In the intro of the 11th edition of his brain child, the coveted "All Gone - The Finest Of Street Culture 2016"-book, Paris native Michael Dupouy, starts out by stating: "Growth and progress are never without risk."
He goes on to explain beautifully how a once niche movement has evolved into what some think to be a mindless monster while others perceive what is happening to be a very important levelling up of a culture. Michael finishes musing: "The best is yet to come."
Michael Dupouy is co-founder of independent communication agency La MJC, one of the first agencies in Europe to work closely on major campaigns with the world’s biggest brands and inserting these streets’ much sought after flavour into their goods, while also designing special products with them -literally- carrying the La MJC-stamp. It is hard to find someone better suited to make bold statements about the state of today’s "saturated market". It is incredibly refreshing talking to someone with such a deep knowledge of and love for the culture, who is at the same time very versed in not letting 'precious' feelings cloud his judgement. After our conversation, the message that stood out the most was: "Streetwear and Street Culture have become a billion dollar business and you should be careful of what you are protecting. Are you protecting quality? Good. Are you scared of evolution? Cool, but get out the way."
With the Supreme x Louis Vuitton AW2017-18 collection, arguably the biggest and most high profile collaboration to date, walking at Paris Fashion Week a mere couple of days before I sit down with Michael after the signing of his book at Avenue Antwerp, there is no opinion I am looking forward to gauging more than his. Even if it means getting yelled at a bit.
KNOTORYUS: We need to talk about the Supreme x Louis Vuitton collaboration.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: All the kids at the signing were asking me about that tonight, it's crazy! Alright, what do you want to know?
KNOTORYUS: Multiple things. Do you like it, do you think it’s good for either of the brands?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Okay, I’ll give you a few opinions. You know the story, what happened years ago?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Years ago, our culture was a niche culture. And the people from the luxury fashion world…
KNOTORYUS: Hated us.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: (Emphasises) Hated. Us. Absolutely didn’t give a shit about us. Frontrow of a Louis Vuitton show? No rappers, no representatives of street culture, nothing. Meanwhile, we were looking at these houses like: they are the ‘maison’, the fashion leaders… But instead of even considering a collaboration, we took everything that symbolised capitalism, luxury, all the things the streets couldn't touch in terms of money, and we turned it into something cool. Taking logo types, from Hermès to Vuitton monograms. I'm saying "we", but you know I don't mean that I literally was involved, because I wasn't. But Stüssy did it, Supreme did it, Married To The MOB did it. It was a trend to rework high fashion logos. And at that time, the only reaction the high fashion houses had was…
KNOTORYUS: Sending out 'cease and desist'-s and suing. Of course there was Supreme and LVMH, I also remember Leah McSweeney from MTTM posting letters from Chanel's law firm.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Exactly, instead of being happy, these houses sued and sued and then sued some more. So, can you imagine being sued by such a huge player, more than a decade ago, the way Supreme was by Louis Vuitton, and then one day receiving an e-mail or a phone call and that same brand that sued you going: “Hey, this time I don't want to take your money by suing you, this time I want to give you a big fat check and the possibility to collaborate with us. Are you down?" You have two ways to react. Either you say: “Fuck you, I remember the past” or you go: “Yes, victory! Because you know what? In fifteen years, my brand changed completely, it became more mature and so cool that the guys I used to look up to but who sued me, now want to collaborate. So I'm going to say yes. I'll get that check and I'll get my brand before the eyes of people that would’ve never known or didn't respect my brand before”. So that’s looking at it from Supreme's James Jebbia's position. Most of the public's opinion however, just pertains to the product. My opinion is regarding the history. If I were James Jebbia, I would do exactly the same. I would collaborate. Question to you: do you like the products? Would you get them?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Well, the product is not made for you.
