Parvenu: n. one who has recently or suddenly attained wealth or power but who has not yet secured the social position appropriate to it.

A cheeky name for a clothing line by a couple of cheeky independent artists.

Todd Gibbs and Corinne Nakawatase recently debuted their line of T-shirts at an art show, which also featured the works of fellow artists Travis Williams, Kevin Narvaez and Robert Levacy.

The gallery opening, appropriately titled, “I Hate My Life Too,” introduced Parvenu as a brand of heavy social commentary expressed through comical whimsy.

“A little dark humor and a touch of sarcasm help a complicated message go down like Xanax after a bottle of white wine,” says Gibbs, the company’s illustrator.

Redefining the traditional graphic T, Parvenu shirt designs require a second glance. Even a seemingly harmless and endearing first aid kit, drawn in a style reminiscent of children’s coloring books, on closer inspection reveals a revolver in the place of typical band-aids and gauze.

Other shirt designs make a statement, including the brilliantly simple heart on one’s sleeve, and the undeniably morbid noose around one’s neck. In this case, a line drawing is worth a thousand words.

“Our overall theme is the elephant in the room,” says Gibbs, a quick-witted skateboarder from San Diego. “Everyone is unhappy with their jobs, families and surroundings at one time or another, so why not embrace your repressed cynical self?”

The Parvenu brand pays tribute to that pessimistic, emo voice inside all of us that can’t always be ignored. Though the shirts are intended to be worn by 20-somethings as dynamic as the artists that designed them, they still have a universal appeal.

Gibbs explains, “We are finding that the message is well liked across the board … It turns out not just young people hate everything.” Who knew?

Being socially conscious for the creators of this brand applies to both stylistic design choices, as well as production choices. Business ethics include sweatshop-free manufacturing and soluble inks for printing.

“Supporting this company says something about you as a consumer,” Gibbs pronounces. Marrying the mediums of consumer culture and fine art is difficult to do gracefully. “The benefit for us is that we come from the gallery and not the board room,” explains Gibbs.

Parvenu’s edge doesn’t come from the research and branding of corporate businessmen trying to keep their fingers on the pulse of contemporary alternative culture; They are the culture. They are the sarcastic and opinionated indie artists who enjoy some truth and wit in their fashion. They know their target market because they are their target market.

“We make decisions as if we are still crafting that one piece of art to be hung [on the wall],” says Gibbs, who is first and foremost an artist, and only secondarily a businessman. “We don’t want to water everything down just to sell more shirts.”

What he wants is the “personal connection” shared between an artist and the one lucky person who gets to take his work of art off of the gallery wall and into their home. This is the feeling he hopes to achieve with each Parvenu shirt.

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