Australian label Mambo celebrates 30 years with a show of its radical surf, skate and streetwear designs
BY SOPHIE DAVIES
Surfing is the quintessential Australian sport, and Mambo is the country’s most iconic surf brand. Founded by Dare Jennings under a Cinzano beach umbrella in a Sydney beer garden in 1984, it attracted a slew of countercultural artists whose creations remain bestsellers today. Now with three decades under its boardshorts' drawstring belt, the fashion label is exhibiting its most influential designs in 'Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulence', an exhibition at Melbourne’s NGV Australia.
Before the hashtag-heady days of social media, Mambo was a pioneer of brand promotion, co-opting art, graphic design, music, football, beer and even furniture tropes to get its message out there. Highlights of the current show include 'Endless Sofa', a surfboard upholstered like a padded leather Chipperfield for a David Jones in-store display, a T-shirt that riffs on Russian artist Vladimir Tretchikoff’s ‘The Green Lady’ painting and monochrome murals that take their cue from tattoo and comic art.
Mambo’s famous graphic T-shirts, and Hawaiian-inspired ‘Loud Shirts,’ dominate the display, including Richard Allan’s notorious 1987 ‘Farting Dog’, the cheeky, blokey motif that became the brand’s signature. In a break from the norm, Mambo’s typographic logo morphed regularly, tweaked by its artists in a constant state of flux.
ABOVE AND ABOVE RIGHT: Mambo's quirky surfboard designs, including 'Endless Sofa' by David McKay and Atelier Upholstery; Richard Allan's iconic 1987 'Farting Dog', officially 'Call of the Wild'
BELOW, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Original Mambo artwork and T-shirt designs, including 'Get A Lifestyle' and 'Space Cadets' by Wayne Golding (painting by Seenu), Tretchikoff-inspired 'Miss Wong' by Bruce Gould, Paul Worstead's shocking three-legged dog poster and Nick Morris's 2001 'Come To Where The Flavour Is'
What distinguished Mambo was its subversive use of art, humour, music and proud, if satirical, everyday Australiana, with images such as smoking kangaroos and a suburban Aussie Jesus becoming part of its irreverent lexicon. Unorthodox promos included sponsoring the Ramones’s 1989 Australian tour, with former Sex Pistol John Lydon appearing in Mambo’s summer catalogue the same year. Key Mambo member Reg Mombassa hailed from Sydney rock band Mental As Anything, and in-house label Mambo Recordings launched in 1992.
Mambo fearlessly surfed a political wave, most provocatively in 1997, when its ‘Rednecks’ T-shirt reinterpreted a classic match packet to critique right-wing politician Pauline Hanson. The Mambo movement also took aim at environmental destruction (Paul Worstead's 1985 poster for Merimbula's wave-sailing competition featured a three-legged dog vomiting onto a condom-covered beach).
One of Australia's most distinctive design labels, with more than 250 visual and graphic artists on its books, Mambo's cultural reach is impressive. The brand has exhibited in a Surrealist exhibition at Sydney’s Art Gallery of New South Wales and overseas. It created the Australian athletes’ uniforms for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, inspired the 2013 New Year's Eve fireworks in Sydney, and struck a deal with US graphic-novel giant DC Comics in 2014 for a major art collaboration.
The NGV exhibition was guest-curated by streetwear collector Eddie Zammit, in collaboration with Mambo's original art director Wayne Golding and current owner Angus Kingsmill. Zammit, who publishes T-world, a journal of T-shirt graphics, said, ‘Here’s a homegrown brand that cares about art. When it comes to Australian brands, no one comes close to the creative energy of Mambo.'
ABOVE FROM TOP: 'Rock n Roll Ain't Noise Pollution' by Robert Moore; 'Heroes', 2014, for DC Comics by Mambo recruit Numskull
‘Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence’ runs until 22 February 2015 at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne. It then tours to aMBUSH Gallery, Level 3, Central Park, 28 Broadway, Chippendale, Sydney, from 12 March to 26 April 2015 (free, 12pm-8pm daily).
Photos: Sophie Davies 'Heroes' photo: Shane Bell