Attempting to capture the essence of any underground culture in writing is an effort generally left well alone. The ambiguity of the term “underground culture” itself, as well as its shifting nature from place to place renders the task akin to succinctly defining emotions such as passion, heartbreak, or happiness. Typified terms such as “excited” or “nervous” never seem to aptly capture the entirety of those emotions, and the experiences that come with them.
However, when talking with the heads of two brands at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of one of Montreal’s underground scenes, it becomes increasingly clear that the picture is not as blurry as one might think. One Diamond Brand Manager, Prince Kerr, and KAJ Founder and Director, Abdoulaye Mouflet, have both embraced similar ideologies as the driving forces behind their brands. Despite being situated in completely different spheres of influence, with One Diamond dedicated to streetwear and retail, and KAJ immersed in the realm of throwing events, a common denominator underlies them both –perhaps alluding to the success of both budding companies. When asking Kerr to introduce himself and his brand, he puts that ideology forward without hesitation, “One Diamond is a brand about being true to who you are as opposed to following the systems that are around you” he immediately answers, a sentiment reflected in both the name of the brand, as well as in its slogan, “Be true to you.”
One Diamond’s recent collaboration with Montreal artist PONY
Mouflet echoes the same sentiment when asked about KAJ, saying that “KAJ in itself is a pretty new brand, so I would not say it has an identity yet, but it definitely falls in the path of paving your own way, and by doing that, creating waves around you.”
To that end, both One Diamond and KAJ have dedicated themselves as platforms for those who embrace their shared goal of cultivating individuality. Both companies collaborate heavily with local artists, photographers, musicians, and others in order to provide an avenue of expression for the different creative energies housed within Montreal. With the goal of elevating the city to a new cultural prominence, One Diamond and KAJ strive to play an active role in shaping what that might look like. The two differ slightly in approach; for Kerr, talent is easy to recognize in the city. Kerr adds that there is a level of energy that he connects with that leads to his collaborations, citing KAJ as an example. One the other hand, Mouflet aims to lead by example, hoping that by doing what he does he can shine a spotlight on other talented artists.
“When [KAJ] started, it wasn’t what it was now. We were throwing a lot of events with DJs, big names, whatever. After I was like ‘nah,’ I’d rather work with local artists, create a platform, and do collaborations, and that’s when it blew up”.
In the end however, both stress that what they do could only have been possible in Montreal. Kerr cites his experiences growing up in Montreal, where he sensed that many had a general feeling of incompleteness. To Kerr, One Diamond was created to identify with that generation of individuals that wanted to go and do something to fill the void. Kerr adds that “at this stage in Montreal, I feel like there’s a lot of creative energy that’s just floating around in a lot of people; the people influenced One Diamond to happen, that’s what the people were asking for. Our slogan is Be True to You.”
Mouflet does not see any other city where KAJ could work. When comparing the atmosphere of Montreal to that of his home, New York City, Mouflet says that Montreal’s spirit of community and collaboration is opposite to the competitive nature of NYC. “The only reason why it’s working so well is because of how this city can allow you to grow…It’s very easy to connect with other brands,” says Mouflet. Kerr adds that “it’s almost like you’re putting each other on by just being whatever the hell you are, you know?”
Putting this spirit of collaboration on display, from September 22-24, One Diamond will be throwing a showroom release event to present their new pre-fall capsule collection. The event represents a unique opportunity to witness the special qualities of one of Montreal’s burgeoning creative scenes by giving different local acts the spotlight each day. The three-day spectacle will feature local Montreal rapper, Nate Husser and the Thug Mansion Family, music and artists organized by KAJ, and others. Making sure to, as Kerr puts it, “bring the funk,” the showroom exemplifies the special and synergistic nature of Montreal’s underground culture scene, ultimately creating a special and uncommon experience for all that choose to attend.