Each spring at Label Networks, we travel to Paris for several weeks to not only soak in the inspiration of this city, but also meet up with our European researchers and reporters and spend some time with our European clients and potential “story” subjects. In March of 2006, after seeing several “Mr. A’s” -a street art creation of a stick man wearing a Cheshire grin and winking with a top hat–in various discreet areas of the city and talking to friends about the street art and graffiti scene, it was clear that Andre was the man to talk to. Lucky for us, we were able to score an interview with Andre, where he took us far back into the museum of Palais du Tokyo where his studio was located. Huge paintings with his signature bright pink iconography surrounded the studio, high ladders, and spray paint cans scattered around the floor made the scene quite dramatic. But perhaps not as much as the artist himself who has a strong and somewhat somber demeanor as he told us his story.
Andre first came to the public’s attention from his “Mr. A’s” in the ’90’s. Years later, Andre opened a very cool concept store called Black Block located right in the middle of Palais du Tokyo museum in Paris, which is one of our favorite locations to hang-out and write. The irony is that Black Block, like his graffiti, represents a certain freedom, even though as Andre puts it, “France is not open and has very old thinking.”
However Andre has been very successful and become an icon in Paris, owning a club in Paris called Paris Paris, and other parts of the world. When it comes to Black Block, he explained, the concept of his store “was considered radically different at the time. Like my store, my graffiti in Paris was from a tough scene. Many of us, including myself, have been in jail for our street expressions.” But the store, which spun off of his artistic creations through a collaboration of efforts from friends and an eclectic mix of items ranging from apparel to urban vinyl dolls to music, was just the type of street expression that shoppers wanting inspiration from international subcultures were looking for.
Andre clearly struggles with many aspects of his home city and admits that he has found inspiration from his frequent travels to Tokyo and New York (where he just opened another club called Beatrice Inn), which can be seen in the features of Black Block: Lined rows of “7-11” refrigerators displaying the latest from various graffiti artists; sneaker collections including patent-leather A Bathing Ape, graphic T’s from Mada and prep-punk sweaters from DC, fitted black sports coats in utilitarian material from Moritz Rogosby, white dress “pirate” shirts by Virginia Carpenter, Robot-graphics from Henrik Vibskov, and Japanese-inspired denim and tops from Eley Kishimoto.
So last week when we heard from his people that he was launching his own designer collection, we were not all that surprised. It seemed inevitable that this street artist-turned-entrepreneur would have his own clothing line at some point. Pieces include slim-cut denim, cotton button-down shirts, leather jackets, and other pieces. “They are classics you can come back to,” he said.
Called Black Block, Andre’s apparel will be available at the end of this month at Black Block in Palais du Tokyo and colette in Paris, and soon at Opening Ceremony in New York City.