With an upcoming show at 1:AM Headquarters in San Francisco, we managed to catch up with the 123Klan at their studio. After an email interview last year, we squeezed into a continually busy schedule which included a trip down under to Sydney, Australia for the ‘Streets Ahead’ event and more recently to Guadalajara in Mexico for the Rodearte Festival.
We’ve are incredibly lucky to be working with such amazing artists throughout this project, people who’s skill and technique we admire and who’s art we have fallen in love with over the years. Every single day we are exposed to art and design through advertising or through branding or a logo on our favourite clothing brands latest collection. Often brands don’t always give recognition to the artist or designer behind the creation, this faceless artwork blending into obscurity. Unless you loyally follow someone’s work closely you could be unaware of the person and work that is behind that logo or graphic. These talents are becoming more active as companies latch onto an ever-growing art movement, with more and more artists branching out into their own brands and getting the credit they truly deserve.
So without further ado, it gives us great pleasure to introduce to you the design collective the 123Klan.
Hey guys, for those who have been sleeping at the back or are just unfamiliar with your work please introduce yourselves?
We are the founders of 123KLAN, SCIEN & KLOR we are husband and wife. As a couple we have been working in the streetwear and sportswear industry for almost two decades, designing bold and original designs for the best brands in the world (Adidas, Nike, Stüssy and more) Today we are mainly focused on our in house street wear brand BANDIT-1$M, this reflects our strong and original graphic design style, but also our state of mind to its purest form. We still collaborate and sign collections for brands, like when we tour the world to paint big murals or to give lectures to share our skills around the globe.
We want this project to be a global campaign, so with you guys representing and being based in Montreal - do we call you French or Canadian? Give us a little background history on how your design journeys started and how your paths collided?
We are French, but we live in Montreal. We are Sons of France; France is the place where in which we grew up as the family (The family in maternal sense). Canada is the family that we have built, we fell in love with Canada, and we built a new family. (It is our family marital sense.)
So you’ve been in and around the graffiti scene since the late eighties. In the nineties you began to build the 123Klan collective, please can you explain how it started and who the key members of the Klan are? How this crew has developed over the years?
Yes, for sure we founded the123KLAN in 1992 in France. Some people think the Klan is just the two of us, but there are other members in the shape of Dean, Sper, Skam, Reso (Germany). In the beginning it was a joke between the two of us. The Graffiti scene was not as big as it is today; we were the only writers of our little city in France. The city has the zip code is 123. For a joke we used to call ourselves Kings of the city, so initially we started the name 123Kings. We decided shortly after that point in time to just keep the 123K and played with stupid possibilities on walls, such as 123Kowboys, 123Kactus etc. One day we stopped at 123KLAN, because the Klan represented what we were, a family. This name united the other crew members as our family.
Many artists have a story behind their alter ego or name, how did you come to give yourselves the respective names and how did your crews name grow to be one recognized across the world?
Back in day, the game was to find a pseudo, for legal reason first. You had to take one that nobody was using already as well as choosing a name that you could easily manipulate letters that you chose, because you would have to work on this letters for long time, which for us is 23 years now. So for me Klor is coming from my first name, Karol. I used four of the letters to write K-Rol and then switched the letters around for it to become Klor. It was quite easy to love this letter formation because the letter K is one of my favorites. The K and the R at the end works really well also.
For Scien his name was born in his schooldays. He would have to write the Science title on his school Book. There was not enough room for him to complete the word, so he abbreviated it to Scien. This worked decided this name so weird that nobody would take it. He would sit in class and write the tag and practice the name Scien in his schoolbook.
With the growth of social media, it is quite easy for art fans and followers to build up an idea of an artist’s personality, but this may not be a true representation of the person behind the art. Are your personalities reflected in your art?
No, not in our case, we really think that our style is more than our “Art” And that our styles represents our personality, sharp, colourful, clean and sarcastic.
As you’ve mentioned at the start the 123Klan have been working in the streetwear and sportswear industry for many years and is responsible for so many amazing designs, characters, and logos. One way or another we’ve been exposed to your graphic design work (maybe without even knowing it!) either through Streetwear, Sneakers, Skate decks, Vinyl Toys through associated brands like Carhartt and Stüssy to name two. How did the transition from Graffiti to graphic design take place? Do they go hand in hand?
Graffiti is just about developing your own style, to be original. We just transposed our style with different tools such as vector for example. But all of the different tools just help to make all the aspects of our creation evolve.
