Around ten years ago I shared a small clothing company and we did alright, even international presence in stores. One of those stores was Sixpack in France. This started my interaction with Lionel Vivier, owner and creative director of the then-store and label which was fledgling at the time. I’m happy to have been involved with the label too and Lionel and co are some of the busiest, creative folks out there so it’s cool they took a minute to talk. Lionel even included some imagery of inspirational items that have helped form and shape the label through the years.
Never resting, always on the go. They’ll sleep when they’re dead.
Read on.

TSG :: We’ve been in touch with one another for many, many years now ­– even as Sixpack, the label, was beginning if memory serves – and it just gets stronger and stronger. You must be pleased with how globally well received you guys are now?

Totally stoked. Sixpack started as a shop in 1998. It was graffiti time – bombing the trains and the streets. Our goal was to sell everything you could find in our teenage bedrooms: posters, streetwear, spraycans, records, books, fanzines, comics etc. . . We were involved a lot in the local and national graffiti scene and although I don’t have time to spray anymore I’m still very interested in graffiti – I still read graffiti mags. I’m a very big fan of Honet. He’s one of my French graffiti artist heroes, he’s the best.
When Sixpack started as a small shop in the ghetto area, it was fun to live daily with prostitutes and the ghetto mood. We opened the shop with a very small budget. We built ourselves up step by step. It was very fun and very complicated as well. At that time people like DJ Feadz and TTC were totally unknown and they would come into Sixpack a lot to buy t-shirts and records.
It was very cool to discuss pop music, techno and hip-hop with them.
TTC were visionaries. They were the first French hip-hop band to be convinced that Aphex Twin and Britney Spears were the same thing. . . hahaha. I love them and I totally share the same vision. Later we moved and we opened a bigger space, where we started selling more clothes such as Stüssy, Freshjive etc. We also began to print our first Sixpack t-shirts.

TSG :: When you had the store at first, was such a prolific clothing label always a plan or did it just develop that way?

To be honest with you, we didn’t have anything planned. The plan was just to find a way and a medium to make our vision and business live and spread it. It has been very complicated, because our goal was to defend alternative and sub-culture, although it takes time to find a real audience and enough clients who understand what you are doing. We had kind of feelings we were fighting against a wall, that’s why we stopped the shop. We didn’t find the balance between underground and business reality. I decided to take the Sixpack name further, doing a brand as a label business model. I always trusted it would work and never gave up defending our background and sub-culture.

TSG :: I have run into many people who’ve been involved with you or know you and it always surprises me how much you guys get done – and around – from what is essentially quite a tight knit operation. Have you actually managed to discover the eighth day in a week or what?

Hahaha, definitely yes. But now we have a real team who work at the office. Fanny, my wife is accountant, Benoit is the logistics guy, Sylvain is the executive graphic designer and Simon handles the international strategy. But I can still remember when we started – day and night were mixed into one.

TSG :: Were you involved heavily in art yourself pre-Sixpack?

Like I said, I was involved in the French graffiti scene, but I’m old and I’m more focused on my family and Sixpack right now, but I still draw letters. Always sketching. I must focus on my artistic director part. I’ve always been interested by art – music, photography, graphic design and movies. Before Sixpack I used to be the projectionist in a small independent cinema, it was very interesting. I fed off it. and built up a big part of my cultural knowledge. Movie poster design is a treasure. I’m a big fan of Hitchcock movie posters, with graphics done by Saul Bass.
At that time I used to chill at the record store looking at record art covers. Through New Order I discovered Peter Saville; through Sonic Youth, Raymond Pettibon; through Pixies, Vaughan Oliver; through 60s and 70s psychedelic pop records I discovered the bright work of designers such as Milton Glaser, Peter Max. . .
When we started the brand, the plan was simple: print art on tees. The t-shirt is the perfect medium to spread a message and my goal is to spread art. I don’t trust underground brands so much – I want to find the balance between my own personal pleasure, doing radical graphics and business reality. It doesn’t mean I want to spread Sixpack as a mass market brand, because I take a lot of care about our positioning. But if you choose to stay underground it means you don’t want to grow up. I want Sixpack to be very popular, but with a radical artistic direction.

TSG :: It seems some of your close friends in France are some incredibly talented and respected artists, that must have been a great help in the creation of the label.

