We sat down with P.A.M.’s Misha Hollenbach to learn more about the elusive brand, the process of creation and much more.
If you’re here, you’re probably familiar with P.A.M. (Perks and Mini) and they’re unique take on streetwear, particularly their Duplo sweatpants. Less familiar are the brand’s founders, and husband and wife duo, Misha and Shauna. Passionate creatives, the two started P.A.M. in 2000 and have slowly built the brand up by sticking true to their unique aesthetic and creative vision and avoiding trend-chasing. 15 years later and P.A.M. has really come into its own with great collections year after year; unique visuals; and projects with influential brands and individuals. Not bad for a brand that was started without much thought for the future.
We sat down with co-founder Misha Hollenbach while in Hong Kong to discuss the brand’s recent collaboration with 3125C, what the future has in store, and the process of creation.
First off, what brings you to Hong Kong?
Work. We do production here, Taiwan, and in Japan and everyone has come over for this. Also, friends from Switzerland have come over for Art Basel but they also own the label Carhartt and we’re doing a collaboration with Carhartt. And for 3125C with Edison we made some product. Also, Cali Dewitt and I have been internet friends for a long time because I’m not allowed in America. He’s bought my work before and I’ve got some of his stuff as well so it was good to meet him. I landed, he was leaving so we pretty much had 10 minutes in between. So yea, there’s lots of things.
Tell us a little bit about the collaboration with 3125C and working with Edison.
Well, Edison loves the pants we’ve been making and he’s been wearing them for a long time. He wanted to do some for this thing (3125C) and he had a really quick turnaround so we had to improvise and just work quickly, so we just put the Pantone color on the pants. It was really a quick project.
As far as collaborations go, was this one of the easier ones?
I think most collaborations are easy if both people are attuned. And actually, I prefer the energy of the here and now rather than planning something for a long time. Talking about things and responding really quickly is the best way for me. I’m busy and Edison is busy so you just have to work quickly. Things work. And sometimes things don’t work and that doesn’t matter either, it’s the experience.
So how did you get involved with Edison and how did you guys meet?
Edison seemed to be a fan of P.A.M. and one time we were in Hong Kong and he contacted us. I had no idea who he was so I spoke to him on the phone and was like “what do you do?” and he said “I’ve been in some films” or something. I was like “Sick! Hong Kong sounds cool. There are kids here doing cool shit and independent stuff.” And then we went to dinner and all these girls were asking him for his autograph and I was like “who are you?”. Then we drove from the restaurant and I was seeing him on billboards and posters and stuff.
I think it’s a nice story because I’m really honest and our brand is really honest and we don’t care who it is we’re reaching. Anybody who wants to get involved or has a good reaction — that’s enough. It doesn’t matter if it’s Edison Chen or the cleaner downstairs. That’s the thing about making stuff. You have the ability to touch or communicate with anyone.
You mentioned briefly that Hong Kong has a lot of creative things going on. Aside from the fact that you’re able to do business here are there specific things about Hong Kong you like?
The energy is sick. I do a lot of intense cycling. I like riding at night or during really strong, heavy traffic. Riding like that makes me well prepared and I feel really at home just walking and getting through crowds and moving this way. It’s a little bit kung fu. I really like the flow of energy on a pedestrian level. I’m not that interested in the money and opportunity — that stuff’s not on my radar. It really is about day-to-day and moving from place to place. And also just getting shit done. Everyone wants to do something and i like that energy. It’s not like sitting and talking it’s more doing and moving.
It’s interesting to hear that because I’ve been in Hong Kong for over a decade and a lot of times you hear people lamenting the fact that it can be such a shallow place. Do you think there is an undercurrent of creative energy and culture beneath the glitzy facade?
Of course there is. You know, there’s graffiti here and that’s a great sign that there are people that are doing this stuff. The energy of graffiti is something I’ve known for 30 years. I love it and when I see it and think “yea, there’s shit going on here.” I like that energy.
I also like going to Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok (two busy shopping districts) at nighttime and just walking around and feeling that sort of energy as well. I’ll go to the markets but I like taking the side bits and often the stores around there are really strong and interesting. I came across a black magic store with dudes tattooing magic on each other. I really like that stuff.
Did you go to Art Basel this year while in Hong Kong?
No. I don’t really want to look at art. Well, I want to look at art of course but I don’t want to look at it as a part of this social-commercial thing it’s become. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to go see it. And you know, I look at art every single day. I see art in the black magic tattoo shop and I see art in a Galerie Perrotin situation. It doesn’t matter where it’s coming from so I don’t need to go to a place where you go and it’s like “oh this is art, come check it out.” In the end all those art fairs are just about buying and selling.
“Things work. And sometimes things don’t work and that doesn’t matter either, it’s the experience.”
Is there something lost in having a show like that with big money collectors and the glitz and glamor?
Sure. As an artist, art is a very personal experience. The actual process of doing it is very personal. Your reaction to whatever causes you to make art is a strong part of it. The experience of using art to try and make money or status or something is irrelevant to that stuff. That’s coming from an artist, that’s not coming from a collector, that’s not coming from a gallerist.
What happens to art afterwards is pretty irrelevant to me. Doing it is the joy of it. If it sells to some collector or gets left on a plane, it doesn’t matter. It’s the process of creation.
