Riding Through Paris with Perks and Mini

The Label’s Co-Founder Misha Hollenbach Leads a High-Speed Bike Tour Through the City and Explains Why Catching Feelings Is Vital to His Creative Process

Interview: Thomas Jeppe
Photography and Video: Lukas Gansterer

For 16 years, Perks and Mini has been characterized by an effortless flow that belies an astounding hyper-productivity. Co-founder Misha Hollenbach equates the process to yogic breathing, a cycle of inhaling vast stores of imagery and exhaling them back into the public. Fluid, unpredictable, and totally uncompromising, PAM is more an organism than a label, a pan-historical meditation that speaks to both living subcultures and the ancients. Formed in Australia by Hollenbach and Shauna Toohey, their headquarters have recently relocated to Paris, formalizing a deep connection that began with Colette, their first stockist in 2000.

While their clothing builds on a wealth of references to art, culture, and phenomenology, PAM are regularly collaborating with DJs and music producers for releases that accompany their collections, hosting deep club nights, making publications that range in scale from zine to hardcover tome, and running stores in Melbourne and Sydney with pop-ups in Tokyo and Los Angeles, as well as working with and exhibiting in galleries, museums, and institutions.

In the midst of this formidable engagement, there is always time. Photographer Lukas Gansterer documents a long bike ride—an established tradition—through Paris by night, featuring cameo appearances from Cali Thornhill Dewitt and Biscuit. In conversation with Thomas Jeppe, Hollenbach discusses attainable privilege, the slipping of time, and PAM as a contribution to the universal dialogue. 

Thomas Jeppe: Tell me about your job as a teenager at a tie dye factory.

Misha Hollenbach: Opening doors. The company was called Blue Meanies. They were selling tie dye t-shirts and acid.

Both on the books?

They didn’t really keep books. But they had a shop with a door that I painted with a sign. Like, a mandala.

Spray or by hand?

Brush, but in the style of graffiti. Like quasi-tripper graffiti.

How long did the job last?

Until it became a Psybaba foundation—which it did. It was an elevating time. Good to happen as a younger human.

Was this your first engagement with fashion?

No, because as a kid growing up I was really especially into how people looked. Like how Kiss were dressed, or Adam and the Ants were dressed, or how breakdancers were dressed. This was an early engagement with fashion, and not just the outfits, but the music they listened to or made. And what their record covers and videos looked like, what this world looked like. I guess it was fantasy-based. Growing up disconnected in a very remote place, I knew there were excellent things about it that I wanted to engage with. It was an attraction to the feelings that images brought me. The feelings that I got from seeing pictures of early New York graffiti. I wanted to somehow catch those feelings. 

This is the threshold where representation becomes experience. How was New York when you first visited?

Completely mind-blowing. I caught all the feelings. I caught early New York techno vibes, and tail-end 80s graffiti vibes, and Bronx vibes. But still—the thing is still there now, just maybe not in the same place. Ultimately humans are more or less the same over the ages. There were probably rad humans in the Middle Ages, and they were probably artists and upstarts. The same people existed in the 80s. It’s mostly free thinkers, or free ballers.

This was 90-something?

Time is weird. And quantifying it, it’s difficult.

Does this inform your own image production now? Where do your images come from?

They’re from being in the right place at the right time. With PAM, we don’t want to force anything. When it comes to making graphics, there’s no research, there’s no mood board, there’s no theme. It’s just what happens to be there at hand at the time, and just dealing with those parameters.

Although we are talking about the appropriated image, the image in transition, where there is a lineage of contexts that come before and after—which is to say, they’re loaded.

Firstly, we’re sponges. It doesn’t have to be image-based to become an image. It can come from music. It can come from food. And experience as well.  Probably the most important thing I’m trying to find is feelings. It’s easy to catch good feelings quickly from images. They do come rapidly and there are millions of them. And taking them doesn’t necessarily mean using them. It means it goes in. Sometimes it comes out again. I don’t look back at anything I’ve done. Because once it’s done, it’s done, and it gets relinquished. It gets sent off and has its own life. Things work and things don’t work. They’re relevant for a moment, or they’re relevant 20 years later, or they’re never relevant. Time keeps on slipping.

