I met Thibault at a launch of the latest book by multidisciplinary artist Ana Kraš at the Yvon Lambert Gallery / Bookstore more than a year ago now. I was curious to know more about his past experiences, his desire to create a publishing house, to work with artists and of course to understand what CLASSIC represent.
à Paris, une discussion avec Thibault Choay, Classic Paris.
Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Thibault Choay I was born in 1981 and grew up in the Parisian suburbs. I think I have always been interested in underground and counter-culture. I was particularly fortunate to witness the explosion of the Rap scene and to have known what is called 20 years later the golden age of French Rap. I was also very curious about the links that could exist in between these cultures, especially about the past generation. I had access to my uncle’s vinyl collection, listening quite young a lot of 60 & 70 rock music. Subsequently, I started to make connexion with Literature (I was reading books about the Beat Generation), with music bands whose vinyls I saw and understood that culture was something active and alive.
What led you to open this space?
This curiosity I had as a teenager that made me think about the motivations that led me to create CLASSIC which is both a publishing house and today also a bookstore. It was my attraction to objects produced by those same cultural scenes. This culture I built within the objects, either by the collection of comics of Freaks Brothers of my uncle, his discotheque, all the types of vinyl... I did communication studies then, I collaborated with an online media called 90BPM. It allowed me to attend to a lot of concerts, meet musicians & to start writing reviews about graffiti books & way more stuff.
So you were mainly a columnist?
I started doing reviews about graffiti, Rap books, album release & concert. I was mainly doing interviews.
You were influenced by those personalities that you met throughout your experiences, but on your side, you never wanted to create something artistic?
There was something else that really fascinated me when I was a teenager, it was graffiti. I was completely involved, all my friends were graffiti artists. I just never wanted to do anything particular and especially I quickly realized that I was not an artist. I always had the deep conviction that graffiti was a major movement in the history of Art.
Are you feeling nostalgic about this period of your life?
Not at all, it's something that I lived. Therefore, I'm not part of a pioneering generation.
And after 90BPM what did you do?
Shortly after I worked with an online media, communication agency La MJC. I wrote articles for the website and for the book ALL GONE. Working on this book reminded me how much I liked printing. I worked for 3 years on this project, realized 3 consecutive opuses. Even though streetwear was one element that stimulated me and somehow made me join this agency in the first place, I ended up being a bit tired of it. So, just after working with la MJC I felt the need to keep going but on my own.
The MJC was the equivalent of our HYPEBEAST and HIGHSNOBIETY?
Yes, and then you had SLAM X HYPE.
And Being Hunted ...
The pioneer of streetwear blogs was indeed BEING HUNTED and we must quote it, it is very important. It was a big source of information with a really optimal website.
When did you officially launch CLASSIC and where does the name come from?
I launched CLASSIC in 2010. Regarding the name, well there is a double story. It's very much related to England, with this specific scene in the movie that I remember where you have a little punk rock kid who says « this is classic!». That's when I became aware of the Anglo-Saxon expression, which means it's hilarious. Furthermore, you have this song from The Streets on their first album « Original Pirate Material » where you can hear this short sentence « Cult classic, not bestseller, you're gonna need power » (♫) which explains that we do not try to make only one shot objects but rather things that last. It is also an expression found in a lot of things that fascinates me for example, in literature, a classic is an absolute grail. You find this term in graffiti, all subways photographed by Martha Cooper in New York are considered classics…
Do you think there is a revival of independent publishing?
Yes, there is a renewal. The independent edition has always existed. Artists have always used publishing to broadcast their work with or without a publisher, but I think there is a new craze, a new way of doing things. There are new bookstores that open up and seem to have a new approach of selling books. Perhaps they are smaller but they gather a better selection.
What are the pros and cons of participating in the Art Book Fair in New York or OFF PRINT in Paris?
The cons are most definitely the budget, you have to send the books, to rent an apartment, to make money while managing your stock of books. The pros are obviously meeting new people. It also allows you to be in front of your audience, where I can find out what kind of people are interested in our products. Good thing is to be able to live this kind of life, traveling to great places promoting our projects. I try not to complain because I realize that I have an incredible chance to live this lifestyle. When you are doing Graffiti you have to be able to create a name for yourself, the goal is to be known, you get to the top alone or with your friends when you have a crew. You have basically no other option, either you’re producing a lot or try doing better than the others. Something that has always captivated me is the ability of people or groups to emerge. As a result, the people I'm interested in have the ability to create an identity for themselves ... Experience has shown me that culture tends to be left out of the moment people are becoming very popular…
The hardest part is to find a balance when using a certain Hype - to analyze what may be behind it - and generate more interest, and at the same time be able to discover less popular things.
Yes, Ana Kraš is a very good example, she comes from Serbia, she was a model, a photographer. We rarely hear about Serbia for positive things. She moved to New York, she really has a fascinating journey.
Have you ever felt frustrated, when you expect something special from the person you are meeting and then be disappointed because they don't really exceed your expectation?
Rarely because it's part of my job, to sort the truth from the fake. I spend so much time observing things that I realize what can be interesting work or not. I can lack vision at times, but when it comes to the integrity of the job, I get to the point.
Do you ever contact people via networks?
Yes, I was able to meet people through suggestions from friends as it happened with Molécule. However, I do not think I have started any project related to social networks, discover an artist via these platforms. There is always this human element that really matters in my opinion. It reminds me of the time when I worked for la MJC. What made the difference is that we knew the people we worked with. You can tell the difference between people who were doing hype projects through e-mail and the people who don't. Why do you think PATTA is still here? Because there is a major part of human relationships. They simply got along well with the artists with whom they collaborated. I make art books and not advertising posters. We're not here to show images that you could replace with an Instagram feed.
Do you collect objects, books?
I do collect but since I am producing and collaborating with artists, I am slowing down a bit. Nevertheless, I like to keep things from projects we produced. I buy a lot of books. I often try to get the first edition when I get the chance.
Did you manage to get what everything you wanted?
No, it is quite hard sometimes, because I tend to check a lot of things at the same time!
What kind of books could we not find at CLASSIC?
Taschen books. This is my counterexample edition each time. I find their editions too industrial, the contents are not really interesting, we rarely find original contents. These sure are beautiful objects nevertheless the content is elsewhere, It is the archetype of the coffee table book. It's like in music I do not buy what we called best of or compilations. There are always exceptions though.
The last book that made you laugh?
I would say the old Snoopy comic book and some by Stefan Marx.
What would be surprised to find in your library?
That's not my philosophy at all, but I have Mein Kampf. Yes, this is the most shocking book I have in my possession. I also have the first edition of Naked Lunch by William Burroughs, an illustration book by Jean-Baptiste Bernadet produced by exhibition A. A book like On The Road signed by Jack Kerouac at 1,500 $ is definitely too much simply because with that kind of money I can buy an Art piece. When we talked about streetwear earlier on, I was interested in this culture because there was something vibrant about it, the basis of a sneakerhead is to dig shoes that no one already has or seen so you had to go in stores that nobody knew. Nowadays, there is unfortunately no more style but only brands that all look alike. I moved away from it simply because I considered that a lot of things in the streetwear were culture-related and that for some people culture was only synonymous with consumerism. And, in my opinion, consumerism does not belong to the culture, on the other hand, there can be a culture of products that are distributed, SUPREME is a very good example.