Words Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography Nefertiti Hernandez and Kahlil Hernandez
Our subway ride to Etienne Marcel from Opera is short. It’s almost 5 p.m. There’s a sea of people travelling on the train. We’re due to meet with Moriba, Shyne and Martin, a group of guys that form the creative collective named Montaigne Street.
Etienne Marcel is quiet and serene. You can almost hear the conversations of the people at the café across the street from us. It’s a healthy break from central Paris where tourists cloud views of the Eiffel Tower while street hawkers circle around them attempting to sell everything from souvenir key chains to selfie sticks.
In a city where classicism and elitism is rampant, Montaigne Street has managed to defy the odds. Their ability to merge fashion, music and youthful energy has scored them the ability to throw parties with Virgil Abloh, Asap Rocky and Kanye West. And when fashion week is out of session, they focus on both solo and group projects. Shyne has his own brand, Premier Amour stocked at cult store Colette, while Moriba and his friend, Steven Alexis recently launched a streetwear brand called Apple core. After our conversation, I realize what Montaigne Street represents-they are a figure of hope for the young creative kid who wants to break into the rigid structure of Paris.
Why the name Montaigne Street?
Martin: We chose our name because we wanted to merge the two worlds of fashion and the streets together. In Paris, a fashion person is called Montaigne.
That’s a street in Paris right?
Martin: Yeah, it’s where you’ll find all the big fashion stores and stuff.
How did you guys meet?
Shyne: I met Maurice two years ago at basketball.
Moriba: I met Martin at school. We found that we loved the same things-music and fashion.
When did guys really start to get serious about doing something as a collective?
Martin: We never planned to be a collective. We were just three guys who liked the same things and when we started hanging out, we thought it’d be cool to do something and you know, start a movement.
Moriba: And we didn’t want a structure, we’re just friends who just like doing stuff together.
Why do you think it took so long for people to get it?
Shyne: I think it’s because we’re the first to do it in Paris. At the beginning, it was just us doing this thing and I think people were just watching and were like, ok, let’s see if this movement is cool. And you see this in every trend-when someone is doing something new, people wait till it’s successful before they get behind it.
Moriba: I think there are stars and brands that are behind us. We created this movement five years ago, but now there are cool brands like Hood by air, Virgil’s brand, Pigalle and you know, stars like Asap Rocky bring this energy and cross the bridge of ready to wear and street wear. Asap Rocky can have an influence on everybody and us three guys are young and I feel we touched people.
Do you guys think you’re running Paris?
Shyne: Yeah, I think we’re running Paris but I don’t think it’s just about running Paris. It’s about being happy doing something big. Everyday we try to have a new challenge, we really want to work and stay working.
Moriba: It might seem we’re running Paris to people in other countries because we are big to them and we do a lot of stuff in Paris but Parisians will not give you your credit unless you’re doing million dollar deals and are being validated by the big names. For me, we’re a really big collective from Paris but we’re more relevant to foreign people.
Do you think Paris supports young people?
Shyne: I think Paris supports young people. I would like to think so. But it depends where you’re from. I don’t wanna sound like a victim because we’re not victims but it’s always different when you’re from the suburbs.
Martin: When you’re young doing something great and when you want to grow up and be recognized everywhere, you need a strong figure behind you to encourage you and say what you’re doing is really cool. In Paris, I think what we’re doing is really strange to people because of where were from and what we look like. People in high positions are not interested in pushing the movement. The young people know what we represent but the higher ups aren’t ready to push us-perhaps it’s our skin colour.
I guess I would assume that if you were white, you’d be in a different position.
Moriba: Yeah. But I will add this, maybe it’s because we don’t have big names in Paris who are doing what we do. We are the only ones who brought this movement into Paris. There aren’t a lot of people who’ll help us shine more because there is nobody. The only person who is in a high position and in the same spirit as us is Stephen Ashpool from Pigalle. But nobody has this kind of spirit like us.
Martin: And even with Ashpool, he started blowing up few years ago. Even with him, he was trying to connect the fashion people and the streets.
So if there’s no one to support you guys, what really pushes you to keep going?
Moriba: I always think of being that black guy who can be an example for all these young people-the new generation. I was always watching TV and looking at magazines and I couldn’t really spot anyone that could inspire me like Kanye and Pharrell. I was always looking for a French face that could inspire me. I say to myself that I need to be that guy. Not only for black guys but for everyone. We can be different, we can come from the suburbs but we can merge everything together and do something great.
Shyne: It’s the same for me. When we started going to Fashion Week, we were the only black people there, and people were looking at us and asking questions like, “What are you doing? Are you a designer?” And they knew we weren’t designers and for a moment I was like “No, I’m not doing anything, I’m just curious.” I wanted to see what was going on. I love fashion and I wanna learn. Everyday I was going to this place and people kept asking me the same questions, “What do you do?” and I was thinking, I have so many ideas, I just wanna do them, I wanna do them alone and I wanna do them with my crew. I think that’s my motivation. We started to do something and of course everybody started looking at us-those guys are cool but we don’t know what they do. It was good because we started to meet cool people like Virgil, Kanye West, Don C. Those guys love us and support us.