What do you think of the remix, in both a musical sense and an aesthetic sense?

It’s cool. It perpetuates. It perpetuates possibly a good thing, or it might make a shit thing good. There shouldn’t be ownership. And there isn’t really ownership over anything. We’re humans and we’re doing it all to communicate with each other. After it’s made and it’s shown, it becomes everyone’s. It’s public domain.

So vision is ownership.

Yeah. And it’s not to be exploited. But it is relinquished once it leaves a personal space, a private space. That’s its goal. Humans making things, their goal is to communicate, to share ideas.

This is an anti-precious approach.

Absolutely. It’s for the common good. Trying to make good things is for a common good. It’s not to make money. It’s not to make a name for yourself. It’s actually to add to the fabric of life—a good spot in the potentially bland world that we live in. 

So how important then is the origin—or the idea of the origin—for you?

Sometimes the origin is a very romantic notion, in the way that, if I find a cool record or a good book, especially if it comes from a strange person in a strange place, there's an excitement about the object but there's also an excitement to know that there is good human life in these little places all over the world. Each time you find an image or a sound or whatever it is, it's like that thing is a signifier that there's a good human out there. It's a celebration.

It's nice to go climbing in mountains and come across a village where there's an old woman who is doing something that is awesome. It's awesome to go to a brocante and find an object that obviously is made by human hands. It's the equal opposite to nature, where nature is so epic and wonderful. These little details are actually also awesome, and epic.

Living in Paris, you see everything that humans have made, and it feels like life is on heat here. Coming from Australia, we have nature and we have space, and we have a different feelings pool. It comes from nature and weather, and this epic, beyond human natural kingdom business. But here I'm in a big city and I'm surrounded by these attempts at beauty. And especially in Paris, there are so many attempts at beauty. From a door handle to a telephone to a grand building to whatever it is. And I think that pursuit of beauty is actually super positive. It seems like a hope for a wonderful place. By making your door handle excellent, it means that every time you touch that door handle, it's excellent. Or every time you glance at it. If you add up all these tiny excellent moments, you end up with an excellent day. And everyone can be privileged in that sense. You don't have to have money or a family legacy to be privileged. It’s up to the individual and how they live day by day. These are big steps to take, actually. 

“There were probably rad humans in the Middle Ages, and they were probably artists and upstarts.”

Has Paris changed the way you think about clothing and life?

I don’t really think about clothing. Paris is pretty cool, because it seems like there are a lot of people who are just doing their own thing.  It’s a very loose kind of… system. More so than Australia. People don’t really have jobs here, which is nice. Well, people I know don’t have jobs.

What do they have in its place?

They have time. They have time to have lunch or they have time to do a photoshoot, time to do everything. Time is our structure in a way. It’s limited, but it’s also infinite. I haven’t used a clock for so long. Or a calendar, or a date. Although we’ve been looking at dates more than ever. Just to make sure we’re at the right place at the right time. We have projects in places—I guess if we didn’t go there they wouldn’t happen. Got to keep a grip on that. Which involves somewhat looking at time. But also dates. It’s true. One thing I’ve realized lately is that chilling is really important.

Does politics affect your life?

Not at all. Not for a moment. I don’t have time to draw things out. And politics seems so epically drawn out. It’s like a chase for something… harmony?  No. I don’t know what politics is chasing. But it seems like a mad scramble for something. 

The general objective is that everybody has a chance of equality.

Sure, but we can have that if we use our own brains. And not rely on some cunt to take all your money, basically. Because that’s what it seems like they do. We can be happy with dirt roads or potholes or whatever it is, because you just ride around them.

Every human has a responsibility to themselves. Even before they have a responsibility to a community. If they can sort themselves out, they can be excellent for the community as well. And if everyone is excellent in the community, then you get an excellent community. It’s basic stuff. That’s what’s confusing as to what’s going on, in politics and fashion. What the fuck is a lot of this about? We don’t even know! But we get stuck in it, or dragged into it.

What is going on in fashion?

