September 22, 2015
It’s as though it was his destiny to become an artist. Simone Legno, the brain behind the popular tokidoki brand, was actually born in Rome, Italy and has been doodling since he was just two years old. “I always had a box full of chewed up pencils and spent time in my room sketching, building toys, cutting cardboard, sewing dolls and sometimes doing stuff with my father’s tools,” he says. Although he was born with this creative talent, he does admit that he’s very bad in other fields like singing, writing and mathematics. After graduating from design school, he started a website called tokidoki.it to showcase his work, which led to collaborative projects with the likes of MTV, Volkswagen, Toyota, John Galliano and more. Even though tokidoki, which means “sometimes” in Japanese, is now widely available across a whole myriad of products and in more than 60 countries, it is still more than just cute little characters that draw strong influences from Japanese culture. To Simone, it’s a reflection of himself as he’s a person who “strongly believes in dreaming and stories with a happy ending.” This year, he was present once again at the Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention (STGCC), bringing to the table the Unicorno Series 4 (Singapore is the first location in the region to debut) and the limited edition STGCC x tokidoki Unicorno in celebration of the nation’s Golden Jubilee. By Adam Kerr.
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR VERY FIRST DRAWING?
I don’t remember my first one but my mother saved a bunch of sketches from my childhood. Looking at some of them, I realised that I had already loved to draw cute characters, animals, Asian things, Japanese robots, skeletons and pirates, which is similar to what I’m doing now.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO TAKE UP POLITICAL SCIENCE BEFORE DROPPING OUT TO PURSUE YOUR OWN PERSONAL INTERESTS?
It was before the rise of the Internet and back then, being a designer was more like being an artist. I don’t come from a wealthy family so a classic university degree was a safer path to take.
WHAT DOES TOKIDOKI MEAN TO YOU?
I consider tokidoki as the diary of my life; I put the things that touched me in the past with my daily experiences around the world. For example in my designs, there are a lot of Japanese elements because it is an important thing in my life. I also have punk rock icons incorporated in my designs as I was in a punk rock band during my teenage years. Likewise, living in LA also influenced my style to become more urban and street art.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR SOURCES OF INSPIRATION?
Generally, I try to look at my everyday life to get inspired. Books, magazines and the Internet also give me inspiration. But mostly the everyday simple things, every walking person could give a great idea.
COULD YOU TELL US MORE?
The main sources for me are memories, dreams, daily life, good feelings, trips… and somehow, all of these are related to Japan. I look, search, stylise, study, filter and transform continuously in my mind the elements around me. My art is based on watching the things around me. I will absorb it and express it in a way that communicates cuteness, positive feelings, friendship, fun and something good and moral. I am always looking around for ideas and imagining things under a different light. Simple elements are the best source of inspiration. They have a lot of interesting elements and I try to notice and combine them in a not so common way.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE JAPANESE CULTURE THAT INTRIGUES YOU SO MUCH?
I think it is hard to explain my love for this wonderful country, and it is something called “Japanisme” (a term coined to describe the craze for all things Japanese). It’s something I feel on the inside and I am totally astonished for everything that comes from Japan; from the beauty of their tradition to the super pop flashy aspects of the modern cities. I love the kindness, politeness and seriousness of the Japanese people. But they can also be quite funny, playful and extremely creative too. The Japanese culture has not only influenced my art but my room as well. It is coloured and decorated with Japanese objects, souvenirs, junk packages, toys, books, prints, t-shirts and food. In order to learn more about Japan, I will try to go to Japan as much as possible, especially when I have holidays or an occasion to go.
HOW DID THIS FASCINATION BEGIN?
I think what awoke this feeling in me was probably the invasion of Japanese animation and shows in the Italian media during the 80s. As a little boy, I was amazed with the characters and stories of the animation. Through this, I could experience the normal lifestyle of the Japanese people – what they ate, their houses, their neighbourhoods, trains, cherry blossoms, student uniforms, rice balls, the beautiful writings, etc. As a little kid, I was hooked and developed a huge curiosity, genuine love and admiration for this amazingly different world.
OUT OF ALL THE CHARACTERS YOU’VE CREATED FOR TOKIDOKI, WHICH ARE YOUR TOP THREE FAVOURITES? COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THEM?
It’s a hard choice, but the first few that come to mind are Sandy, Donutella and the Tigers (Wild boys). Sandy is a little girl who dresses up in a cactus suit because the world can be cold and scary and she protects herself with the suit from the evil things. Donutella is a little girl dressed up in a Donut suit, who came on a donut UFO to planet Earth in search for sugar, an energy source for her planet. The Tigers are the most masculine characters that I have; they are the tough inhabitants of the urban jungle.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BIG BREAK WHEN ENTREPRENEURS POONEH MOHAJER AND IVAN ARNOLD DISCOVERED YOU AND YOUR WORK. WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND THEN AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GO WITH IT?
tokidoki was becoming a very popular design and the website was getting a lot of traffic. I started to work with a couple of licensees and realised that what I really wanted to do was to incorporate tokidoki designs onto products. I needed it to become more mainstream and I had to team up with somebody. When I received a call from the U.S., I thought it was a great place to get started, and after a couple of meetings, I immediately felt like I met somebody who shared the same vision I had for my artwork, which was for it to become a global lifestyle brand. We started small, with a few t-shirts. And then, through a lot of hard work, we started to learn more and also met key partners who have helped to make us who we are today.
After three series, I figured out some sort of balance in the design line-up of the Unicorno series. It’s a mix up of cute, edgy and dressed up, all customised as tokidoki characters. That’s why there’s Ruby, the cute one with strawberry decorations, a punk rock one and one covered with spikes.
I was very happy when I was asked by STGCC to design it since I have a strong personal attachment to Singapore because of the memories I’ve made over the last 10 years, including the friends whom I cherish and the adorable super supportive fans. I wanted to create the SG50 colourful Unicorno to compliment the beautiful creative mix of diverse cultures I’ve experienced in Singapore. I’ve incorporated the Merlion and the National Flag so it’ll be unmistakably recognised as a Singaporean version.
IF THE OPPORTUNITY WERE TO ARISE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO WORK WITH NEXT?
I’d want to decorate an airplane! Singapore Airlines would be a dream come true!
GIVEN THE CHANCE, WOULD YOU MOVE EVERYTHING YOU HAVE IN LOS ANGELES TO JAPAN, AND WHY?
I’ve always dreamed of living in Japan. I’ve been there exactly 40 times and I’m always very happy to go back. Japan has always been a place where I feel at home. Throughout the years, I’ve built many relationships. My daughter is half Japanese and it would be a great place for her to grow up in. I think it’s well positioned and close to many Asian countries where tokidoki is going to grow up a lot in.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
I’ve finally started to invest more time in painting and fine art, something that I would like to grow in. My goal is to expand tokidoki globally and keep on trying infinite solutions of licensing and co-branding. I love my job and even though it is a way tougher life as to what people imagined it to be (I work 15 to 16 hours a day), it’s fun and my passion for it only increases over time. I really think that this is just the beginning for tokidoki.
The 8th Edition of Singapore, Toy, Game and Comic Convention (STGCC) was held on 12th and 13th September 2015. singaporetgcc.com
Photos courtesy: Singapore Toy, Game and Comic Convention (STGCC) 2015