Also back in day, there was no streetwear! We used to customize our own outfits mixing army supplies and sportswear, so for us it was natural to get to where we are now.
Some readers maybe unaware that you have your own Street Wear label Bandit1sm. After working with such amazing brands and companies was it a natural direction to take? How did that come about?
It’s all about being selfish! We’re not kidding. We made them because we want to wear it ourselves. That is also the best thing to provide to our clients, the best quality; they are treated, as we would like to be treated as a customer.
We love streetwear and working for brands, but we were frustrated for having to wait 1 or 2 years to be able to wear what we created due to the sales, marketing and distribution process. All collections for a brand are designed 1 year before at least. So with that in mind we decided to make one t-shirt for ourselves, printing it in Montreal and having the ability to have our hands on it in 2 weeks and be able to wear it. We decided to go with silkscreen, but you needed to print 100 pieces. So with that we opened a Big Cartel, kept 10 shirts and sold the other 90. With the profit we printed 2 more tees, with those profits, we printed 4 tees, and so and so… We still in the same state of mind and use that process, we keep the profit to produce more pieces, always focus on the quality, because we wear it too! This has gotten us to where we are now, with the ability to produce crew neck, for next winter a varsity jacket and some new pieces will arrive next Spring if everything goes well.
You have such an amazing design portfolio and are constantly on the go; do your days have 48 hours? How do you manage to fit so much in? What’s the secret to such amazing time management? Is the Montreal winter the time to get lots done?
There are two of us! It makes things easier throughout the process. It is also our passion, it is no secret we working fucking hard on each detail. The winter is the only time we do canvas work, we have no choice, as it is too cold to paint a wall in winter, except when we travel to somewhere nice and warm like Hawaii. Before living here in Montreal we never painted canvas; so we now always transform all handicaps like the bad weather in winter to something creative.
"Art can be just one voice, but we need lots of different voices, because it seems that all ears are different"
Some artists choose letterforms or characters as their chosen medium. Your style is so strong and bold, amazing line work, lettering and characters that are easily recognizable. How did you choose this direction in your work?
It came from our graffiti writing, from the beginning we used to paint letters, and in between our two graffiti letter pieces, we add a character, a BBOY.
As a husband and wife team, how do you decide who does what in the process and how do you maintain such a well-oiled machine of design goodness?
With a gun! (Hahaha!)
Did you always believe the Graffiti path would lead you to where you are now as graphic designers, how do you divide the time of between the two and does one influence the other?
Graffiti writing is our life path; it is present in our graphic design and encompasses our work, we also keep it as a hobby. We paint a wall during our break and 90% of our walls are not commissioned. In the summer time, we do not paint canvas for example and prefer to spend our day on a wall. Graffiti writing is our inspiration for all our work and has influenced us greatly.
We are looking at getting our message up in as many cities as possible through our projects GCASFM Global Walls campaign. You guys have travelled the world and painted in so many great places - where would you say your favourite place would be? Were would you like to visit and drop some 123Klan style?
We’ve travelled all over the world that is true, but it’s not about the place, but about the people you meet.
You’ve worked with some amazing artistic talent, including another GCASFM Artist Flying Förtress and loads of our favourite artists including Nychos, RimeMSK and another incredible design couple Dabs Myla. What has been your favourite collaboration and which other artists would you like to work with in the future?
Flying Fortress is our bro! All of them are our favourites for many reasons; we could give you 2 pages of names. For the future, we have never done a wall with a friend of ours for 2 decades, Tristan Eaton, so we would say him.
Our project is using art to promote the awareness of Crohn’s Disease. Before we contacted you had you heard of the illness and what made you choose to help us?
Before sending our submission we didn’t know about Crohn’s, we are not sure why? We felt we had to get involved and are happy to just make it happen, followed our feelings to help the cause. We learnt after we sent our submission that our good buddy Mike over at Burlesque Design was a fellow sufferer, you should get in touch with this super talented guy.
Crohn’s Disease affects so many young people worldwide and we think that a lot more could be done to raise awareness. Do you think it’s important to educate young people on topics like ours? Should art be a voice to help people become aware of sensitive subject matter?
Sure, it’s important to make people aware. Art can be just one voice, but we need lots of different voices, because it seems that all ears are different.
Thanks so much for talking to us guys, what can we expect to see coming out of your studios in the near future?
We are working on a new project, which will be released in September. This project represents a lot for us, we shall speak more about it soon. Keep in touch.
Words: Matt Strutt
Images: 123 Klan & Laurent Cassis
Contributors: Aaron Darveniza