Hermès Singapore store tagged by Kongo
Graffiti in Singapore is normally a no-no.
This is the country that put American Michael Fay and Swiss national Oliver Frick away for their spray painting antics.
But Cyril Phan -- better known by his street tag, Kongo -- has managed to steer clear of the Singapore police despite tagging a giant piece of graffiti on Hermès’ new Scotts Square store hoarding.
The difference is Hermès actually sanctioned the French urban artist's work.
They liked his work so much that they've commissioned him to decorate the Singapore store windows with his trademark tags; the only Hermès store in the world to feature them.
Kongo's talent wasn't just used as window dressing, his work has extended as part of Hermès marketing campaign to promote GRAFF Hermès, a new line of vibrant, colorful series of silk scarves featuring an all-over tag by Kongo.
We caught up with Kongo when he was in Singapore and quizzed him on the unlikely pairing between a graffiti artist and a French luxury fashion house.
CNNGo: Graffiti and Hermès seems to be an unlikely pairing. Are you not worried about losing street cred, working with a brand more associated with posh Parisian grandes dames?
Kongo: No, because I’m still working on the streets.
I painted on the streets of Jakarta when I was there last week, and the visuals I've created for Hermès are drawn from the streets.
These roots will never be lost.
CNNGo: Singapore’s notorious for its zero tolerance of graffiti. How do you feel about that?
Kongo: Singapore is a mission for me. Graffiti is not vandalism, it is for people who cannot express themselves.
The media likes to label graffiti as vandalism because it is against the law.
I don’t cheat, I don’t steal, why do they punish graffiti artists? Graffiti is about the people.
CNNGo: If you could adorn anywhere or anything in Singapore with one of your designs, what would it be?
Kongo: I’d customize the Merlion. It needs some color. It’s too white!
CNNGo: You’ve spearheaded various international graffiti festivals, including "Eatingfrogstour" round mainland China and Hong Kong. What was that all about?
Kongo: We called it "Eatingfrogs" because we wanted to ingrain it with a certain French sensibility.
We had French hip-hop, French DJs, graffiti artists, and dancers performing but it was really all about meeting Chinese artists and collaborating with them.
It was a way for everyone to share vibes and experience each others’ scene. The public really appreciated it, and we met some great young artists.
One guy called Sack from Chengdu, has since shown his own work in Paris.
He said to me, “It’s all your fault that I do graffiti!” That’s the kind of vibe that I like to create at festivals -– where you just might awaken a genius.
CNNGo: Where does your tag ‘Kongo’ come from?
Kongo: I lived in Africa from the ages of 13 to 18, so the tag "Kongo" is a way of paying tribute to the most cherished part of my childhood.
Growing up the Congo, surrounded by African and mixed-race people, I felt good in my skin and loved the energy.
I loved that people from the ghetto could create something out of nothing
Scarves from the Graff Hermès collection cost S$620 each. Part of the proceeds go towards graffiti collective Kosmopolis, which supports young artists.