KNOTORYUS: (feels a slight nostril-flare starting up)
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Hold on. The Supreme x Louis Vuitton collection is not made for me either and it is not made for the youth that was just downstairs getting their copies of my book signed! This collection is made for Louis Vuitton customers. Which means it will be sold at Louis Vuitton prices, through Louis Vuitton distribution. The line was shown at Paris Fashion Week at the Louis Vuitton show. Supreme posted three Instagram images, said: “Go to louisvuitton.com for more information.” and now they are done with it. Why? Because they know their audience can’t afford it and for them, well, in French you say: “A qui profite le crime?" or "Who will benefit from the crime?" Well!?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: 100%. With all due respect, but Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones and the LV-men’s line always had a problem in terms of image. So they tried multiple avenues to be as cool as the Women's collections and be as profitable, but it's tough. The second problem is that they design clothes that are not bought and worn by the people they would be happy to have. So Kim Jones tried to do something cool enough that people that look like him can finally wear. I’m not a designer, but I guess he got frustrated making good clothes, but his peers not really caring. So he did the collaboration with fragment design first and with Supreme now and probably with another name next season, to make people like you go to a Louis Vuitton pop-up store and buy it, even if it’s expensive. He wants us to at least look at something they do and you doing it -because you’re asking me the question- is a victory for them. It’s a victory for Supreme regarding their history and it’s a victory for Louis Vuitton Men's in the sense that you are looking at them and before you were not. Then if you want to talk only about the market and product, I’m sure we can both afford a bandana.
KNOTORYUS: (laughs) I work hard, I pay my employees, maybe we can afford a little bit more.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: I’m not sure if you really know about the prices, Dominique, but they are insane.
KNOTORYUS: Even higher than normal Louis Vuitton?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Just the case for your iPhone 7 is more expensive than your phone itself! Not sure if you can afford that or even want to, but I don’t.
KNOTORYUS: Can afford, won't pay.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: So ok, there’s a limit to what we can afford and a limit of: even if I can afford it, I don’t want to. But, like I said: me, I’m cool with the bandana. When I saw the collection, I went: “Let’s try to get the deck”, but then I heard the deck comes with one of the trunks, and the trunk costs what a lot of people make in a year. (after our conversation and my promise to Michael that I won't disclose the amount, it is published that the trunk will retail for more than $54.000 USD, ed. note)
KNOTORYUS: But do you think it’s going to affect the relevance of Supreme? Moreover, is credibility even still relevant to you?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: I feel like the credibility of Supreme won’t be affected because in the time between the show and the actual drop of this collaboration, they are going to release so much good stuff…
KNOTORYUS: Different collaborations next to their normal drops.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: And it will include stuff that speaks to you. From 1994, when they created the brand, to 2017, Supreme became the biggest name in the industry. So powerful and so big that even Louis Vuitton couldn't get around them. But at the same time, they were still doing Capone-N-Noreaga, Slick Rick and Three Six Mafia T-shirts, at the same time they were doing Anti-Hero, UNDERCOVER collaborations. Their audience is so large, they make stuff for the kid from New York, the skater from Paris, and now also for rich people all over the world who want to buy Louis Vuitton. Mind you, they are probably the only one who can do this without killing their authenticity. Supreme have now kicked in all doors and destroyed all barriers in front of them. So for me, it makes complete sense. It’s probably not for you and I, moneywise, but unlike you apparently, if they send me the jacket, I will wear the jacket.
