Vans x Murakami: A Collab Done Takashi’s Way

Takashi Murakami is a modern day marvel. A genius. A beautiful mind. His art inspires in ways that words cannot express.

Hailing from Japan where there is always a “right” way to do everything imaginable, he does it “Takashi’s” way. While he holds a PhD in Nihonga, the style of art that is true to traditional Japanese techniques and materials, Takashi has built a strong following at home in Japan and around the globe with everything from painting, to sculpture, to fashion, to toys, and even animated film. Despite what was set for him to be “the plan” and “the path” to follow, Takashi has lived his professional artistic career Takashi’s way.

Takashi Murakami

For the past fifteen years, his artistic concept of “Superflat” has transcended the art world from East to West, from high fashion to attainable, from fancy galleries to vending machines. The concept of Superflat is very much Takashi’s way of compressing high and low cultures together to create an inspiring irony that is art.

This high/low theme is confusing to many in the fine art world, but it has quickly gained acceptance as his style that makes his art unlike any other. In the same month one can find news of his pieces selling for over seven figures while also appearing on the cover of the street art magazine Juxtapoz. The irony again is the juxtaposition of where Takashi sits in the confines of predefined worlds by others. He has created his own world, he has created his own way – Takashi’s way.

Takashi Murakami & Marc Jacobs (2002)

The past fifteen years have been a wild ride for Takashi Murakami. He started gaining attention around the globe in the ’90s, but 2000 brought us Superflat that launched a post-modern art movement combining influence of the worlds of anime and manga.

Shortly after a successful run of the Superflat gallery tour in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Seattle, Marc Jacobs of Louis Vuitton contacted Takashi Murakami to collaborate on a series of products that would forever change the profile and persona of the LV brand as well as push Murakami’s profile forward into Western fashion culture.

Multicolore, the 32-color monogram of Louis Vuitton, became a staple and unique graphics and limited runs designed by Takashi were high sought after and chased by collectors and connoisseurs of high end fashion.

Through collaborations, Takashi Murakami has exposed his work and talents to people from so many different cultures and interest based sub-cultures across the globe.

Takashi personified the complicated and complex life of Kanye West through the Dropout Bear’s coming to life and journey through a world of Superflat in 2007.  The dichotomy of the high and low are perfectly illustrated in the “Good Morning” video as Kanye the Dropout Bear navigates the “Good Life” and a bad day that ends with him receiving a degree in Hip Hop, but leaving the viewer to interpret if such an accolade is a good or bad thing. Just when you thought you knew everything and saw everything there was to see, reading about Superflat and Takashi’s way of art gave me pause and a new interpretation of the video.


Vans is a brand that can be summed up in one word – authentic. While many brands are onto the new trends and new “it” thing, Vans remains true to its skateboarding core and its brand’s heritage. Launched in 2004, Vans Vault looked to bring not only the greatest shoes of iconic status to light, but also tell unique stories through product and design. With collaborations with Star Wars and Disney, to Marc Jacobs and Ron English, the Vans Vault line takes a Vans model on a one of a kind journey that navigates through the worlds of skate, fashion, music and art.

With a great artist and a brand that can use its shoes as a perfect collaborative canvas, it only makes sense to throw Takashi Murakami and Vans together for a collab, right? Wrong. This project happened for every reason other than to sell some units, generate buzz, or get attention on blogs and social media. This collaboration was done as a natural and organic celebration by two parties of each other’s contributions to their respective worlds.

You might say that the project started following a 2013 Harper’s Bazaar interview with Laura Brown that Takashi Murakami mentioned that he would one day like to work with Vans, but in actuality, the relationship between the two started years prior. For the past fifteen years, Takashi Murakami has been wearing Vans; more specifically, he has been wearing the Vans Slip-On as he works in his art lab.

Word of the interview spread and caught the attention of Steve Mills of Vans, the VP of Global Design & Merchandising.  It also worked out well that Mills had followed Takashi since the mid 90’s and his rise to stardom in the art world.  A few phone calls were made and a connection was made with Murakami.

A face to face meeting in Japan eighteen months ago brought together Mills and Murakami and today we have witnessed one of the greatest collaborations to ever happen.


 

Vans x Murakami Gallery Space

Our day at Hotel Du Grand Veneur started with a brief walkthrough of a gallery space lit by the high noon natural light of a clear Paris summer day. Welcoming us into the space were the friendly folks from Vans and Murakami’s KaiKai KiKi team that let us walk through the space to see the creative carnivals games, mounted skateboards and surfboards, apparel and footwear displays and original stretched canvas art.

Vans x Murakami Skateboards and Surfboards

After some time exploring the space upstairs we were greeted by the man himself – Takashi Murakami. No words were spoken and nothing needed to be said. Takashi is a man who needs little introduction as his presence alone speaks volumes of echoing inspirations.

Takashi Murakami with Kevin Bailey & Steve Mills

A brief walk through of the gallery and photo ops with Murakami and Vans executives was followed by a press gathering where we would learn even more details about the project.

Vans x Murakami Press Conference Discussion Panel

Speaking at the Vans x Murakami press conference moderated by Michael Dupouy, Takashi Murakami clarified that he was not just a fan of the Vans brand, but rather that it is a natural extension of him.

“This [wearing Vans] is like breathing air or drinking water. This is something very natural to me.”

An organic relationship and natural fit. This collaboration is everything a collaboration should be, but it was done very much in a Superflat sort of way and it couldn’t have been more evident at the party that took place that evening.


 

Vans x Murakami Carnival Game

The evening was a celebration of the Vans x Murakami collection and release that, by the time of the party on that cool Paris evening, all of the shoes had sold out worldwide.  The attendees were a beautiful Superflat mix of people with media, fans of Vans, and high-profile collectors of Takashi Murakami’s art.

Carnival games took center stage of the gallery for attendees giving everyone in the building the chance to take home limited items from the collaboration including Vans x Murakami skateboard decks and even a limited number of autographed pairs from the footwear collection.

Takashi Murakami signing skateboard

Takashi wore the biggest smile at the party taking pictures with attendees, signing autographs, and just adding even more exuberant energy to a venue filled to the brim with joy.