Manga maestro

Legendary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami talks art, skull power and realising his dream of working with Vans
By Alex James Taylor | Fashion | 3 July 2015

Vault by Vans x Takashi Murakami

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is the latest creative to team up with lifestyle brand Vans, under their premium label, Vault by Vans. As a lifetime follower of the brand Murakami leapt at the opportunity to lend his iconic manga-influenced aesthetic to a collaborative capsule collection.

For the past fifteen years, Murakami’s artistic concept of Superflat has cut across the art world from East to West. Superflat is Murakami’s way of merging high and low cultures together within his aesthetic. Collaborative work is nothing new for Murakami, merging barriers between art, fashion and contemporary culture his work transcends all three, exercising his Superflat concept. Previously he has applied his designs to everything from album artwork for Kanye West, a Pharrell Williams music video and a hugely successful range of products for Louis Vuitton.

It’s a stellar line-up, the classic slip-ons take centre stage – Murakami claims to wear the footwear every single day – adorned in the contemporary artist’s signature smiling flower and skull motifs as well as cartoon drawings of the artist’s own dog, Pom. Keen to embrace Vans’ lifestyle ethos Murakami has not only lent his designs to apparel and footwear but also skateboards, surf decks and canvas prints.

P.S. Never one to rest on his laurels Vans’ Vice President Steve Mills also hinted at their next collaboration, with a certain Wes Lang. Epic.

Alex James Taylor: Can you talk us through the creative process behind your artwork?

Takashi Murakami: The first thing I started with was a very small drawing of the flower, and from there I repeated it into this pattern. Varying it each time. I think this flower design is very positive.

AJT: Is that how you want people to feel when they look at your artwork, positive?

TM: People here, in the West, like my work more than in Japan. Japanese people are against me, the geeks hate me, because I use Japanese geek things and they think I’m stealing it to export to the Western world.

AJT: What was the difference with working with Vans, compared to Louis Vuitton?

TM: At Louis Vuitton, I communicated over email with Marc Jacobs, I sent Marc maybe 70 or 80 images, and he chose one or two. We communicated maybe ten times for the first collaboration. But Vans said yes to everything! They are very West Coast, very relaxed and very different from Marc Jacobs.

AJT: What attracted you to working with Vans?
TM: For fifteen years I’ve worn Vans everyday in my studio, I have sixty pairs! I wouldn’t say I was a fan, Vans are like drinking water or breathing air, they are so natural to me. So Steve, from Vans, had read in an interview I did in Vanity Fair where I said that after working with Louis Vuitton the only other brand I’d like to work with are Vans. So he phoned up the journalist, got my number and then came to my studio in Japan to see me, he convinced me to use these very iconic prints, it was very relaxed.

AJT: Why did you choose to use the flower and skulls prints? 
TM: It is what I do everyday, the flowers and the skulls, it’s like the air I breathe, and because I wear Vans everyday, it was like mixing air and air.

AJT: And why did you decide to include your dog Pom in the designs?
TM: Because Vans reminds me of the beach, walking in the sun along the beach with family, relaxing. And Pom is part of my family, I could imagine walking him along the sand and both of us enjoying it.

AJT: Everyone is really impressed with the surfboards on show, what made you decide to add surfboards into the mix?
TM: I was talking to Steve about the art of making a surfboard, the hands on craft that runs through the sport’s history I really liked that idea.  It was quite a challenge as we had to find how to use rice paper to print on. Rice paper is very thin and you couldn’t produce it in Japan until only recently. About 3 or 4 months ago we found the proper technology. This was a very special moment I would say.

AJT: Do you surf yourself?
TM: No, I am just a geek, we don’t do sport. We watch videos of surfing though, that is the way geeks do surfing [laughs].

Vans X Takashi Murakami collection is available now across the US at select stores, find a complete list here

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