(image via Supreme)
KNOTORYUS: Understood. Prior to this interview, I was thinking a lot about how I collaborate myself. Working with other people, doing that whole "one + one equals -at least- three" thing. How difficult it is, but also how gratifying when it works. There's really nothing better. I know that a lot of people who love streetwear dream about getting their own collaboration, their own shoe. But it's not easy. When I interviewed Parra we were talking about his 'Nike Air Max 1 x Patta x Parra ‘Cherrywoods’' pack being valued at almost 2.500 euro and would he ever do it again. He said he doesn't see himself doing a collaboration like that anymore (although he emphasised being open to others), since it was about clicking a colour on a computerscreen or filling in the gaps of an already set and designed sneaker as was the case at Nike. I thought that was striking. There are tons of collaborations inside the pages of the "All Gone"-editions, you yourself collaborate on different La MJC sneakers and other things like cars, the 2016-cover of "All Gone" is a collaboration between you and the artist Neil Raitt. How do you approach these and do you ever get tired of working with other people?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: The public, and especially the youth, sometimes are lead to believe that a collaboration is the key to a good product while forgetting that in-line or 'normal' releases can be excellent. So in the "All Gone" selection, I try to have a balance between what I consider to be good that’s in-line and of course all of the collabs I’m supposed to put in the book. We were just talking about Nike, well, the 'Zoom Spiridon' made a huge comeback, so it needs to be in the book. And not only with a collab, but first and foremost the in-line. There are many more examples. Regarding what Parra said, well, the main point is that he is an artist and I'm not. He is a painter and a sculptor, so of course he has a different approach. I can’t say it’s easy because honestly, if I give you this (grabs a bottle of Arizona Ice Tea from the the table) and say: “Make a collab with this”. Or if I bring you a sneaker, and say the same thing. Well, let me tell you, it’s a fucking complicated job. For people who don't have the creative process of an artist, if you are in front of your computer with a blank page and I give you any new product, especially one that has been done millions of times, it’s really hard to have a good story to tell and it’s really hard to do something that people will remember and that they’re going to buy. Especially now, when there are twenty-five or thirty sneakers dropping every weekend. So, I think it’s super complicated -if you’re not a celebrity of course- to place a product in this saturated market and be all: "Coucou, I’m here!" I understand what he’s saying, but it doesn't apply to me.
KNOTORYUS: How do you approach your own collaborations? For instance for the two covers of this edition of "All Gone".
MICHAEL DUPOUY: As you said, these two book covers were made by Neil Raitt, a very young artist I met two years ago. As you may know, I am an art collector, I started in 1999. The more I grew up, my eye changed regarding what I love and regarding what I don’t love. Neil can’t be considered as a street or urban artist at all. He’s a true painter. He has nothing to do with graffiti or anything that happens on the streets. When people bought the book, say ten years ago, they were only thinking about the same names. The people that surrounded our culture. Growing up, travelling, opening my mind: I changed. That doesn't mean that I consider what I liked before to be bad, it’s just that ten or more years later, there are no more boundaries between what’s street and what’s chic. What’s cool or fashion. Even that name, ‘street culture’… It’s still in the title of my book, I won’t change it, but I refer to the culture as pop. Even underground is a word that I don’t use that much anymore. But to get back to your question, when I used to do collabs before, I would go: “Oh please Todd James, do a collab with me”. Or “Neck Face, do a collab with me. Hey, Phil Frost, Steve Powers, KAWS…” I would approach all those people I admired when I was young, all of these people I met travelling all over the world. All of the people I became friends with. I am sure it would’ve been possible to collab with these artists before for the book as well, but I didn’t because at that time of my life, I didn’t think the "All Gone" cover needed to be a collab. Just changing the colour ways was enough. But I also notice that the more this world is in crisis, the more what we call street culture will counter act and demand more patterns, colours…
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Maybe that's why for the five first years I only used solid colours. At some point I said, I would love to change. First, we designed a pattern ourselves. Then I changed the lay-out in 2012.Then I worked with Ill-Studio from Paris who to me are still the best design studio in town. They also did the Pigalle logo and remember that basketball court they did for Pigalle? They are huge and super talented. They did two covers.
(above images: The Ill-Studio x Supreme shirt and me wearing it because it is one of my favourite t-shirts ever.)
MICHAEL DUPOUY: And then I started asking artists whose work I collect but that fall in the contemporary category instead of being regarded as "street artists". So my approach, to answer your question, is really organic. Usually the people I collaborate with are friends first. And then we try to transform the friendship and the fact that we are on the same page into something physical and something we can show to an audience. I don’t own the Neil Raitt paintings that we used for the "All Gone 2016" covers personally, I own others. My relationship with Neil and his agent changed completely because when Neil came to my house to install the paintings I bought, I took him out to different places and one day I just asked: “Would you like to collaborate on my book?" It is a tricky situation, because sometimes the art market does not react well when you get involved in what is considered "street". But Neil said: “I've got no problem with it, I love you and you have been supporting my art, so now I want to support your work”. But there was something else I was a bit worried about. How my audience was going to receive it. People at the signing here tonight felt like they were really into it, but I’m not sure if that cover happened five or ten years go they wouldn’t have gone “What the fuck is this, Michael?” Luckily, I feel like people are way more open-minded but it also forces me to make a more surprising cover every year.
