tokidoki's SANDy, left, Bastardino and Sabochan wear prickly cactus suits to keep the cold, cruel world at bay. CLICK FOR LARGE
Designs reveal artist's personality
Japan inspires tokidoki artist
SHOPPERS passing by LeSportsac Saturday afternoon were curious about the line of 300 people leading from the front of the store to the parking lot.
Inside, tokidoki designer Simone (see-MO-nay) Legno was busily autographing items for fans, anything from his designs for LeSportsac, to tokidoki toys, T-shirts and even blank notebook pages.
TOKIDOKI FOR SMASHBOX
Debut of Smashbox's tokidoki collection of pastel cosmetics for spring and summer:
Time: Noon to 6 p.m. tomorrow; meet designer Simone Legno from 1 to 4 p.m.
Place: Sephora, Ala Moana
The event marked the debut of his spring/summer "Pirata" or "Pirate" collaboration with LeSportsac, a collection that will hit store shelves in mid-February, and it wasn't just a signature fans were getting. Legno, with more than 100 markers set out in front of him, drew pictures of popular tokidoki characters for each fan, while taking time to stand for photographs as well. So what started as a three-hour signing session stretched from 1 to 7:15 p.m.
At about 5 p.m., one girl fainted and had to be taken away by ambulance, but Legno signed something for her as well, with a get-well note that ended, "Don't make us worrry!"
Valerie Kono and Juliann Saito were first in line at 9:30 a.m.
tokidoki designs grace Smashbox's limited-edition spring cosmetic collection.
"His designs are so cute," said Kono, who has bought seven LeSportsac pouches, purses and satchels since Legno began his collaboration with the company early last year. "I was going to bring 'em all, but I think that would have taken too long, so I only brought a couple."
Leslie Yano brought several tokidoki toys that she bought online, quantifying her collection by saying she has "too many" at home, "but even more bags."
Two days later, sitting poolside at a hotel in Waikiki, Legno said of his signings, "I want to put some kind of embellishment to highlight the fact that they waited two or three hours. I want to make something special, and even the last one in line gets the same treatment."
In other cities, individuals have approached him with trembling hands, and he smiles at the notion that anyone would be afraid to approach him. "People think I'm such a serious artist, but they don't know how silly I am."
To get an idea of Legno's personality, one need only look at his charming and colorful characters. His is a sunshiny world of smiling flowers and rainbows, that doesn't ignore the bad in human nature that lurks in the form of bullet and devilish chili pepper imagery, though even death -- a character named Adios -- looks cute.
Each element relates to a facet of the artist's personality, though when pressed, he says he's most like the cactus-costumed dog Bastardino, or "Little Bastard."
The Cactus Friends are the most popular, and started with a character named SANDy who views the world as cold and scary, and outfits herself in a prickly cactus costume for protection.
"She makes her dog wear a costume too, and he's small and cute but he wants to look feisty," Legno said. "That's like me; I bark a lot but I don't bite."
It's been a rapid rise for tokidoki as a marketing phenomenon since the company materialized in 2004: tokidoki graphic tees, jewelry, watches, skate decks and collaborations with New Era for caps, iSkin for iPod covers, Strangeco for toys and Smashbox for cosmetics, with more deals in the works.
Legno is recognized for characters capturing the duality of human nature, good or bad, sexy or innocent. Qees -- dangling toys that come with each tokidoki for LeSportsac item -- have two faces, one happy and one sad.
His designs also reflect his fascination with Japanese culture and artforms. He recalls drawing Asian characters when he was only 4. "In Italy in the '80s, there were a lot of TV shows imported from Japan. I had an instinctual attraction to Asia and Japan, and every time I saw something from Japan, like cherry blossoms, I would get goosebumps. It was a very emotional involvement.
"The first time I had money, I went to Japan. It was my first dream, to go to Japan. I went 12 times because I like very much the iconography," Legno said.
He notes the duality in Japanese art and culture, from the traditional elegance of wood prints to "super crazy, colorful noisy things," like videogame parlors.
"I like to mix classic ideas with cute. People tell me I draw anime or manga, but I don't think I do. I identify with the kawai culture of Japan. My girls are different from the manga girls with their big eyes and big breasts."
His fashion girls often wear inked sleeves of kabuki, ukiyo-e, crane or koi imagery.
Having explored this world in depth, he remains fascinated by the cartoon robots of his childhood and has a habit of seeking them out on eBay. "Most of the time when he loses an auction, it's to someone else in Italy," Arnold said.
Tokidoki in Japanese means "sometimes" or "from time to time," as in sometimes something happens to change one's destiny, which is what happened when Ivan Arnold discovered Legno's portfolio online.
Legno was already successful as a graphic artist and illustrator who had worked for designer John Galliano, Toyota, Daihatsu and MTV. His online portfolio was drawing about 20,000 hits a day, and he had a limited number of T-shirts and bags for sale, but his work wasn't close to being recognized as a brand.
Arnold showed Legno's work to Pooneh Mohajer, who, with her sister Dina, founded the Hard Candy cosmetics line.
On seeing Legno's work, "I started jumping up and down and screaming," she said. "I hadn't been as excited about anything since Hard Candy."
"Every page was just eye candy on the screen and we said we just gotta meet this person," Arnold said.
On the other side of the world, Legno was familiar with Hard Candy's success, and when he met Mohajer and Arnold in L.A., the trio clicked. The business partners now carry the title of "co-pilots" on the vehicle that is tokidoki.
"It was something I felt, that at that moment I needed help to jump from the art and collectible art community to stable global products," Legno said. "They had a vision of tokidoki fashion, cosmetics and a tokidoki store, and the idea of being able to draw with all the freedom you want is what any artist would dream about."
The excitement hasn't waned for any of them.
"After years as an entrepreneur, I can say this has been the most fun I've ever had in a venture," Arnold said. "We tell each other 'Don't you dare open that package!' when the UPS man shows up with something from a manufacturer. We all want to be there when it emerges from its brown paper wrapping. It's like Christmas every day!"
And that's very tokidoki.