As he opens a gallery and pop-up above his London studio, the Sang Bleu founder answers on high school cliques, secret talents, and the book that changed his life
As well as etching designs into skin, tattoo artist and publisher Maxime Buchi has spent the past decade making his mark on culture. After arriving in London in the mid-00s to work as a graphic designer (notably, he’s had a hand in the logos of fashion houses including Rick Owens and Balenciaga) Buchi launched Sang Bleu, a publication which traversed sexuality and subculture, fashion and fine art.
What began as a project first devised to satisfy his own creative and intellectual desires soon found a receptive audience, with followers across the world eagerly clicking onto its website and collecting its now-cult print editions. As Buchi developed a dedicated following for his work as a tattoo artist, Sang Bleu grew as a platform for originality, subversion, and the outsider points of view which, in an age more defined by selfies than subculture, you might have forgotten were still thriving.
Today marks the grand opening of the Sang Bleu Physical Space, the gallery-slash-pop-up which occupies the ground floor of Buchi’s Dalston studio (a spot which, when they first moved in, was lent out to brilliant and often underrated menswear designers Cottweiler). For Buchi, it’s been a long time coming. “The magazine was great but it was a statement and I always wanted to upgrade to an experience, to an intellectual experience,” he shares from a sofa in the back of the shop, while a stream of people busy themselves with preparations for the opening. First, that experience found an outlet in an early series of lectures and performances, but the Physical Space will bring things to the next level. Buchi is clear about the motivation behind the expansion, though – “It's not for money. It's a space to share and gather, and brainstorm, an incubator of ideas.”
Notably, it will also be a place to purchase branded Sang Bleu gear, a kind of merch line for what Buchi has built that allows those invested in the brand to show off their allegiance. The SB garments, which Buchi says he wants to keep “democratic and affordable”, are intended to run alongside a more considered fashion project, Physical, which he’s aiming to fully launch next spring and which will coincide with a new issue of Sang Bleu, the first since late 2012. “The idea of producing clothing is something that I always had as a fantasy but felt a little shy about, because I grew up in a place where fashion is wasn’t really happening,” Buchi admits, referring to his youth in Switzerland – where he says British fashion magazines opened his eyes to a world he didn’t have access to. “I had a bit of a complex coming to London, being in the heart of everything I liked about fashion. It took me a while to find an angle that I was feeling comfortable with and to get to a place where I'm like, okay, maybe I have something to do there.”
Think he sounds busy? He’s also recently published books, designed a watch with Hublot, and his wife has just had twins. Bearing that in mind, we invited him to take our newly-revamped quickfire pop quiz – answering on everything from high school cliques to the book that changed his life.
Who gave you your first break?
Maxime Buchi: A man called Pierre Keller, who was the head of the art school that I went to in Switzerland.
What’s a misconception people often have about you?
Maxime Buchi: That I’m a girl.
What word best describes the world in 2016?
Maxime Buchi: Hysterical.
What’s a lesson that you learned the hard way?
Maxime Buchi: That you cannot have your cake and eat it.
What book changed your life?
Maxime Buchi: A book called Almost Transparent Blue.
What song moves you the most?
Maxime Buchi: Probably that song by Nick Cave, “Into My Arms”.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Maxime Buchi: I just wanted to be all I could be.
What clique were you in in high school?
Maxime Buchi: I was more of a loner, I wasn’t really in a clique.
What posters were on your bedroom walls as a teenager?
Maxime Buchi: I was just discovering rap magazines, so any centrefold from XXL or The Source, probably.
Which fictional character do you most identify with?
Maxime Buchi: Kung Fu Panda.
What’s your favourite of your own tattoos?
Maxime Buchi: I have a sentence tattooed inside my lower lip that says ‘my loves’ in Italian.
What’s your secret talent?
Maxime Buchi: I had this weird phase that I completely admit to and have no shame over, which was getting into Burning Man-type stuff. I don’t know what it’s called in English, but you know that kind of juggling, when you have two chains with a ball on fire at the end? I can do that. (To someone in the studio) I’ll blow your mind.
Maxime Buchi: I’d say – generally – success; I think the idea of self-fulfillment is overrated, the idea of self-realisation is a romantic capitalist idea that is foolish.
“I had this weird phase of getting into Burning Man-type stuff. You know that kind of juggling, when you have two chains with a ball on fire at the end? I can do that. I’ll blow your mind” – Maxime Buchi
Maxime Buchi: Parenthood.
What character trait do you most admire in others?
Maxime Buchi: Pride.
Which film do you never get bored of?
Maxime Buchi: The Brown Bunny.
What are you embarrassed to admit?
Maxime Buchi: Nothing embarrasses me anymore.
What did you dream last night?
Maxime Buchi: I’m not really good at remembering my dreams, especially with two newborns at home, sleep is so fickle!
If you could own any piece of art, which would you choose?
Maxime Buchi: A sculpture by a French artist called Pierre Huyghe. It’s an amazing piece statue of a naked woman lying down and her head is a beehive, with real bees. That might be a bit hard to have at home, but he made some aquariums with hermit crabs inside, and their shell is a Brancussi head – and that’s pretty fucking amazing.
What surprises you about fatherhood?
Maxime Buchi: That it actually is relaxing. Not physically, but mentally.
When did you realise your wife was the woman you wanted to make your wife?
Maxime Buchi: Immediately.
What piece of clothing means the most to you?
Maxime Buchi: Well, there is a t-shirt that was one of the first things we did in the scope of Sang Bleu a long time ago – seven years ago – which was actually designed by Lotta Volkova. We’d been flatmates and we used to hang out with Alban (Adam) as well, and this t-shirt is probably the most meaningful because it symbolises, for me, a time that was a turn in my life. It’s just one simple piece, but it summarises what my whole world is now in so many ways. Lotta was someone who really inspired me when I arrived in London ten years ago, but also it has tattooing involved in it. It’s one of the first things we did with Sang Bleu, and she went to do her thing and I did mine, and it’s amazing to see what she’s doing now. Something clicked for me around that time, and I think that t-shirt really symbolises that.
What’s the last lie that you told?
Maxime Buchi: That I would be here at 10:30. (Maxime was late for our interview. I have forgiven him.)
What advice would you give your past self?
Maxime Buchi: I wish I had been less judgemental in my youth… but it got me where I am, and now I know better.
And lastly, how would you like to be remembered?
Maxime Buchi: I would like people to remember that I do everything for love.