I’m not sure. So much fashion is just about money. So much content is just about selling some shit. And we understand the potential of commerce, but it’s not a driving force for us. Actually interesting additions to the fabric of life can happen with big companies. They have a responsibility to understand that as well, because they can change the way things work. 

I was thinking some time ago about community in regards to the fashion field, where things that happen at the street level, completely divorced from commerce, are completely entrenched in community. There is no money, but there is a visibility, and this feeds the community. Then as commerce enters the equation, there are brands, which I would see PAM as a part of, that have a community aspect that is very visible, and a feedback loop where it re-enters the label. Over many years, the people you make it for respond in a certain way, which you respond back to, and it evolves like that. But at the higher level, with luxury labels, we see a pattern where they are actively removing any visible sense of community from their brand. It has to exist, in the collective consciousness, as something bigger, better, more prestigious, than people on the street. This is an aspirational picture, and a deeply intentional one. So what is your idea of aspiration?

That's where the muse comes in. The muse becomes important because you need to speak to someone.  I don't want to stand on a pedestal and address people in monologue. I want to have a good conversation. The muse doesn't move around so much. The muse is—it's actually people like Biscuit. Biscuit's a pretty good feeling. Forest spirits. Humans that glow. And they glow humanity. But they also glow the universe. And they float. And they don't get stuck in issues and problems. And they move freely. They don't care, or they don't have cares. I'm not saying that Biscuit is all of these things, but he stands for a lot of these things, in my mind, as a visual cue. So then the visual cue becomes the muse. It comes down to a question of who you want to converse with, and where does the conversation lead. That's communication.

“Everyone is entitled to do whatever they want, and that is an attainable privilege.”

So in this case, for many years you've made concrete statements that go outwards, with the various ranges over the years, that are really tied to subculture, art history, and folk movements.

I want to perpetuate these things that are rad not because of the look, but because of the feelings and ideas that they evoke. We don't want to take things and make them ours. We don't want to exploit those things. We don't want to take from cultures or take from subcultures. We want to actually elevate and celebrate them. That seems like any goal for any musician, or anyone who's trying to evoke a feeling. It's not about a voice either. It's about putting energy into a human universe.

And PAM have a broad number of tools for doing this—publications, the label, zines, exhibitions, music, club nights, and so on—and on a more one-to-one level with discussion and riding. So if we consider this your side of the conversation, what do you feel that you get back?

We get back awesome people around us. We get back awesome feelings from cycling at night. And we don’t do anything to get back anything. It’s the opposite. When someone puts something out there, they give it out, and it keeps getting passed around. There are young kids coming up every day, and turning them on is such an awesome opportunity. Passing something on to someone who has never seen it before, they see it and it fucks their brain and enlightens them in the same way that you were enlightened when you first saw it.

I don’t want to look at some subculture and go, “Yep, we’ll take that. That’s cool. We’re going to sell a lot of it.” And next season, that’s not cool anymore. It’s this one. It’s this look that we want to do. I don’t want to go there. That’s another important thing. It doesn’t really matter what other people are doing.

In the fashion industry?

No. It doesn’t matter what other people think. Everyone is entitled to do whatever they want, and that is an attainable privilege. If you decide that you want to do something, it starts with you. If other people get behind it, great, and if it builds up to become a movement, that’s fantastic.

Do you see any sort of precursors to this model of thinking, historically?

I think most true artists do run like that. Actually, anyone that thinks. 

What is a true artist?

I don’t know. I’m confused about what an artist is. Well no, artists are cool always. Artists, as a subgroup of human, are cool because they use their brains in a different way to normal humans. But anyone who sees a joy in life and then catches it and radiates it is doing a pretty good job of living.

Do you think it’s restricting to follow a fashion production schedule?

No, because it’s good to have some deadlines. It gives us structure, as ours is pretty loose.

A couple of labels have appeared in the last decade that have broken from the two season cycle. 

We’re making stuff every day, so we’re making a lot of stuff in between. We need to think about feeding our kids, and the fashion season thing is a structure that allows that to happen. A lot of people like to do things at the same time as each other, and do the same things as each other… so it’s a good time to catch structure.

