KAWS Puts His Stamp On The 2013 VMAs

KAWS’ Companion and the 2013 VMA KAWS Moonman.
Photo: MTV/Wendy Heisler

Heads up, Brooklyn! On Sunday, August 25, the VMAs are setting up shop at the Barclays Center for this year’s night of doling out music video honors—the first major awards show to ever take place in BK. This being SUCH a landmark occasion, we had to make it special, so for the first time in the show’s 30-year history, the Moonman is getting a one-time makeover courtesy of New York-based artist Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS.

MTV News’ James Montgomery caught up with the design icon at his Brooklyn studio, both to peep the special-edition statuette which reimagines the OG Moonman in combination with KAWS’ Companion—the grayscale, Mickey Mouse-inspired skull-and-crossbones character—right down to the double button-front shorts and to chat about the artist’s ties to Brooklyn. Technically, KAWS grew up in Jersey City, then moved to Manhattan’s Lower East Side for school before eventually moving to BK, but he’s laid claim to the borough for the past 13 years. Therefore, it totally counts. Also, words alone can’t accurately convey how stoked we are to fold Donnelly and his inimitable aesthetic into our VMA history, so we’d probably fudge the details to make it work no matter what. (JK, we’d never lie to you!)

The original VMA Moonman and the KAWS Moonman.
Photo: MTV/Wendy Heisler

To us, it’s a perfect marriage, not just because of the Brooklyn tie-in but because KAWS is, and has remained for years, a dynamic force in music, too. His influence runs a spectrum, extending from being as directly-related as collaborating on guitar picks with John Mayer, creating album art for Clipse, or reworking a special-edition 808s & Heartbreak cover for Kanye West, to the slightly more removed territory of his work blanketing editorial spreads featuring musicians like Michael Jackson for Interview, Clipse (again) for Complex, or Lindsay Lohan (lest we all forget “Rumors“) also for Complex.

John Mayer x KAWS guitar picks, KAWS’ special edition “808s & Heartbreak” album art, KAWS x Clipse “Complex” cover.
Photo: eBay/Def Jam/Complex

And then, there’s Pharrell. The multi-hyphenate art/music/fashion/culture juggernaut has made his love of KAWS no secret, interviewing him multiple times and even decking out a Porsche 550 Spyder with custom graphics for his feature in Uffie’s “ADD SUV” music video. (That’s a KAWS CAR, y’all! Ba. Na. Nas.) Skateboard P has also doused his Miami apartment with the artists’ work from sculptures to toys to personally commissioned paintings, but KAWS himself told the New York Times that he’d like Pharrell to take home one of these special VMA statues, qualifying, “It would just bug him out.” And it’s through Pharrell that we land at KAWS’ infiltration into the world of fashion. That’s not to say that we couldn’t have made the connection earlier—some of KAWS’ earliest works disrupted fashion ads on the sides of phone booths and bus stop kiosks with characters like “Bendy” and “Skull”—but it’s hard not to think of P in a design respect without your mind drifting to his Billionaire Boys Club streetwear label and in turn, his BBC co-founder, Nigo, with whom KAWS also has personal and professional relationship.

Nigo and KAWS have been working together for years and have collaborations on collaborations on collaborations (at least three seasons’ worth) to show for it. BAPE head tees with XX over the eyes, a collection of dissected Baby Milos replete with hoodies, totes, and toys, and even a range of sneakers marrying A Bathing Ape shooting stars with KAWS signatures. “It was the best match of a creator with our brand of all the collaborations we’ve done,” Nigo told the L.A. Times in 2009. “I think it really helped that Brian already understood our brand before we started the collaboration—he already belonged in our world.” And all of the above was carried out in conjunction with Donnelly’s own retail endeavor, Original Fake.

KAWS’ final t-shirt design for Original Fake, OF button-up shirts, KAWS’ collaboration toy with BAPE.
Photo: Original Fake/A Bathing Ape

KAWS announced the closure of Original Fake earlier this year, leaving behind a seven-year legacy of adorably irreverent streetwear, classic cut-and-sew pieces infused with the artist’s distinct point of view, and of course, a slew of other collaborations as the work he did with BAPE helped put the designer on the retail industry’s radar. Since then, KAWS has made an indelible mark on streetwear boasting a laundry list of exclusive t-shirts and highly-coveted limited edition kicks like Simpsons-inspired Vans mid-tops and multiple pairs of fluorescent accented Nike sneakers.

Karlie Kloss in KAWS collab print from Jason Wu SS ’12, Comme des Garçons x KAWS wallet, Kate Moss gets KAWS treatment.
Photo: Getty Images/Colette/@KawsStudio Instagram

Perhaps relatively lesser known is the fact that KAWS has also put his often imitated, never duplicated stamp on high fashion. (Also, that he collaborated with Kiehl’s, but that’s neither here nor there.) The OF Chompers motif works just as well on Marc Jacobs flats as it does on a pair of Bapestas. “Comme des Garçons” looks pretty good rendered in anthropomorphized bubble letters on zip wallets for Colette. And there’s no reason why soft feminine Jason Wu petals and electric pink Companion hands can’t coexist on one ready-to-wear print. Similarly, high fashion models like Raquel Zimmerman and Kate Moss are not immune to the KAWS treatment.

Point being, the breadth of influence KAWS/Brian Donnelly has had on all avenues of culture is staggering and extends well past the concentrated numerations of this post. It’s for this reason—which, LOL, we’re fully-aware is a cop-out blanket reason that includes everything he’s ever done—that we’re SO excited for this collaboration with us, MTV, for this year’s VMAs. Don’t forget to tune in to the 2013 VMAs at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Sunday, August 25 on MTV.

Additional reporting by Wendy Heisler


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