by Margo Jones
Several years ago, I first was introduced to Aly Kochetkov by Cairo Justice in Montreal on Halloween. Aly had flown in from Vancouver, prepared with hand-sewn costumes for each of us. I remember being totally blown away that she had put them together herself — they could’ve been sold for at least hundred bucks at a costume shop. I’m not usually a fan of holidays, but I remember that year, Halloween was sick.
Fast forward four years and I’ve found myself back with Aly and Cairo, kicking it in together Montreal. This time Kochetkov hasn’t come with Halloween costumes, but instead, she’s brought her newest summer collection from her women’s streetwear brand, kochetkov, which is based out of Taipei, Taiwan, where kochetkov has been living for the past several years. Justice and Kochetkov first met each other back in Vancouver over ten years ago, and immediately hit it off due to their shared passion of art and design. Justice has been studying studio art and living in Montreal for the past four years, commissioning and showing pieces at several galleries around the city. The two decided to throw a collaborative Pop-Up Exposition to present their art and designs in Montreal’s Mile-End.
Check out the exclusive interview with Cairo & Aly as they chat how they met and what inspires their creative work.
MJ: What’s up? What are you guys doing right now?
CJ: I’m sitting with pantsless Savanna, and Aly’s doing a Human Body Word Search.
Your friendship goes pretty far back. What’s it feel like to finally be hosting this pop-up exposition together in Montreal, promoting your creative endeavours?
CJ: It feels like somehow, by a stroke of fate, we were assigned to do a project together in high school and it basically just went off the rails.
Describe Kochetkov x Cairo Justice Pop-Up Exposition using five words.
CJ: Pink, hot, sexy, funky, good.
The first night of the pop-up was exceedingly well-received. Have you thought about where you guys might travel to next? Do I sense a continuation of collaboration between the two of you? Maybe I’m jumping the gun haha.
AK: Yeah, I definitely need to get Cairo to come out to Taipei for a show. There are so may interesting spaces there that we could super take advantage of.
CJ: Yes! I need to visit Taiwan! It would be amazing to design clothes together with Aly more closely in the future, like collaborating our mediums.
I’m with you on that. Where do you guys get most of your work done? I read in Rolling Stone that Erykah Badu has like, an apartment specifically for “unplugging” or something — she doesn’t go outside at all, and instead stays in with the shades down to “be naked and create”. Do either of you relate to that at all? When do you feel most creative?
AK: My whole thing takes place inside my studio in Taipei. It’s my hole; it’s my haven. Every garment by kochetkov is designed and produced in my studio, so during busy seasons or the few weeks leading up to one of my exhibitions, it’s fucking crazy in there. Super disaster zone. It might sound weird, but it’s the chaotic part that I love. I’ll play a mix of jungle house, disco and reggae records while I cut bolts on bolts of fabric in my underwear. It’s Taiwan, it’s really hot — it gets intense, but it brings on this sense of catharsis as I sweat, and sway while madly working in my underwear.
What about you Cairo?
CJ: Raging alone, at school, or day before due date.
Haha I feel that. I know the other night when we were all together, Aly, you were explaining how you find your design inspiration by basically shaping clothes for your girlfriends to correspond with their current style and attitude. Besides you and your friends, who else is a major inspiration to you?
AK: I guess my designs have totally depended on my surroundings and experiences/memories. My very first collection called START was inspired and shot by my Tokyo girlfriends, but only happened when I returned to Tokyo after my hiatus. The next collection PANTSUIT NATION was about my exhaustion when I first moved in to my new surroundings. But now I’ve turned to movies and their soundtracks.
So your pop-up exposition presented kochetkov’s latest summer collection. What can we expect from Baobei Vibes?
AK: Some old school and new school cuts and forms. These clothes will make you feel like a real baobei, which is Chinese slang for babe.
Tell me about how you think Montreal/Western consumers reacted to kochetkov. Was this the first time your brand was physically been sold in North America?
