“Speaking in French, in French, it’s good ya!” A six foot something, hairy Frenchman yelled, as he leaned over a slightly sticky varnished pub table, into an iPhone. “I say it’s good, it’s good zee speaking! Yes?” The sun was setting the left of where he was sitting, his back to the window. Tom and I squinted, constantly shifting across the glossy wood pub bench to avoid the glare, following Guillaume’s figure as he moved like a restless child. “Yeah it’s good zee speaking, good.” He was a joker, we’d been introduced only a few hours before, as we grabbed a coffee and exchanged stories, but the ease of the situation suggested we’d been acquaintances for some time prior to this meeting. This ease set the tone of the interview; he was an excitable guy who loved the brand he had a hand in. His eyes frequently widened when he’d get excited, almost as frequently as his right arm raised his pint to his mouth.
I guess could you begin with what Sixpack is, where it originates, for those who don’t know too much about the brand.
Sixpack began as a shop in Avignon, it was a streetwear shop was mainly selling spray cans at the very beginning. We were all involved in graffiti, there was a real Avignon scene. Lionel opened this shop together with his girlfriend Fanny and a friend of his. Two years in, he had to find a way to communicate that his shop was unlike any shop in town. Instead of paying for adverts, they asked their strong artist network to send their artworks and they began printing these artworks, putting them on tee shirts, purely as giveaways for customers.
Six months past and it became the case that people were mainly coming to the store for these tee shirts. As they were not willing to remain behind a counter all their life, Lionel and Fanny suddenly stopped selling in the shop, closed up and started pushing Sixpack full time. At the time Lionel was a Fenchurch agent, so he could build up the brand super well in his sector and then things came really quickly when super popular [hip hop group] T.T.C got involved. Suddenly, Sixpack became a really nice tee shirt brand with legitimate people endorsing the product. For an entire year it was completely crazy, we even organized a party with the Daft Punk guys DJing, incredible.
You said it got pretty crazy, were orders mainly French at that point or had you got global recognition?
Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say there were many fans in Japan too. This was mainly down to Para One. He was touring a lot at the time and he was getting known well out in Japan so, there were these people too getting inv-
At this point a waiter arrived at our table, before he could finish his sentence he realized not only that we weren’t the table he intended, but he’d interrupted our interview too.
I’m missing a part of the history but I can’t remember, thank you, waiter! Oh no, I have it. In the meantime, Lionel was organizing exhibitions with a Parisian store. At a similar time Steve Harrington benefited of a whole tour in Europe organized by Lionel and this gave the brand some wider awareness and this is also how Lionel found and gathered his international partnerships, distributors and such.
So it’s ten years now?
The store opened in ’98, and then closed in ’03, to focus on Sixpack purely. Five years or so ago, was when it really became something. Prior to this point it really centred on logo and artist artwork tee shirts. It’s still the focus of the brand, it’s focusing art onto tee shirts but a few years ago we entered the world of cut and sew. We’ve had Australia, South Africa, and many countries we couldn’t reach before, touch the brand. We always try and stay independent, we get offered orders that we struggle to produce due to our size, which is sort of a nice situation to be in, it’s a compliment, but frustrating also. It’s the price of independence.
The graffiti art and graffiti culture that the brand originated from does that still remain predominant throughout?
No, we don’t work with so many graffiti artists anymore; it’s been three years since now that the direction was taken to focusing on working with artists and graphic designers. We were still talking about; Sex and drugs and death, but now we have a new way to communicate it. The brand has grown –
It seems to have levelled out –
Exactly. Lionel was thirty when he began with Sixpack, now he’s forty and the message remains the same in a sense but it’s more grown up. The thing I remember the most when we talk about this [the brand growing up] is the first time I met Lis [Sixpack UK sales], she was looking at the collection, she was saying it was really nice and Lionel was mentioned ‘Yeah we’re a bit more wise on tee Shirts’ to which she replied, ‘Yeah, you don’t need to scream’. Once people know what you’re doing, you discover there other ways to reach them.
So the AW13 collection, what can you tell us?
Well it was important to produce a nice jacket at an affordable price point, so your going to see very high quality jackets. We’ve used many patterns that are to be used in this and the next collection. This collection is inspired by the Works of ‘The Memphis design collective’ (I had no clue who they were before this season). They were doing useful things that looked pretty useless. The marble pattern, strong reds, yellows. These are the inspirations, some rococo colours. Besides, One of the tees designed by Struggle Inc. actually was asked to be in iron Man 3, but I haven’t seen it yet, so I’m unsure if it’s made the cut.
So we saw the ‘Drugs’ tees a few years ago at Seek, a red sweater with ‘Drugs’ plastered across the front. What is about the ‘Drugs’ thing?