We’re about to launch a new website that this Italian company has made, graciously, for us. They work for really big clients normally. They’re excited by PAM. When the boss was explaining to his staff what PAM does, he said these guys are constantly vomiting. Every day they’re vomiting, vomiting, vomiting. And we need to bring them a bucket.

I know you share more or less everything with your partner Shauna, but can you say you both bring a different thing to the project?

Of course, because we’re different people. And I think PAM is that middle ground between us. We liken it to having a small takeaway shop, or milk bar, or something. Having kids heightens that idea. Then you have to relinquish yourself, and that’s a nice thing as well, in the quest for relinquishing all. It’s the same with finding another human. It becomes a more communal energy. I like communal energy. It’s maybe the top thing of being creative, enjoying the process with other people. And not relying on anyone as an audience for something. That’s why making a party is cool, because it’s about the communal energy. You bring whatever you can bring, and other people bring what they can bring. That’s why we feel like PAM is our contribution.

Is there something you want PAM to be that it hasn’t become yet?

It feels like it’s realizing its initial dream more and more. Which was to actually be able to bring something to the world—as in, the energy of the world. I love the idea that things that you love and respect also keep moving, and if you can do something to help them keep moving, that’s a form of respect for those things as well.

This is an anti-nostalgic position.

Yeah, it’s anti-nostalgic. It’s not enough to sit there and think, “Wow, that was great.” It’s about, “Wow, it is great.” So it’s still alive. And maybe fashion is a successful way of doing that. “Oh my god! Flares look so great! We’ve got to wear them now. Skinheads are cool. I’m going to dress like that now.”

So this immediacy—in terms of correspondence to an emotion—is its biggest success.

Yeah. But the flaw is that fashion seems to be quite fickle. It brings things up and as quickly as it brings them up, it drops them.

Perhaps this is actually something to do with honesty. Because it’s not fashion that’s doing it. It’s consumers of fashion.

To go with the immediacy of it is to go with the feeling as well. That feeling can be short-lived, then another feeling comes along. It seems to be in a state of permanent high. Which is attractive. If you look at youth as a mass, they seem so fashionable. But the same group a little older doesn’t seem as strong. It drops off. It’s youthful energy, but it dissipates. I love seeing funky old people, but they have become a minority. Maybe because the rest of their crew never committed to it. They just observed. They dabbled. I guess I’m more attracted to going deeper. It has to do with an honest excitement. Maybe that’s something that’s ingrained from being brought up in Australia—the geographical thing where you are so far away that the rest of the world seems so awesome and incredible. And I can’t just look at one slice of it, because it’s so broad. It’s so wonderful. It seems a shame to just go in one direction. But maybe that’s the key to going deeper, more advanced. That’s a realization I had early on, an attraction to subculture which had fashion and art and music and feelings. It seemed like a more holistic or much wider culture than the culture of fashion, for instance. A lot of fashion is the opposite of DIY culture. You can’t look at a Givenchy advertisement and say, “Yep, that is wonderful, I’m going to make that.” We should be free. Free to roam.

This is why commercial aspiration pivots on this sense of the unattainable.

It’s weird to talk about these things, because we do them so we don’t have to talk about them. You’re explaining them when they should just be talking. And I think some of the things we do actually do that. And I can’t think about them in any specific sense—that graphic or that season. Today a guy from a store on an island in Denmark came, he asked some questions, I was explaining some things, concepts, whatever, and this guy said, “I’ve seen your brand for 10 years, I felt all these things.” In that way, it’s successful in its voice. It’s spoken to someone.

There’s a physical and a mental, and a reward and a calmness that comes with it. The actual process of making PAM is not dissimilar to studying yoga. It’s circular breathing. Things are going in and things are coming out. It’s a real physical exchange and a mental one. It encourages thought, but it also releases thought. And that only comes from sticking with it. It feels like it’s progressed, or it feels like it’s reached a point. It feels like there’s good movement. It’s tantric. It can go for days.

Interview: Thomas Jeppe
Photography and Video: Lukas Gansterer
Appearances by Thibault Choay, Gabriele Cassacia, Cali Thornhill Dewitt, Yue Wu, Biscuit, and Misha Hollenbach