Yes, we are very lucky because most of our friends became talented and respected. But we met them before they were well known. I met Tacteel (TTC producer from Institubes) when we started the shop. Tacteel was starting Institubes. I was already working with Akroe who became Institubes’ artistic director. It was natural to print the first Institubes t-shirt together.
Our relation started naturally – no marketing plans, the foundations were real friendship. Same with Fake, he used to come to the south to spray with us. After doing graffiti he went to a very famous graphic design art school, and naturally he designed some graphics for us. Same with the guys at Clark – I met Gyom when he started a zine named Matsa. It was before Clark. We naturally hooked up when Sixpack and Clark started. Same with Krsn, Bus etc.

TSG :: The work with Akroe has often been some of my favourite products. How is the new sub-line being welcomed? I’ve got the grey jersey, it’s amazing. The print is on some mathematical winter looking style.

Yes. ‘The Future’ line is very complicated, in a good way. I love the graphics you are talking about. We want to establish a sub-line designed in collaboration with Akroe, Rory (he’s a stylist) and me. Akroe designs, Rory does the style and my own part is to coordinate and unite the project. It’s a cross of ideas between three people. I love how Akroe designs. He’s a radical designer. I love how he’s building his style and career as a long term vision. In ten years his work will have a real importance. He’s very mathematical and I love his minimal design approach. Our goal with this sub-line is to do a mature premium line, with a real total look – jackets, shirts, knits, pants etc. Each piece is more detailed, using cut and sew techniques. It was a bit boring to print only t-shirts. Our desire to do a real collection came very fast.

I’m very inspired by European brands like Filipa K, Martin Margiela, Henrik Vibskov, Cacharel etc. I like minimal design garments with crazy prints and smart details. I’m not very inspired by streetwear brands. As a side project, Akroe designed us a special micro collection for a co-branding collab we will do with DC Shoes. We did a leather jacket, shoes and some very premium garments. Stay focus. [[watch this space?]]

TSG :: Aside from the clothing product, you’ve put on many shows with contributing artists which always seem to look amazing. Do you find it an extension of the clothing or a whole separate part of Sixpack?

I see Sixpack built as a ‘label’ business model more than just a brand. We will extend our activities to publishing. It’s very logical for us to start doing books. We edited the first with Steve Harrington, the new one should be with Swedish artist PMKFA.

TSG :: Do you source most of your contributors yourself? Or how do you select who you have to create work for the label?

I source all the artists by myself, sometimes I’ve been hooked up by artists themselves, Cody Hudson introduced me with Ryan Waller etc. I try simply to re-transcribe all my cultural heritage and background – music, movies, graphic design on our t-shirts and products, working with artists who defend the same aesthetic, values and who share nearly the same tastes. I could say I have at least one thing in common with each artist I’m working with, that’s why Cody Hudson designed us the Very Moderne Kunst line. It was an homage to American counter culture, the psychedelic era; a tribute to psych-pop bands like The Byrds or 13th Floor Elevators mixed with pre-UK rave references like 808 State, hahaha. It wasn’t a new rave collection as people thought it was. . . hahaha.

TSG :: There can’t be many continents Sixpack hasn’t had an input from, huh?

We are very, very focused on the international distribution, it’s very important for us to spread Sixpack over Europe. We are distributed in about 15 countries. It’s very good to see how the echoes and feedback are good between each country. I’m not very into the underground notion today – I don’t want Sixpack as a mass market brand at all, but I believe it’s important to talk to as many people as we can regarding positioning and Sixpack distribution. The plan is to extend our network.

TSG :: You’ve always seemed like someone who, if they like the idea, will go to any length to get your output right. I totally appreciate that. (Lionel once did an 8 [8 right?] colour print to get a gradient perfect on one of my contributions) but your printers must always be nervous when you arrive?

Oh my god, yes. They must be pretty on point. My printer hates me cause I used to stand behind him too much to keep my eyes on production. It was very stressful. I still do it with very complicated print development. I’m very lucky because I have a very good French talented screenprinter and my Portuguese printers are not so bad as well. I can’t fuck up the prints –that’s my mission – to respect the artwork. The artists put their heart into the artwork process, it’s my responsibility to make it turn out like it should be.

TSG :: Has there been any concepts you’ve wanted to do but have proved technically too much to create?

CMYK on black tees are a fucking real nightmare to print. But I’ve found a solution now.

TSG :: Were you stoked on the Art of Music show in LA recently? The line-up was great and the works looked amazing.

