Mishka NYC conjures images of chainsaw wielding teddy bears and robotic horror imagery. Some say the label was the product of a heavy metal Satanic ritual gone horribly right. Their latest line is based on the works of famous Brooklyn based custom tattoo artist, JK5 who has worked with names across the board from Tylenol to Toy Tokyo. We love Mishka because they are so incredibly diverse and you can tell from the helter-skeltered mixtapes that end up in their online Doombox that they are true heads for all that is beyond the mainstream.
“There’s almost always some hidden musical reference in everything we do, sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s really buried, but it’s there and it’s always awesome to get emails from people who catch it.”
Format: Please introduce yourselves.
Mikhail: Mikhail Bortnik, Co-Owner & Creative Director
Greg: Greg Rivera, Co-Owner & Operations Manager
Format: Mishka means bear cub in Russian, and the Cyrillic script has been incorporated in to the logo. How did the concept come about?
Mikhail: I started drawing what would become our Bear Mop logo around 2000, right when I graduated from college. It didn’t really have a name or anything yet. But as I grew more and more disenfranchised by what my life had in store for me by working a 9-5, I started thinking about doing t-shirts as a side project to flex my creative side, tastes, whatever. That’s when the whole idea of calling it Mishka came about. Mishka means bear and is a derivative of my own name, Mikhail, or Misha. Spelling it in Cyrillic was simply an aesthetic choice. I thought it was more interesting leaving it in Russian, and it just looked more menacing. Early on, this led to lots of people thinking our name was Munwooka.
Format: Mishka DJ mixes tend to be all over the place, from post punk, to hardcore, to bass/dance music. How do you feel music connects with your clothing?
Greg: Music is a huge influence in our message and design. Mikhail not only has one of the largest collections of music of any one that I know, but he also has an amazing catalog of symbols and references stored in his head.
Mikhail: As Greg just touched upon, music is the basic influence on almost everything in my life, and our designs are no different. We’re very music-centric here because every subculture we have associated ourselves with in our formative years has revolved around music! It just bleeds into our work, sometimes unintentionally. There’s almost always some hidden musical reference in everything we do, sometimes it’s overt, sometimes it’s really buried, but it’s there and it’s always awesome to get emails from people who catch it. As for the varied stylistic jumps, to me, it’s all just great music, regardless of the difference in sound. Everyone involved with Mishka has their own tastes that intersect at certain points. We’ve each been involved in so many scenes that it shows in what we do from mix CDs to t-shirt graphics. The best part is just mixing and matching not only the musical but stylistic differences between our varied influences.
Format: Mishka is branching out and has formed the Death Adders Road and Track (D.A.R.T.) cycling team. What can you tell me about this new freestylin’ super-group?
Mikhail: Well, D.A.R.T. is in its infancy, and it’s not really a traditional team that goes from competition to competition. It’s more of a group of like-minded cyclists pushing the sport to new bounds, who we are more than happy to get behind and support with gear. The team started when John Prolly, who is the captain of the team and a dear member of our family, approached us with the idea way back when. We loved it. Especially because guys like John, Tony, Wilis and Luke were doing tricks with fixed gears that hadn’t been done before, and conventional wisdom said you shouldn’t be able to do, but there they were doing it! John runs the team and calls the shots with what we do next and we do have some exciting things on the horizon. Nothing we feel comfortable sharing just yet, of course!
Format: Aside from raising awareness of your own team of freestyle riders, do you feel that this is helping to raise awareness of sustainability and preserving the ecosystem?
Mikhail: I have to be honest with you, I didn’t think about it that way at all. I’m not someone who is trying to promote a “green” lifestyle. I’ve participated in events like Critical Mass, which obviously has an eco-awareness agenda as one of its underlining mantras, but I was participating more to support making NYC more biker-friendly than to preserve the ecosystem. I ride a bicycle simply because it’s incredibly convenient in NYC. It’s cheaper, quicker, and healthier than any other transportation option, and it’s just incredibly fun. Not that I’m against being eco-friendly—that just wasn’t part of our thought process when we set out to do this. But hey, if it helps promote just that, I’m all for it! It’s fantastic when doing something so easy and fun is actually being helpful.