Martin: My wish is to bring our culture to the forefront. I want to be able to say that everyone accepts this culture that we started. I want to show people that you can be black, have interesting fashion and be great in anything you want to do whether it be fashion, art or design. I want people to think.
Did you guys go to school for what you do? I know you guys dabble into art direction.
Shyne: No.When I finished my Bachelor’s, I asked myself if I should go to fashion or business school. And I said to myself, I’m already working in fashion, why should I pay thousands of euros for fashion school so I chose business school. And if the fashion world doesn’t work for me anymore, I’ll go into the business world and make money.
Moriba: I’m this person who believes in getting a background before doing something. I entered one of the best fashion schools for management because I know in France, if you don’t have a diploma no one will treat you as their equal. And now if I want to do design something or create something, I’m not this black guy who just stays in fashion. I really wanna be that person who knows fashion, down to the history and the business. Nobody knows that I was in school. It’s a good thing for me. It’s my power.
So education is power?
Moriba: Yeah. We know people who do business without school but for me it was really important for us to have the real knowledge.
Shyne: In fashion, it’s very funny because when they ask you, “What do you do?” The question is very stupid and then when they realize what you say is nice, they’re gonna have you sit with them. And sometimes you can talk to people with no diploma, inside they have this power inside them. They can sing very well, they can draw very well and they can do a lot of things. You just have to talk to people. But if I say I design for Givenchy, they’re gonna be like “Oh, take my card.”
Martin: I didn’t really want to go to fashion school or design school because I have this mentality-I always feel like you can do whatever you want even if you don’t study it. My plan is to go into something I didn’t even study. I want people who don’t believe in us to look like shit. I studied economics in school but I have lots of knowledge in fashion and design-even more than the people who studied it.
How did you meet Virgil, Kanye and the rest of the crew?
Shyne: When we met Kanye west, he was with Don C. I think we met Virgil after and I think the day we met him, it was during fashion week. We were at the same fashion show and he was like, “Oh, I like you guys”.
Moriba: It’s funny the way we met these guys. We wanted to be at a fashion show really early and at that time there was nobody there. People don’t come early to look for stars so it was easy to meet Kanye, Don C, and Pharrell. We just clicked and I think they caught what we represented. I’ve always been inspired by these guys and meeting them was really crazy for me. They really liked stuff that we did. I’m not sure if you saw it, we designed van shoes with spikes and Pharrell really loved it.
How many years ago was this?
Moriba: It was around 2009, 2010. Yeah, Pharrell said the shoes were crazy. And yeah with Kanye, we have a really good relationship with him.
Martin: What was cool about meeting all these people was that it wasn’t a relationship of fans meeting big stars. It was about people liking the work. I find that very interesting because these people are big stars and they meet a lot of people around the world. It’s nice that they took their time to check us, to talk to us because that something that doesn’t happen. Every time we see Kanye, he’s like a big brother. Virgil is also a huge supporter of us and it’s ironic because he’s from the States and we’re in Paris and he’s the one who supports us.
I bet you guys really want to be in the position to give back just like they’ve done.
Martin: I definitely think that with growing up, if we can do more things and be like the guys who are doing great stuff in their cities, then yes. We have to be open to the young people who are coming up because we didn’t have the luck of having people who supported us. We have to give them the chance to do something but we can only do that if we are doing something important. Paris, actually France as a whole, isn’t a place that supports the young.
Moriba: I totally agree with that. I don’t know if Parisians know this, b
ut if you bring someone who is fresh and young, he or she will give you good energy. If you’re 30 or 40, you need some new energy and only young people can bring you that. I don’t understand why people don’t think about that.
So what I’m getting I guess is that youth culture is sort of disjointed here. Is youth culture or subculture a new thing in Paris?
Martin: It’s not about the youth connecting with art and fashion. That’s already happening. It’s about the youth coming from suburbs looking a certain way and those kids wanna connect to art and design. It’s strange to people and it’s very new to people. It’s difficult for them to understand and give support.
Does your family support what you guys do?
Shyne: They don’t understand fashion or understand my haircut, so I think it’s really difficult to talk to them about fashion. I think it’s the same for Mo and Martin-our parents are from Africa. But my process is talking to them slowly, explaining things step by step, and now they understand. They support us.
What advice would you give to a 15-year-old kid whose trying to do something like you?
Martin: I would say be very curious and be interested in fashion, art, architecture and design instead of wasting time on girls and smoking weed. For me, I feel that if care about this kind of stuff when you’re a kid, your taste grows and develops. I have a project in my mind for when I’m older, I want to start a program for young kids who comes from the suburbs to visit museums because I feel that for young kids, it’s really important to be introduced to these kind of thing early. Because for me, it changed my life.
Moriba: I would tell him to be open. For me, an open mind is the first thing if you want to start anything.