P.A.M. (Perks And Mini) on Growing a Hybrid Fashion Business
P.A.M. (Perks and Mini) is a Paris-based fashion and lifestyle label originally established in Melbourne by Misha Hollenbach and Shauna Toohey. The company is respected in the world of fashion and art, a unique position earned by their unfaltering commitment to solid creative values and bypassing of industry standards.
Speaking with Misha and Shauna we wanted to find out the factors behind their ongoing success and relevance since the brand’s inception in 2000, hoping to learn ways of avoiding pitfalls faced by other independent fashion brands. As we delve in we also talk about visual culture, beauty, sustainability and their commitment to moulding a better world with others. No matter the topic, authenticity of the label is not designed but a direct reflection of the Founders’ genuine and deep thought philosophy, personal integrity and innate curiosity for the world.
Advance Copy: Hi Misha, hi Shauna it’s such a pleasure to meet you!
P.A.M. (Perks and Mini) holds a unique position, one that’s on the verge of art, fashion and culture. Over the years your work has remained individual with deep-rooted integrity, so I wanted to find out about the personal origins of your values. Could you tell us more about your childhoods and if there are certain themes that you continue to investigate to this day?
Misha: My parents are Russian immigrants, but I was born and raised in Australia in the 70s, completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Not understanding either culture and having to find my own way, making up my own world, that’s my upbringing. My parents had, maybe, a more classic European or Russian aspiration for me to be a concert pianist. But an interest in beauty attracted me to making art, looking at books, Russian fairy tales or whatever I could find. Knowing that the world my parents or my school were presenting wasn’t anything suitable for me.
AC: Would you say that you looked for escapism in art and books?
Misha: Not really escapism, more like, discovery of all these other things. As I got older music like Prince, Madonna, Euro disco and break-dancing essentially formed me. Those are the kind of themes that still run through everything; dancing, music and art that’s fun, not contrived, very free. But that impact of art has been lost, because you end up essentially seeing the same things in different ways. That’s why we’ve been able to stay outside of the art world, because I don’t believe in that, or I don’t only believe in that. The same with the fashion world, we’re not really in it because I don’t believe in it. How can I be a part of something that I don’t believe in?
“With the fashion world, we’re not really in it because I don’t believe in it.”
AC: Shauna, are there similarities in your upbringing compared to Misha’s?
Shauna Toohey: I was born in the north of Australia in the sub-tropics. My mother was born in Lebanon and lived there until the 70s, she had a cosmopolitan worldly life and then married my dad and moved to this small city in Australia. As children, we would go to Lebanon and to other countries every couple of years. So I grew up having this place that’s like a tropical paradise, but I also knew that the world was bigger than my plot.
As I got older, the first thing that blew my mind was Japanese popular culture, I started seeking out magazines like Cutie. Also, once late at night by chance, I saw Sophia Coppola’s TV show Hi Octave. It was so great, it would show low production DIY and a world that encompassed music, monster trucks and fashion. It was harder to feed yourself before the Internet existed, so stumbling on these things was amazing, like finding gems. My grandmother was a couturier and her family had a clothing factory, I saw that side of things and wanted to make clothes, but not like the wedding dresses that she made. I guess I was interested in street wear. When I was 18 I left my city and moved to Melbourne and got a fashion degree, started working and that’s when I met Misha. We got along super well and had the same vision.
AC: What did you work on when you first met each other?
Shauna: When we started making things we had this ‘Escape from Shitland’ idea, so we were trying to build a world of things that we liked, to share with people. Although we had a pioneering punk spirit, it wasn’t punk, it wasn’t about breaking everything, it was about finding a different way. I think that strong feeling that we had when we met, really fuelled this bizarre hybrid business that we have now and that’s difficult to explain.
“It wasn’t about breaking everything, it was about finding a different way.”
AC: Do you still struggle to define exactly what the brand is and where it stands?
Shauna: We have a business and we make clothing, but we don’t have a fashion business, we’re not part of the industry and we don’t play the game. It is a game and there are exact rules, which we don’t follow.
Misha: We are writing a blurb about the company right now, but we are talking about really strong concepts, we are deeply invested in the thought process. That’s the thing that I’ve found missing or frustrating in fashion and increasingly so in art, photography and, actually, in the world. I’m putting it down to people not reading, they’re looking really quickly, but sometimes it takes weeks to read a book and you have to read the same page over and over to understand the concept.
AC: Do you feel like you have to be insulated from the outside world to avoid doing the same as everyone else?
Misha: You do have to be insulated and you don’t have time for all the other bullshit actually, it’s simple and what comes from that interest, for me, is actually a better place, a better world, a better product, more interesting situations, conversations and relationships. There are so many things that come from just really thinking.
“What comes from that interest, for me, is actually a better place, a better world, a better product, more interesting situations, conversations and relationships.”
AC: What role do visuals play in supporting and developing your thinking?
Misha: It’s all about how the images are presented, you don’t have to rely on just language… Which is maybe why we work in print and all these other things too. Our magazine, Utopia, has no text however the images are full of information, as opposed to images that are full of marketing content, which has become accepted as an art form, as a culture. Images are generated for consumption, not for thought.