AK: It’s been super exciting. I do already sell online to clients in America and Canada, but this was my first time showing and having an event in the west.
I aim to present kochetkov in a way that shows where the brand comes from and stays true to its influences. I hope this stays with the people that visited the event.
I hope so too. So I know that in Vancouver, both of you grew up spending a lot of time at the skatepark, mainly Ambleside in West Van. How do you find that skate culture has influenced your current creative endeavours?
CJ: I think skate culture has influenced my taste in boys and boys inspire a lot of my art honestly. Also the skate, art, and fashion world all kind of coincide with each other in some way.
AK: Yeah, we love boys, especially boys who wear nice clothes. We wore their nice clothes a lot too. I wanted to create clothing that had the same fit and feel for girls as it does for boys.
Yeah, I totally feel that. Aly, you were mentioning earlier that you and your friends spend a lot of your time at the skatepark in Taipei now. What’s the skate scene like there compared to here in North America?
AK: Well, both in America and in Asia, the skate scene and culture is completely based on the people (young and old) who need to get away from daily life bullshit; bureaucracy, hierarchy, regulation, etc… or just needa chill. In Asia, it seems that the divide between skate and mainstream systematics is much bigger than in the Americas. People involved in street/skate culture, who are mostly tattooed, drink, party, wear different clothes and have different attitudes are mostly rejected by mainstream society; left to find work on their own terms like making t-shirts and designing clothing for their crews. In a way, they’re forced to find alternative routes like that and invent EVERYTHING they have into this, because there’s no other options. Making for great shit out there.
Tell me how you selected the pieces that you had for the exposition and your collaboration designs for kochetkov.
CJ: I chose them mostly by palette, ones that would fit best with our general idea and the colours Aly uses in her clothing. Luckily we have similar palette tastes. I also tried to pick my best and most recent work, and most of it hasn’t been shown anywhere yet so hopefully it was exciting for people to see some new stuff.
Although the world we live in is becoming more open and receptive towards individual expressions and perspectives, there is still an existence of what people consider to be “controversial” art. Explain how you deal with those who view your designs and art as controversial, confusing, or feel that it’s “too sexualized”.
CJ: I feel just the concept of creating something or wanting to create something is sexual in itself. I also feel like sex is constantly shoved in our faces but in a very particular way, so some people get uncomfortable when it’s expressed through means other than like, advertising. I’ve had people tell me they just don’t get it, but being open to embracing sexuality comes with time. It’s not even something I really notice that I’m doing but every thing I make ends up at least vaguely sexual haha.
What kind of advice or what do you have to say to all the females out there who are fighting, for lack of a better word, with/against their male counterparts to stay afloat? Say, by either feeling pressured to act, dress, or behave in a particular way?
CJ: You are just as deserving of success, happiness, sexual expression, and RESPECT as any male counterpart.
AK: Yeah, I mean, if it’s clear that working with this dude means no artistic freedom, robbery of credit or general bullshit, you should just ride with it for a while and learn all you can. Then, when you are ready, go do it your own way and start something new.
I have always found the two of you to be highly inspirational role models for both women and men. You’ve been able to confidently express your female perspectives and frames of mind not only through art and fashion, but through your physical and emotional demeanour. How do you plan to keep empowering those around you, specifically women?
CJ: Thank you baby. I hope that I am capable of empowering other people around me. I plan to continue being obnoxious and confident and silly. I also think it’s incredibly important for women to establish strong connections and friendships with each other, and not be afraid of each other or hate.
AK: I specifically only collaborate and work with females in this industry — photography, models, stylists, etc… I do it because 1) it’s way more fun, and 2) to make sure that girls who might be otherwise swept under the rug or stepped over for offers to work get their chance to utilize their talents and show the public their shit! I’m not really good with my words or speaking about this kind of thing, but I hope that my approach to working this industry can be my part to society.
Kochetkov x Cairo Justice Pop-Up Exposition took place in Montreal on June 15th & 16th at POP Montreal, 5587 Avenue du Parc.