It’s not very often that you get to put the words ‘graffiti artist’ and ‘revered luxury house’ in the same sentence, but in this case, it’s more than plausible. In fact, it’s a match made in designer heaven. If you’ve been out and about in town lately, you would have seen the huge graffiti covered hoarding over at Hermès Scotts Square. Created by celebrated French graffiti artist Kongo, he is also the man behind the Graff Hermès collection of silk twill scarves.
What’s more intriguing is perhaps the fact that Kongo was a Vietnamese refugee who must have have faced adversity growing up. Having had the chance to ask him a few questions, I did just that, and then some.
Bagaholicboy: From Vietnamese refugee to celebrated graffiti artist living and working in France. How did that happen?
Kongo: I painted and drew but when I arrived in France to live with my grandparents, it was clandestine. I was a refugee from the Vietnam war and had no papers. Being really shy, I used painting to express myself. I needed to dream and live my imagination. Graffiti was perfect for me.
Your real name is Cyril Phan. Why did you take on the moniker ‘Kongo’?
K: People who didn’t know me used to judge my tag and think that Kongo would be a big, black man. They didn’t know it would be a skinny Vietnamese kid. I used Kongo after living in Africa from the age of 13 to 18. It was a tribute to the most cherished parts of my childhood.
Working with Hermes has got to be a huge honour, for any artist. How did that come about?
K: The first time I met with the team, I was told, ‘We like your work, but we don’t know what we can do with it. Show us what you’re doing, bring us your style and the door will stay open.’
From a distance, the impression may be that Hermès is only for the rich but that’s not true. Its philosophy is very human. Hermès is like the graffiti community in some ways; it’s not just about the form, how things look, but the heart, what’s within.
Your first collaboration with Hermès resulted in the Graff Hermès scarves. What was the inspiration behind it?
K: The Graff Hermès scarf took two years to design. I take my time and Hermès takes their time. I took my letters which I’ve used in the streets and made them chic. I wanted to express energy, the energy of the street, of my travels. So I created an explosion of Hermès letters exploding to every side with splashes of paint.
Usually, in classic Hermès carrés, there are four borders. Here are only two so it’s open. It isn’t hemmed in. You can’t hem graffiti in. It’s a blast of freedom.
Kongo will be in attendance during the opening of the Hermès Scotts Square store this Friday (9 December 2011), where he will be unveiling more artwork and creating custom graffiti name tags. And if you’re keen on getting yourself a Graff Hermès, they will be available for sale at SGD620 a pop.