those blanks and recreated my uniform, but for no particular sport.”
Since 2013, Pat Peltier has been using Champion garments for one-of-a-kind pieces sold under the name Bandulu Street Couture, sourcing vintage T-shirts and sweatshirts and embroidering paint-splatter designs on them, or making veils and chokers out of C logos. “I felt like it was Americana,” he said of the logo. “It’s like Nike. It’s such an icon.”
Champion logos are generally embroidered, adding texture and inspiration. “Champion is the most branded blank,” Mr. Peltier said, making it ideal for clothing artists who want to create work in conversation with the base canvas.
“The brand is sturdy,” Mr. Abloh said. “That’s what makes it appealing to me to add an artistic take on it.”
In recent years, perhaps inspired by the burgeoning athleisure market, Champion itself has dabbled in high, or at least middle, fashion. It has a continuing collaboration with Todd Snyder, now in its third year. Last year, Champion teamed up with Capsule Show and Urban Outfitters to sell a limited-run set of directional pieces, including an oversize sweater with distressed edges made with the British avant-gardist Craig Green. And for the last several years, it has been collaborating with Supreme, which uses the logo on hockey jerseys, parkas and sweatshirts. (“Supreme is usually patient zero,” Mr. Matthews said, referring to the viral spread of fashion resurrection.)
Mr. Peltier, who has sold around 200 of his pieces, said that he had had casual conversations with Champion representatives, but that no formal collaborations were planned. Ms. Nirui said she hadn’t heard from Champion; she has only just sold her first 10 pieces, after a flurry of requests.
She said she was not sure if she will sell any more, though, especially since she began her project as a critique of consumer capitalism, not as an application to participate in it.
“I thought it was gross,” she said, “that people were not individual.” Besides, a handful of not-quite-legitimate outlets have been selling items that pilfer her designs: “Bootlegging my bootleg of a bootleg,” she said matter-of-factly, as if it were the most normal thing.