But you can also present an image in a book, beautifully. Then you have to find the book, buy the book; there is a whole process. What I think is missing from the Internet, is a process. This accidental, walking into a bookshop when you have a free afternoon, scouring the shelves and finding something that you’ve never seen before that’s potentially one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen.
“What I think is missing from the Internet, is a process.”
Shauna: I’ve listened to an interview with a photographer who did the layout of Tulsa, one of Larry Clark’s first books. He was explaining that it took him 3 years to find a publisher and in that time he looked at the photographs so much that they really spoke to him. He needed time with the photos to really figure them out and understand them. That’s such a luxury at this point, when we’re hyper producing.
Misha: That’s important. If we’re starting to talk about sustainability, environmental impact and what we’re bringing into the world, one of the first things we need to think about is what are the reasons that we’re making this? We’re not saying that you have to stop making things, because we’re absolutely guilty of not stopping to make things either.
Shauna: Although we did have a concept of proposing for everyone to stop making things for a year…
Misha: To just think about what we’re going to do, not just in fashion.
Shauna: Every creative pursuit, no more art, no more publishing, no more clothing, just one year off. Everybody stops.
Misha: All global spending would stop too, but the economy would stay the same. The general public would probably have a similar amount of money, or actually more because they won’t be spending.
AC: Something like a detox?
Shauna: Yes, a detox!
AC: Is the sentiment echoed in your personal circles too?
Shauna: In conversations with my friends it feels like people are suffering from a buying fatigue. They don’t want any more stuff, they are happy with what they have.
Misha: Actually, buy vintage! Buy stuff that already exists because there is true beauty in these things too. I think you can’t say that you don’t need anything around you [because] there are things of beauty and consideration. If something that you’re making has effort, function, energy and concept and isn’t just a status symbol then it can be okay.
“Buy stuff that already exists because there is true beauty in these things.”
Shauna: I also think there’s a lot of pressure on emerging labels to make too much stuff. You might get known for something… But you have to show a whole world of shoes, accessories, whole looks. Why can’t you be a brand that just does outerwear that gets together with their friend that does t-shirts and another friend that does shoes? I don’t think you have to be by yourself, and if we’re serious about sustainability then we should start thinking about the benefits of being in a group as well as the purpose and meaning of why we make stuff. You don’t have to be a single person with an idea for the entire universe, you could come together with people you resonate with and make a complete proposition [together].
AC: Have you tried to work this way already?
Shauna: So this Friday we’ll do our first [FW] presentation, which we’ve never felt the desire to do before, but the impetuous was that we have many friends from all over the world who come to Paris for Mens’ Fashion Week. These people are doing great things, expressing themselves, their community and so on. The idea of the presentation is to show new season in a group way. It will be a performance over the course of 2 hours. 6 labels and 6-7 stylists will come together and we’ll mix everybody’s stuff to make looks. We think this is a more honest reflection of how we actually live in the world. People will come out in a look, pick a flower from an installation by our friend, Haruka Spring, who is an ikebana artist from Japan, and give it to somebody they don’t know.
Misha: It’s called No Show Official (NSO). We’ll also set up a big sound system and have about 5 record labels doing music, so there is a party too.
Shauna: We have a bunch of photographers and filmmakers who are going to document the event and we will make a book and a film afterwards – that will be the spectacle, but on the night we want engagement. It’s an experience.
Our hope is that NSO encourages other groups of people to get together. Not just for the economy and community of it, but also to explore if there’s a better approach to fashion where we don’t have to show a complete look as a brand.
AC: Do you think P.A.M. (Perks and Mini) is in a way a small version of your own world?
Shauna: It’s not specifically ours – we want to share it. We want to fight against singularism, make a community and make people engage with others. It’s something that’s really important, we’re losing it and it’s the stuff that makes us (humans) happy. We want people to be happier and that’s what we’re pushing for.
Misha: It’s something we are a part of and we want to help protect it, because we see it as being beautiful, not just for that one season.
AC: You mentioned beauty… In a recent interview with Permanent Collection we also discussed the idea of educating people about recognising beauty in our immediate surroundings, and a deeper purpose of objects.
Misha: The world is so incredible – you just have to look. For example, I can come here, see a pink wall, the green of the plant against it and the circle of this coffee table – it’s here now, that’s just one of the unfathomable examples of a way in which you can look around you. Do we really need a gallery to see that? There’s beautiful art of course, art that is of skill and thought and conceptually strong, but actually if you pull it all the way down to its core, well, why do we expect that every week we should have a new Warhol?
Shauna: I’d also say that it’s part of how humans express themselves. So even if this is or can be a reiteration of something that’s already happened, it doesn’t detract from it… The person making that thing is living the experience, and that’s valid. We have to fill our lives with something for the time that we are on this planet and I think art is a real human endeavour, and the need to do it is one of the many things that makes us human.
Misha: Art comes out of philosophy. Fashion can be, but it’s not, because of the amount of money that can be made from it. That’s where art is going as well and it’s not as connected to philosophy, because it’s actually a market and an economy. I think a return to philosophy is important.