Having said that, would it be weird for you to see your work at Art Basel Hong Kong or a similar show?
No, it wouldn’t be weird. I’ve had the Tate Modern buy my work recently. It doesn’t mean anything to me. It is what it is. I guess it comes back to just taking things day-by-day and real life. Actually living it and making work or going to find black magic or going to get dumplings — all these things are the same thing to me. They’re all as important as each other.
So what does a typical day look like for you?
There are two sorts of days for me: those in my hometown and those outside of my hometown. In my hometown it’s about my family; it’s about my daughter and hanging out with her. It’s actually weirdly the most creative sort of time because it’s a really personal time and I’m working with a little child. She’s five and she’s getting into photography. I was just telling a friend that she made some owls and put them in a tree and then used her instant camera to take photos of it and I was thinking “that is so sick.” To me, helping her do that, is like a typical day. And then I have to go to the office or whatever.
Then when I’m out and I’ve got shit to do, I don’t get much sleep. I’ll come home at like 3 and then I’ll have a meeting at 8. And also, I don’t really travel for pleasure as in I don’t really travel to rest. I travel for experience.
So then when do you rest?
I don’t really rest much.
Is there anything then that you do that gives you peace?
Cycling. A normal cycle, once a week or twice a week, is between 30 and 100 km and it’s always at night. I’ll be listening to strong techno and riding hard. I always tend to ride somewhere and have to jump a fence and all these things happen in the night that are really good. It’s really action-filled but it’s also really meditative. You don’t think about anything actually. We’ll be riding for an hour and half on one side of a river and then realizing we’re not going anywhere where we can cross, so we’ve had to cross the river – swim it. And in Australia there’s bull sharks, snakes and crocs. It’s good action and I love it. I’ll come home from that at 5 a.m. and then my daughter wakes me up at 7 a.m. and it’s like “okay, i have to deal with that.”
So it’s not necessarily restful but it’s certainly meditative…
Yea, sure. I think making art and looking at art and that sort of stuff is also very meditative. It’s calm.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that your body is a tool and if you just keep it working it works. And if you trick your brain into thinking hectic is calm then it works too. There’ s a lot of tricks going on in your brain. That’s what I’m learning. You can trick yourself. You can go out all night and wake up the next day and think “oh, I’m so fucked” or you can wake up and think “I’m really fucked but this feels excellent.”
Are there any things you’ve seen from your time in Hong Kong that have inspired or influenced you?
Yea. I feel like I come to Hong Kong a fair bit and it’s got it’s own section in my being. Coming here just recharges that section. Yea, there’s definitely a Hong Kong section in me so it’s nice to come back and just fill that up. Nothing really specifically but I do take a lot of photos and a lot of these photos are things that catch my eye. I’m just collecting information and Hong Kong’s really good for information.
So P.A.M. was started in 2000, how did it come about. I’ve read that it was never something you planned or had a strong business sense about.
To be honest it feels like we’re just starting now. I’m starting to understand what we’re doing or what we can even do with having a brand. Previously for 15 years it was kind of like “oh yea, we can do this stuff and I don’t have to get a job.” And I still don’t have to get a job but now I feel a real potential in it for expression and for communication and sharing with other people. We’ve never planned to do a brand. Even the name itself – If I was to actually sit down and think of a brand name I wouldn’t think of the name that we have. It was just what my wife Shauna and I were doing at the time and it just kind of stuck.
I suppose now I sort of feel like I understand what we’re doing so now we can build on that rather than just keep doing another collection.
So does that mean there’s more planning or thinking ahead now?
It’s more just cleaning up the way we do things. It’s just a reflection of who I am now. It’s like “let’s do this” and then it’s a matter of how do we do it the best we can.
Given how popular you’ve become recently, is there any sort of added pressure to perform each year?
No, not at all. I don’t really care what anyone thinks. Like, of course I care, but it doesn’t matter. If you stay true to yourself and you have a heart and a sense of honesty, and you have a compulsion to make things — as in creativity — then if you just try and do your best without being a dick then what more can you do. If people are responding, it’s such a great feeling and it’s nice to hear that. But I do honestly feel that we’re just starting now so the best is yet to come. The last couple of collections have been stronger because of that realization. But there’s no plans to take over the world or anything like that. We don’t feel any competition anywhere in the market or with anything. We like the idea that we’re just adding to the culture.
Going off that, what is P.A.M.? It’s not just the clothes is it?
I guess the clothes are kind of a souvenir of the experience. It’s not that we’re giving the experience, we’re just giving our input to a cultural being. If you get the pants, hopefully they make you feel good and also give you an understanding that “okay, this came from this place and these guys are nice and I’ve got their pants.” Everyone’s got to wear pants and if we can help people by making good pants and they’re coming from a good place and with the pair of pants also comes a turn on to an old film that no one knows about or something, that’s a pretty good bonus. So yea, it’s kind of a sharing sort of thing.
Saying that, I’m a pretty strong digger. I don’t need to go to an art fair for the art fair to tell me what artists are doing stuff. There are also so many people who make art or music that nobody knows about and when you find these people its great to be able to share them but part of the excitement of finding these people is looking for them.
So hopefully if you buy a P.A.M. T-shirt, maybe some of that experience comes with it.
James Shorrock for Highsnobiety.com
- Photography: Silas Lee for Highsnobiety.com