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Get to know the compelling story of Crime x Punishment, otherwise known as CXP, one of Russia’s most exciting new streetwear labels. The young brand has just dropped its first collection, and it’s partly produced by Russian prisoners of the Federal State Institution Correctional Facility.

The debut collection is titled “Цел и Невредим” which translates to “Safe and Sound,” and it refers to the creative duo’s music collective “Safe’n’sound” that launched in St. Petersburg in 2009.

We sat down with Mike and Leonid to get to know more about the duo’s interdisciplinary approach to fashion, their polymathic creative endeavors which span art, music, fashion and more, and why they started working with Russia’s incarcerated to produce garments in the first place.

Why did your name your brand after the classic novel Crime and Punishment?

Mike: I am in charge of the brand’s concept and design. At the moment I am doing what I really like: I am working with adidas Originals, where I’m in charge of events and community management, I am DJ-ing in clubs and working on cool online projects as a creative director for my own digital agency. I also made the site for CXP.

However, it has not been always the case. It sounds like a plot of a second-rate film but it is a long and sad story. I had been selling drugs since I was 16. I was sitting at home, smoking and doing nothing. Time passed by and I started to work as a courier bringing drugs from St.Petersburg to Moscow. I earned a lot. When I was 19, the police stopped me with 3 kilos of marijuana and I spent 2 weeks in pre-trial detention facilities.

Searches, communication with prisoners, interrogations, endless porridge, and reflections. I was first released understanding order and then got 3.5 years of suspended sentence. I was really lucky as usually in Russia in similar cases you go to prison for 8-10 years. I will remember those 2 weeks in jail my whole life and they really influenced me a lot. I remember watching the green floor of the cell, saying goodbye to all my family. I promised myself that if I manage to get out I will not lose a single day and I will devote my life to something I really love to do. And now you see what came out of that. I read “Crime and Punishment” for the first time when I was at school. And I have always associated myself with Rodion. He is my favorite character.

How did you get the idea to produce an entire collection inside a prison?

Mike: It was Leonid’s idea. We have been friends since many years. Once he came up with this idea and asked me to work on the design. And I told him immediately: “Listen, I have the ideal name for that”. Now Leonid is involved into production and I am designing.

Leonid: About three years ago, I came across a book called “What to do if you were sent to prison?”. At the same time, I was doing research of USSR prison tats. I realized that it was one of the most authentic cultures in Russia. Having met a businessman who was producing construction materials in prison, I decided to find out if it is possible to organize apparel manufacturing there. I told Mike about my idea and he got excited. We realized it was an original concept with international hype appeal.

Have you ever met any of the inmates who have made your clothes?

Leonid: No, never. It is a restricted facility and meetings with inmates are organized under very specific conditions. However, I would be happy to meet them. Creating jobs, helping them is a part of our mission. I think if a person went wrong, stumbled, we need to extend the hand of compassion, although many people judge inmates, they are just like us…

What do you think the inmates think about the CXP clothes they make?

Leonid: We guess that inmates do not go that deep into the brand identity. The production is split up into several phases, for example, prints and embroiders are added out of prison facilities. We pay attention to seams, fitting, other details. We are really demanding in terms of quality.

Has there always been such a sophisticated level of craftsmanship inside Russian prisons?

Leonid: You just do not believe your eyes when you see all the inmates do. Chess pieces and chessboards, dice made of ivory and many other cool things. We will definitely try to reflect that in our brand. On the one hand, it is unique craftsmanship, and on the other hand, every order like this provides inmates with better food and conditions.

How do you choose the inmates who make your clothes?

Leonid: We contact the prison authorities and they choose the inmates to work on the project.

Do you think any of the inmates are really interested in fashion or streetwear?

Leonid: Some of my friends are in prison and I do know that they are interested in fashion not less than we do. We often consult them when working on the products.

Mike: Prison is full of different people. Of course, there are many adult killers and robbers but in Russia, lots of youngsters get into prison due to drugs. A friend of mine was convicted to 8 years for several grams of cocaine and another one to 10 years for tablets. One of them is tweeting from prison and telling stories. He told me that he switched on hip-hop, showed his cellmates videos by Drake and Future and some of them really liked the music. To get a cell phone right to the cell is not a problem if you have money.

How long did it take before you felt you reached a high-level of quality with your product working inside a prison?

Leonid: Quality was never a problem. The quality issue is easily solved by higher manufacturing prices. We offered them better conditions demanding higher quality. Anyway, we do quality control of all the products before selling them to our customers.

Do you think inmates feel engaged and responsible for doing the work? Or that it helps their rehabilitation?

Leonid: As they are paid for every item produced, our project helps them to spend quality time, earning money and getting ready for life after prison. Social integration is a burning issue. It is well known that many ex-prisoners get back to crime soon after they have been released as they hilly way to earn money for bread and accommodation is turning back to crime.

Tell us more about the graphics in the collection, like the axe?

Mike: In our case, the “axe” is not the symbol of USSR, it is a symbol of the book, of crime and redemption. The embroideries are in fact hidden symbols of Russian culture providing a shield to whoever wears them.

For example, an embroidered sign «Охрана», which means «Security», is a symbol of care and tradition. It also implies an ironic allusion to the uniform of the security sector and special forces in Russia.

An Owl on the sleeves and the back of the sweatshirts is commonly perceived as a logo of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Russia and Archangel Michael, one of the most favorite Russian saints, is a symbol of divine protection for lost souls who defeats Lucifer.

The sleeves with printed inscriptions “Преступление” (Crime) and “Наказание” (Punishment) represent the dualism between good and evil in the human soul being one of the main ideas not only for Dostoevsky to explore in his books but for the Russian culture generally.

What do you have planned next?

Leonid: We plan to produce really cool handmade accessories but we won’t reveal any more details at the moment. We’ll add more styles of apparel too. We have lots of ideas and we will go implement them step by step.

Mike: All my life, I have been into music. We have already brought many different musicians from Europe and USA such as Knxwledge, DJ Rashad, Tokimonsta, Azizi Gibson, and Ras G to Russia. We are planning several collaborations with them, as well as with local and international music labels. We’re committed to exploring the Interaction between music, literature, apparel and it’s an integral part of our brand philosophy. We intentionally made the first collection a bit austere, being careful to not overload it with elaborated patterns. We wanted to put the idea at the forefront. A start has been made. Going forward, it will be more challenging and more interesting.

For more fashion news, find out what went down at Gucci’s Cruise 2018.

Words by Kam Dhillon