Format: The JK5 line is an amazing tribute to the artist and has integrated some very creative designs involving the all-over-print style, among others. Can you talk about some of your favourite pieces from the line?
Greg: I love the shorts and hoodie because of the organic process we went through to create it (assemblage and collage). It was a whole lot of fun and I really think both pieces are bugged out, way beyond all over print.
Mikhail: Well, I also love the Cargo shorts in particular! I’m a big fan of loud, bright, eye-catching shorts. It is the only article of clothing I wear besides sneakers that I’m OK with being very busy and loud. Plus they’re covered in the amazing collage we assembled with Joseph, which basically encompasses his artistic life from childhood to early manhood! How many other pieces of clothing chronologically detail the influences and growth of an artist? I also love the Boba Mop. Joseph did an amazing job of taking our logo and infusing it with his own design sensibility. It’s so iconic, taking the lines of Boba Fett’s Helmet and infusing them within our Bear Mop. It’s simple and brilliant, and epitomizes not only JK5, but us as well.
Format: Why do you think Mishka has been so successful?
Greg: I think a lot of our success is based on the fact that we do what we want and what we are into, and could care less if people get it or like it. We love what we do, and that is what’s most important. I think a lot of other people do too.
Mikhail: I really don’t know. I think we fill a void people wanted filled, and were there to do it at just the right time. And most importantly, we’re genuine in everything we do. But to be honest again, I’m not satisfied yet. Yes, I am living off of Mishka at this point, and yes, I’m beyond humbled by all the attention and fans we’ve gained all across the globe. I’ve even managed to gain my parents’ approval! But for me to really feel like this was a success, more time has to pass, or at the very least allow me to buy my own apartment!
Format: Are there any urban styles that you wish would die off?
Greg: Urban styles dying off? I mean, I love style especially if it’s someone expressing himself or herself. I guess what you mean or are trying to ask is whether I think something like all over print or loud colors should die off, but I really don’t care too much about that stuff. People dress the way they do to express themselves. I don’t care if their identity is because of their favorite rapper or because they want their t-shirt and shoes to match. As long as it’s their own, I’m all about it.
Mikhail: The main urban style that always irked me seems to be dying off: baggy, oversized clothing. I’m glad to see people are wearing their actual sizes these days, or even tighter shit! The more recent urban trend that bugs me is the “rocker” look in hip-hop. Dressing like Tommy Lee circa 2001 is not rebellious or even remotely rock star. It’s more a “bro-ski douchebag” look than anything else. When rappers start wearing Crass tees with the sleeves cut off, tight white jeans, 16 hole docs, and MC jackets, then I’ll be into it.
Format: Where is your favourite place to party?
Greg: I really like Studio B!
Mikhail: My house! Also I enjoy going to Studio B, but that mostly has to do with Cut & T&B throwing parties there. Also it’s close to my house!
Format: How did Mishka get involved with SUCKLORD and the Kreactivader?
Mikhail: Morgan (Suckadelic) had worked with Joseph on an amazing joint show at Alife back in ’03, so it was only fair that we got the Sucklord involved in his collection in some way! Both Greg and I have been huge fans of the Suckadelic toys and mix CDs for a long time, so we were really honored that Morgan not only did a figure for this release, but that he created a whole new character.
Format: The Pop-up Shop is ironic. It’s been around for almost a year now, but was only meant to last for three months. Why is it still around? Are there plans for a permanent location?
Mikhail: I’m surprised—this is the first time someone has asked this question. It’s still around because it was going really well and we were asked if we wanted to extend our stay, so we did. But all good things must come to an end, and the Pop-Up will close this summer with a bang, of course. We’ve been building our Flagship elsewhere in Brooklyn for a little while now, and—knock on wood—shortly after the Pop-Up closes, a forest grows in Brooklyn.
Format: Are there any other collaborations coming up?
Mikhail: The most exciting thing coming up is a T-shirt capsule with Richard Kern for this summer!
Greg: Like Mikhail mentioned, Richard Kern. I think that’s the one I’m most excited about too.
More Info: http://www.mishkanyc.com