Well the idea is from Struggle Inc. and it came with no explanation, but DRUGS as a word, is ambiguous. It referees to medicines as much as it referees to narcotics, there’s good and bad in this word.
So, where do you sit, as a brand? Your not fully streetwear, it seems more grounded, mature and slightly higher end. Who would you put yourself next too?
So Sixpack has always been quite skitzo’. It’s had this printed tee shirt part which is very youth inspired and hopefully youth inspiring, then on the other side Lionel wanted something that looked like him. By the time he could afford to develop the whole brand, he was 7 years older so he wanted to dress himself in Sixpack but Sixpack was something else already.
So you think you’ve got your feet in two camps sort of thing?
Yes. There’s something that somebody wrote, describing us a ‘post-youth’ brand. We love that description. You want a tee shirt to wear with your friends, or something smarter to go out in, you can provide yourself with clothing from the same brand for those occasions. It was never the intention to encapsulate all that in one brand but it just happened.
So your saying, we’ve done the youth bit, we’ve done this and lived this but sometimes you’ve got to go to a wedding or your first job interview, even if you don’t want to.
So, you showed us something really interesting earlier also in DeadHommes. What’s interesting is DeadHommes brings in Sixpack designs from a few years ago into its collection, are you sort of drawing in and reintroducing elements under this new DeadHommes label?
There are indeed elements that pre-existed this the current Dead Hommes project and will be used. The core of DeadHommes is a merger between Lionel and Cody.
Talking about drugs on a tee shirt for Sixpack was natural because it was a joke, it was eye catching, everything was gathered to produce a nice tee shirt. DeadHommes is showing a deeper more melancholic part of Lionel and Cody’s work, it’s still the same medium but the tone is changing.
With ten years, do you feel like a new chapter is underway around you?
It is definitely a new chapter. This is the proof that Sixpack has grown to its own identity, and so we can start a new challenge. To split into two separate brands means we’ve found what Sixpack in itself means. If you take out everybody from Sixpack now, Sixpack would still exist. Before, if you took out Lionel, there was nothing left. We have so many designs sleeping in drawers. Some will be used, some never, but the DNA has truly formed, it’s amazing.
The natural and somewhat slow growth that you’ve experienced also means that each step and stage have been justified too right?
That’s it. Everything has been zeitgeist, a sign of the times. There was sometimes no intention, just a feeling for each idea or project. That each idea becomes what it is. There are no sales driven products at Sixpack.
Sixpack hasn’t sold it’s soul it seems, that’s what is evident to us.
Yeah we feel that too. Heritage was the word for some seasons. Of course this heritage spirit can inspire you but that doesn’t mean you can’t infuse your own kind of identity within it. I like the way Lionel drives Sixpack through the trend. What is really interesting is that the brand is totally influenced by guest appearances. We’re producing the gift, but the artists are producing the fancy wrapping paper.
Tell us how the Grand Scheme collaboration came about then, on that note .
Fred who’s the head of Grand Scheme’s sales, he’s our distributor guy in Australia, he’s French, he’s really funny.
Is he funnier than you.
No, this is not possible. If you have to say useless shit like that then just shut up and let me talk!
That’s the fucking title, right there.
So, Fred and I were having meetings on Skype, talking about the market, brands la-la-la, it was lasting hours. I’d seldom talked like that with anybody and the guy was on the other side of the world. When Grand Scheme launched their caps, made in New Zealand, with super nice New Zealand leather patches, I immediately wanted a part of it. On our side there was a really nice liberty inspired print from Jonathan Zawada (he’s Australian) that was sleeping at the time. We wanted to do a really good summer capsule, board shorts and 5-panels aren’t something we’d previously thought about though so the Grand Scheme collaboration got us into that game.
It’s a brilliant collaborative effort.
Yeah it’s pure, and also now they take care of our sales in Australia, we take care of their sales in France and we develop product from time to time, it’s a very true collaboration.
So, just to finish up, you’ve mentioned projects that have been worked on but what’s your favourite piece or collection that you’ve worked with since your time with Sixpack?
I’d have to say Summer 13. We had a very small time and budget, to develop the collection. We had really strong artwork so it’s easy to sell, Grand Scheme was involved too so that’s super nice and although it was a small collection, it was really cohesive and that’s important. We had a fucking tough personal time the year before. Myself and a few other members of the team had some stuff going on in our lives so for one year we were pretty much out of sight. We had something else to do, it was compulsory. Things like that you can’t say you have a collection waiting in the office. For one year we ate black bread as we say in France, but then, Summer 13 hit. It was fresh and exciting, super nice. It was summer in Avignon, the Bank Holidays fell at the right time, it was amazing, a new start that I personally was thankful for.