It was very logical to sponsor the show for a few reasons. Ill Studio are good friends, they did the layout for our next SS09 catlaogue, the artists exhibited have worked (past, present or future) for Sixpack, and the theme fitted with the Sixpack values.
As I said, I built my graphic design culture through music at the record store, with zines, movies and comics as well. Everything started with these four elements: music, movies, comics and graffiti. Do-it-yourself and American indie rock (Pavement, Daniel Johnston, Butthole Surfers etc.) inspired me a lot. It said everything could happen by yourself if you believe in it. I love comics and especially authors like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes and Frank Miller. I’ve been inspired a lot by American counter culture – William S Burroughs, Robert Crumb, Rick Griffin etc. Also 70s psych-pop rock and psych-funk (The Byrds, 13th Floor Elevators, Funkadelic etc.) and by the ‘New Hollywood’ movie revolution, with movies such as Easy Rider, Vanishing point, Zabriskie Point etc. Everything mixed with my own French cultural heritage – French pop culture, Serge Gainsbourg, Roland Topor, French cartoons such as Téléchat etc. I’m a very big fan of 60s pop music – The Kinks, The Free Design, The United States of America etc. In the mid 90s I moved to London and I was into electronic and techno music a lot, it was rave party time. Crazy. Primal Scream, Underworld, Happy Mondays etc. It changed my life. I killed rock and roll, hahaha.
I went back to France and hip-hop came to me – The Pharcyde, Company Flow, Digable Planets, Above The Law etc. In the late 90s Mo-Wax inspired me a lot. By 2000, it was time to mix everything into one – hip-hop, electro, rock, and pop music: to open a shop and to do a brand.
It’s impossible to separate Sixpack and music, that’s why we were part of The Art of Music art show. We recently printed a new t-shirt with Gaspirator, he’s half of the Parisian electro-rock duo Justice. He’s a smart designer, before doing music he was a graphic designer and he still is. His work is very bright, I don’t how and where he found time to design but we are very proud to have the opportunity to work with him, he’s very exclusive.

TSG :: There are many French companies in various fields who produce amazing output, it must be cool to have such prolific fellow countrymen and you guys do seem to get a lot of home support from them too?

Definitely, I say thanks to TTC, Tacteel, Orgasmic, Faker, Gyom at Clark, Romu at Lazy Dog and to all the artists. Thanks so much.

TSG :: If you didn’t have Sixpack, are there any other labels you’d have loved to have been involved with?

I would love to work with Charles Burns, Richard Prince and Christian Dior hahaha, but we already work with the best artists worldwide – Parra, Akroe, Cody Hudson, Erosie etc. Keep your eyes on the next line, we have new talents in the pipeline.

TSG :: Are there any special projects forthcoming you’d like to share?

We have our 2009 Spring/Summer collection coming around early February, it’s totally new, the line is very inspired by architecture, especially by the revolutionary UK architectural movement called ARCHIGRAM. It’s very ‘Utopia’ orientated, a bit experimental, a bit abstract but very pop. It includes a lot of nylon jackets and some small micro lines designed by Cody Hudson, Parra, Alex Trochut, Gasius, and Ill-Studio. We will have a new book 100% dedicated to the artist PMKFA , he’s a genius. We are working on an exhibition in Tokyo with him to promote the book.
He’s a Swedish artist who lives in Tokyo, he’s very smart and his work is awesome – abstract, colourful and very pop. It should be involved much more in Sixpack in the near future. We have a big collaboration with DC shoes, a whole micro collection designed by Akroe. Early December we will collaborate with Institubes and DJ Orgasmic on 12 inch. DJ Orgasmic produced an exclusive track for Sixpack to promote our collection, it’s totally new in marketing. The record should be available early December as a pack: t-shirt + record. The art cover was designed by Akroe.

To close, here is one of my end of the world playlists:

Primal Scream ‘Screamadelica’
Neil Young ‘Arc Weld’
The Kinks ‘Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)’
The Byrds – ‘Younger than Yesterday’
Sonic Youth – ‘Daydream Nation’
LFO – ‘Frequencies’
Dopplereffekt – ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’
Aphex Twin – ‘Windowlicker’
Underworld – ‘ Dubnobasswithmyheadman’
The United States of America – ‘The United States of America’
Serge Gainsbourg – ‘Love on the Beat’
Ween – ‘Chocolate and Cheese’
Outkast – ‘Speakerbox/Love Below’
TTC – ‘Batards Sensibles’
Stereolab – ‘Emperor Tomato Ketchup’
Marvin Gaye – ‘Let’s Get It On’
Yo La Tengo – ‘Discography’

TSG :: Thanks for the time Lionel.

You can see more of Sixpack here.