Like many freewheeling creatives, Kujtin Durollari does not want to be typecast as any one thing.
Known as “Kuj,” he unveiled the first exhibition of his paintings Sunday at the Russian Tea Room. Dividing his time between New York and Los Angeles, the artist’s family has Albanian roots, as does his friend Dua Lipa. The “Future Nostalgia” musician also has familial ties to Kosovo and she turned up to show her support.
Admiring the over-the-top Russian Tea Room’s decor, she checked out the artist’s paintings but waved off any interviews. Her model-musician boyfriend Anwar Hadid also turned up, chatting and laughing with Durollari’s restaurateur father. One of the large-scale paintings on view was auctioned to benefit the Sunny Hill Foundation, a charity set up in Pristina, Kosovo under the patronage of Lipa.
Painting is something that Kuj has done throughout his life, but the works on view were completed in the past 18 months. Through Bond, the streetwear label that he and his older brother Arben started seven years ago, he has also painted on clothes. Their contemporary men’s wear is sold at H. Lorenzo in Los Angeles and in multiple overseas outposts, including ones in Japan, Italy and other countries.
The Durollari brothers traveled to Albania in July with Lipa to break ground on the Sunny Hill Kindergarten school that was scheduled to open this month. The brothers have also lent their creative talents for the decor in their father’s two restaurants — the Italian restaurant Nittis in Hell’s Kitchen and a pizzeria in Ft. Lee, N.J.
As friends and guests orbited around the Warren LeRoy-designed mirrored room checking out Kuj’s artwork, the 25-year-old artist stood slack, with his hands in the pockets of pinstripe Bond pants. “This is Bond,” he explained, showing off his sneakers, and opening the lapel-less pin-striped blazer to reveal a painterly logo T-shirt.
Asked what the hardest part about being in fashion is, he responded without any hesitation. “Everything to be honest with you: making the clothes, dealing with labor, the factories, getting the clothes done on time, getting them done — period. Getting them done right, getting them done for the right price, imports, exports, taxes, fabric costs, grading, marketing…” he said. “The thing about fashion is you have about eight to 10 pairs of hands touching the product before it’s even done. You’ve got the patternmaker, grader, marketing, cut, sewn, buy the fabric, pre-launder it, print it, label it, package it, ship it. This is what goes into one T-shirt.”
Having run a profitable business for seven years, neither brother studied design, and they often draw inspiration from film, especially classic ones, music and art. “I like to just make this big pot of all my cultures and different lanes to come out with something. It’s like a chemistry. I just put them altogether.”
Kuj, Hadid and their friend Joey Francis see themselves as a collective and they collaborated on the music that was played at Sunday’s event. Francis explained, “I want to do this for the next 50 years, not the next five years. This is just the start of a lot of things that are coming up. It’s been a great opportunity to all work together.”
Francis and Hadid modeled together for Valentino two years ago, but music production is what they are teaming up on now. (The latter’s sisters Bella and Gigi are in the industry, too.) Francis is the executive producer for Hadid’s upcoming album, which may be released by the end of this year.