26 Mar
Part One in the lost history of a pop-fashion machine

Tokidoki is a Japanese word whose etymology is, for the most part, vague. The definition can flip from “sometimes” to “constantly”, although the latter’s more appropriate when applied to the flourishing pop-fashion brand tokidoki, as its proprietors are always in motion. Their output is prolific, their hustle grand. You’ve seen their coveted hyper-stylized Karl Lagerfeld 11″ vinyl figures, ubiquitous LeSportsac handbag collection, and their Cactus Friends plush toys — not to mention all their wide-ranging Hello Kitty collaborations — and it’s all the brainchild of tokidoki’s three founders. Even the product line itself is more bi-product than product — a bi-product manifested by those three fairly different personalities with three considerably different backgrounds. The three, however, share one common goal: Success.

Hit the Jump to read Lo Pan’s spring break required reading, The History of tokidoki — including several product galleries and interviews with founders Simone Legno, Pooneh Mohajer and Ivan Arnold — after the Jump…

“As a walking tokidoki billboard, it is hard not to admire Simone’s commitment to and adoration of the alternative reality he has created…”

The Cliff Notes on the brand tokidoki: The company officially started in 2005 like many an upstart brand, simply selling t-shirts. A cold call to LeSport Sac from tokidoki’s gregarious CEO, Ivan Arnold, resulted in a licensing deal with the handbag company. The handbags adorned with Italian designer Simone Legno’s playful and simplistically stylized characters emotionally connected to young women, and were a booming success — popping up on well-heeled streets, avenues, promenades and parkways across America, proudly strutted by its adoring female contingent. The brand had achieved traction. Next up were similar cold calls resulting in more licensing opportunities including Smashbox, Fornarina (the Italian shoe and apparel company and licensee for the tokidoki store in Milan), Onitsuka, Skullcandy headphones as well as collaborations with Sanrio and its iconic Hello Kitty brand, New Era, frozen yogurt impresarios/hipsters Yogurtland and many more. The brand is now a boutique with hundreds of product SKU’s ranging from toys to pillow cases to collectible watches.

The gamut of tokidoki’s product line are vast and plentiful, but it’s the personalities composing the leadership and actualizers of the brand that are the true product of tokidoki. If the three partners hadn’t randomly and haphazardly found one another, none of this would have been possible. If not for a cold call, a solicitation for a date, and an eventual invitation wrapped in faith — besetting a reluctant young entrepreneur and designer on an adventure starting from his small Italian hometown ultimately landing him in Los Angeles — tokidoki would remain nothing more than a slang word with a dual and vague definition. It’s also noteworthy that the proprietors’ names read more like U.N. ambassadors than cohesive members of a boutique trend-oriented brand: Simone Legno (designer and originator), Ivan Arnold (its hearty CEO) and Pooneh Mohajer (the brand’s COO).

What started it all: tokidoki’s LeSportsac handbag collection

Simone Legno speaks with a distinct and caked Italian accent. Sitting in his office, he is somewhat easier to understand than during our various phone conversations, as traditional Italian hand gestures and peculiar facial tonalities fill the gaps. He exudes a kind energy, usually concerned with the comfort of his guest — certainly a hospitable guy. He’s certainly also an adept promotional guy, adorned head to toe with his brand — complete with an earring set, watch, and perhaps next time even a “heart and crossbone” (tokidoki’s trademarked emblem) eye contacts. Certainly time will tell. Judging from his appearance, it is painfully obvious that he is one with his creation, head-over-heels in love with his creative mindsprings and the fountains they bare. As a walking tokidoki billboard, it is hard not to admire his commitment and adoration to the alternative reality he has created that is now represented on anything which allows printing on its surface.