KNOTORYUS: Did you inherit your love for art from your parents?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: Not at all. My mom was never into art. I did not grow up with my dad, I only got to know him when I was in my late teens. But my parents were not into culture with a big –c at all.
It’s a good question. I think I didn't have the skills to create art myself, except for the graffiti I did when I was a kid. I really looked up to the older generation from the graffiti scene that were invading the gallery world. And at first, art was only that for me. So when I started buying, it was from these type of artists: Futura, KAWS, Steve 'Espo' Powers, Barry McGee,... After that, through travelling the world, I met people who were working in the actual scene and my eyes and taste changed completely. I won’t say that I'm really picky or that I have a good eye, but the more I get involved in that world, the more galleries invite me to fairs, shows and dinners and the more I interact with artists, the more I feel like I might be in a good place to evolve to the next step, which is curating shows with them. I curated two shows last year and it’s something I really like. I am not going to open a gallery, like people are always telling me, but curating shows, I love. You create a dialogue with different people who most of the time don’t know each other and in the end, the result is supposed to please.
KNOTORYUS: I am still in my first years of collecting art and photography, I also just bought a place in Brussels and one of the works I've been dreaming of getting in there is a huge Futura painting.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: I have a Futura, a small one. A very small one, it’s a square. It’s not at my home, it’s in my office. Because my home got as saturated as my office, I made some changes and this one is in my office. It’s not a gigantic Futura from the 90s, I would love to have one of those. You know what? The problem is just a matter of money. I’m sure if you could, you’d love to have a Picasso at home. I know very rich people, who have very bad taste and they buy really wrong stuff because for them because they think it's cool and they don't have to think about the funds. So I’m not going to surprise you, but I would love to live with a George Condo at home.
KNOTORYUS: Sure. Me too.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: It’s not the most expensive but unfortunately I can’t afford it. I would love to have a Baldessari, I would love to have a Christopher Wool. I could list maybe twenty more names, but I collect what I can afford and maybe eventually... I own a small George Condo by the way, but it’s a drawing and I would love a canvas. You know what? I don’t wear expensive watches, I don’t have a car, the only money I spend is on travel, food and art.
KNOTORYUS: Excellent vices.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: I agree. But thank you.
KNOTORYUS: Okay, our time is almost up, so last question: How do you want the 'All Gone' brand to evolve, where do you see it going?
MICHAEL DUPOUY: I don’t know. It’s a tough question. People were asking me last year when we celebrated the first decade, if I was going to stop. And I answered: “I don’t know yet. If this stuff still excites me when I’m doing it, I won’t stop.” 2016 was a good year. Maybe a bit too saturated with releases, but still enough to make me smile when I was scrolling on my phone. As long as I go: “Wow, this is dope. I want it.” I will continue making the book. But when brands and artists start doing release after release that are too commercial or not exciting enough, that's when I'll go: “There's not going to be a book, because the people don't need to remember what went down this year.”
MICHAEL DUPOUY: That's the reason I make "All Gone", for people to remember. Because it's hard to remember the past. Also, everyone thinks it gets easier every year, but it’s the opposite. I feel like it’s even more complicated because there are too many things. I’ll just give you an example: I’ll be on the road the next six days, so just being on my phone it’ll be hard to check everything. Monday, back to the office, how many releases? Announced and actual physical releases. Maybe thirty, forty, fifty? So just to go back and list what I really want and really need for the book is just mad complicated, compared to how it used to be. And let me tell you, 2017 releases have been crazy so far!
KNOTORYUS: Well, I sincerely hope to visit one of the shows you will curate soon, and I also hope you can get your hands on that Supreme x Louis Vuitton trunk and deck. But thank you, Michael, this was a good talk.
MICHAEL DUPOUY: You’re so welcome. Thank you for having me.