I am not a fashionista. In fact, this writer is probably the furthest one could get from the word.
I’m the type of person to pick out a graphic tee, jeans and/or stretchy pants, and call it a day; should I find myself in a clothing store of any kind (if not for the non-fashion goods in said store), I head straight for the t-shirts.
This is why the Uniqlo KAWS collab popularized in 2019 is right up my alley.
What is Uniqlo?
While “Uniqlo” is fairly recognizable when it comes to casual clothing, I’ll give my fellow non-fashion people a quick rundown…
Uniqlo, an abbreviation/play on “Unique Clothing,” is the brand behind a globe-spanning Japanese line of casual wear with a focus on comfort, simple colors, and sleek designs for men and women alike. It is also a name responsible for many an artsy collaboration and controversy. It goes without saying that the company as a whole has had its share of drama in the past.
I could plummet towards the “rabbit hole” discussing whether or not we, as consumers, should “separate art from the artist,” but I’ll save that for another time. We’re here to talk collabs. We’re here to talk weird. We’re here to talk KAWS.
Who is KAWS?
In the seventy-one years Uniqlo has been around, their practices have come to include reimagining the iconography of artists like Andy Warhol and Keith Haring. This process results in select collections of Warhol, Haring, etc. inspired graphic tees with a lot of the original pieces’ charm.
Though Uniqlo has collaborated with a total of twelve artists, this pair, in particular, has always screamed commercial.
Warhol’s cans and Haring’s dancers were slapped on mugs and posters long before any clothing company stepped up to the plate, but I mention them as their respective styles exemplify Uniqlo’s image to a T.
The business that is “Unique Clothing” makes it their business to hunt down the simple at a glance, marketable, yet weird.
The latest face of this project is the man known as KAWS.
Brian Donnelly, the talent behind the KAWS persona, began his career as an artist and designer back in the ’90s. The cast of characters Donnelly incorporates in his paintings, prints, and sculptures are a mixed bag of original concepts and redesigns of icons such as the Smurfs and SpongeBob Squarepants. Unlike the KAWS treatment of these icons (which are “x-eyed” tweaks at best), the way in which he depicts a half-exposed Mickey Mouse through sculpture elicits a double-take.
Mickey is borderline unrecognizable, unsettling and warranting of sympathy all at once, thanks to that framing.
KAWS utilizes bold lines, pleasing round shapes, and “x-ed” out features to really make his cast pop as deconstructions of childhood and child-friendly media. They simply ooze personality, whether that be resignation or a restrained kind of happiness. Needless to say, people took notice.
KAWS’ debut in merchandising began with a number of Japanese vendors including DJ, designer, and producer Nigo, founder of the fierce A Bathing Ape (BAPE) brand, starting from 1999.
He proceeded to work on luxury and music-related products with big singers from the U.S. such as John Mayer, Kanye West, and Pharrell Williams (2008-2014). His collab with the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, even resulted in the latter’s online store crashing due to an overwhelming demand for the limited edition Cookie Monster-esque figurine, BFF, being sold at the time in 2017.
These are but the tip of the iceberg as far as projects go, KAWS’ first collab with Uniqlo finally taking place one month prior to that with the MoMA. The first phase of the Uniqlo KAWS project involved the cast of Peanuts in the creation of accessories, clothing, and “x-eyed” Snoopy plushies set at more affordable prices.
The second phase would shift its focus from Peanuts to Sesame Street a year later.
What To Know Before the Sesame Street Restock
As to be expected from KAWS’ craft at this point, his take on Cookie Monster, Elmo, and friends from Sesame Street for Uniqlo KAWS 2018-2019 is equal parts fascinating and unsettling. In fact, three of KAWS’ t-shirt designs saw to the return of his flower-headed BFF from the MoMA incident as well as a second Elmo-inspired BFF.
In addition to KAWS’ obligatory redesigns, the blue and red BFFs and original character COMPANION, inspired by previous Mickey Mouses, also made guest appearances on a couple of tees. Unfortunately, in a repeat of what happened at the MoMA, the Sesame Street collection following the start of Uniqlo KAWS 2018 sold out in a matter of minutes and has yet to restock as of pre-summer 2020.
You’d think that the companies and individuals looking to work with Mr. Donnelly would have learned by now that collaborating on a collection, especially a summer collection, with its own reputable iconography merits a few extra boxes.
Then again, this just comes to show how popular KAWS and his ensemble are.
There is no set date for restock, but considering when Uniqlo last opened for business, anyone interested in a Sesame Street plushie or t-shirt should check the online store in early May and June with card and online shopping cart at the ready.
As someone who adores any and all things that can pull off a cute and morbid aesthetic, I’ll be keeping a non-x eye out for whatever KAWS has planned, regardless of medium, for 2020.