This commitment and dedication, not only physical but esoteric, to his ideas and characters he creates is the sugar, cherries and dough for this pie mix. It begs the question: “Why Japanese-inspired kawaii images”? You’re Italian for chrissake! Certainly high fashion, Vespas, espressos, vampy red lips, roofless sports cars, futbal (soccer, as we refer to it) and all things stereotypically Italian must have been the points of influence. However, Japanese anime? As far as I see it, Simone’s creations hold less in common with anime than they do with Hello Kitty, but then again, here lies the mystery. Sure, when I was young, we had Sanrio. The girls in school would chew on the bubblegum-scented erasers and flock the halls with lunchboxes and backpacks featuring Hello Kitty and her flat, bold-black outlined iconography. I was aware of it, the brand had certainly imprinted itself in our lexicon of pop culture references, but I personally hadn’t found it an influence.

As Simone explains it, anime and Japanese pop culture influences had seeped through the Italian government-run channels (only a handful of them) in the form of cartoons. Well, yes, this makes sense. Anime cartoon productions are in infinite supply, hurried out to market by several development companies through Japan, China and Korea. The styles are the same: the fantasy worlds, characters, relationships, stories, plots (or lack of them) are all stock. Like a cartoon’ed Commedia dell’arte or Well Made Play. Infinite supply means cheap licensing which equals massive distribution, and Europe was a perfect destination. Simone and his Italian peers, mirroring several trends we had here in the states circa the 1980’s — eg the fantastic world of Saturday Morning and After School Cartoons — were a product of their environment. A blistering and fruitful world of pop culture appetizers and main courses. Something that the youth in my generation fed heartily on, and just as we did (copying images of Popeye, Tom and Jerry, etc), Simone copied the anime images which captured his imagination.

Simone had showed a propensity in his ability to draw, and he carried this creative vice through high school. In Rome, the city in which he grew up, Simone had found a counter culture: underground boutiques which carried punk rock records, t-shirts and skateboard magazines. Influenced by what was readily available to those fringe youths living in LA, NYC, Boston or DC — pertaining to punk, skate and hardcore (fashion, music, and lifestyle) — Simone discovered a new set of influences. And as the Ramones were once imported to England, sewing the seeds of influence for thousands of bands (including the Sex Pistols and Clash), California punks like NOFX and Bad Religion were doing the same for a small set of Italian punk loyalists running about Rome. The next logical step? Start a band and illustrate for zines, of course. And when able to, hang out in squats, smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, swill beer and cheap table wine and attend a punk show, or play one of your own. This is what Simone did, youth in revolt.

tokidoki’s founder and lead designer Simone Legno with Karl Lagerfeld and the highly coveted vinyl toy created for the fashion icon

Punk was the new Marx Manifesto — exciting, visceral, disguised, energetic and misguided in its expression, yet often heralding messages laden with integrity and equality. Perfect for any artist. Vive le Proletariat! However, the idea of “making a living” soon became more pressing. Post high school Simone attended college, and upon graduating started a business: a web development agency. It is here where Simone fused his love of counter culture kitsch and anime with his education in graphic design and web development. It is here where Simone created tokidoki in his spare time, trading images and ideas with other underground graphic artists, populating and pollinating his tokidoki world with a matrix of pop surrealist artists, toy designers, graphic designers, web developers and general aesthetic hunters via the web platform. Through this network of designers and aficionados, Simone Legno breached the walls of indifference and found himself an audience, collecting a few awards and secret admirers along the way. And looking through the glass of a computer screen on the other side of the world was Ivan Arnold. And if there’s one thing Ivan is able to do, it is identify potential.

Come back tomorrow for Part II in the History of tokidoki, which will feature interviews with founders Ivan Arnold and Pooneh Mohajer, and of course more exclusive product galleries…

4 Responses to “The History of tokidoki vol I”

  1. […] is Volume II of Lo Pan’s History of tokidoki (read vol I from Friday), the story behind one of the most prolific pop fashion lines of the decade. […]

  2. […] Mimobots, artist Tara McPherson’s Cotton Candy Machine and even tokidoki, who we dedicated an entire feature to (actually, two features to). Seeing as NYCC is the second biggest nerd convention in the country […]

  3. Hello there, just stopped by doing some research for my Acer website. Truly more information that you can imagine on the web. Wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but good site. Take care.

  4. […] Simone Legno, who was the subject of a LIAS feature last year, lends his highly illustrative style to this very limited edition wingchair dubbed the […]

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