Until recently, Takashi Murakami’s involvement in sneaker culture primarily involved adding his colorful graphic designs to the exteriors of shoes designed by other people. But this week, the Japanese artist released a pair that he designed from sole to shoelaces.
Called the TZ BS-06, the shoes are a little bit of a departure from the whimsical florals and bright colors Murakami is known for. And that’s because the shoes take their inspiration from another giant of Japanese culture: the anime show Mobile Suit Gundam. In the show, which debuted in 1979, there are several suits aside from the titular Gundam, and Murakami was inspired in particular by the Zaku, a green-hued humanoid robot built for military defense. (If perchance you’ve never seen the show, there’s a good explainer of what we’re dealing with here.)
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For the first time in my life, I made a pair of sneakers from scratch! From conception to drawing sketches to selecting the collaborator and manufacturer, I've handled everything, start to finish, every step of the way. Seeing the finished pair, I felt deeply emotional. I’m truly glad I did it. In the past I have collaborated with brands such as Issey Miyake, Louis Vuitton, and Vans at their requests and designed the surface patterns, packages, and wrappings, but I was never really involved in developing any products. This time, I truly got do everything from scratch and feel that this was exactly what I had wanted to do. I’m doing a fist pump in my mind! My urge to create a pair myself directly resulted from my participation in the first ComplexCon @complexcon in Long Beach, CA in 2016. The encounter with so-called Sneakerheads at the event has become the sole motivation for this project. I wish I could give back to them in some way for the confidence they gave me! To give you some background on how I ended up getting involved in ComplexCon: Around 2015 I used to enjoy reading and watching Kanye West gossips posted almost daily on Complex Media @complex and loved their site. One day, they requested an interview with me so I visited their headquarters in midtown Manhattan. The interview went swiftly but afterwards I heard their founder was asking to meet me, so I went directly to see him. This, of course, was Marc Eckō, @beingmarcecko and our fateful meeting was what led me to ComplexCon. At this first meeting Marc asked me to participate in ComplexCon. He explained the event to me in detail but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Yet I readily agreed because I loved Complex. I started working on various design elements including the ComplexCon logo, still without any grasp of what the event was all about. I was supposedly a Host Committee Member or some such, along with Pharrell @pharrell , which made me feel quite presumptuous. 👉PART2 translation: @tabi_the_fat
Murakami worked with Porter Yoshida & Co., the legendary Japanese maker of nylon bags and luggage, who called while he was working on the shoes to ask him to collaborate on a bag. He agreed, but asked the company to create eight detachable bags for the shoes in return. Wearers can use them to give the shoes some visual heft—and, of course, tote small goods in. The green bags reflect both the colors of the Zaku and their use as a defense mechanism.
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👉 When I arrived on site on the first day of the event, I heard people had waited in line overnight to get in. And on the event floor, people recognized me, saying “OMG, it’s Takashi!” “That’s the real guy!” and “Shake hands with me!” They all seemed to know me and surrounded me excitedly. I was completely taken by surprise, as I had no idea how they’d even heard of me. I learned that these participants were referred to as Sneakerheads after the event. I still don’t exactly know why they came to know of me, whether it was through my collaborations with Kanye West, Louis Vuitton, or VANS, or else through the merchandise I produce. Whatever the case, it turned out I was somehow popular among Sneakerheads! And so it seemed imperative that I made sneakers myself. Around 2017 I asked Yuichi Wakatsuki @wakamoon , with whom I was working on producing bags, whether he thought it was possible for us to make sneakers, and he gave me a positive answer saying it should be if we asked around for manufacturers in Vietnam or elsewhere. Excited, I decided to go ahead with it. When I was exploring possible concepts, I noted that Balenciaga had come out with enormously bulky sneakers in 2016, and I considered them in the context of supercars and anime robots; that was actually an area I was well-versed in. I contemplated what distinctively Japanese sneakers might look like, and it hit me that it should resemble something like Mobile Suit Gundam’s Zaku. I decided that the ‘90s military-themed Zaku, which looked like a tank with its many pockets and bags, might especially be suitable. For military aesthetic I thought the fabric for flight jackets might work, and by association I thought of working with Porter @yoshidakaban.official , when by chance Porter reached out to me asking if we could collaborate on their Tanker Helmet Bags’ 30th anniversary. We decided to first collaborated on their Tanker bag, and then on the sneakers. Everything just happened to align, the timing worked out, and the project came to fruition. 👉 PART3
The artist said in posts on Instagram that he initially got involved with the sneaker community when he met Complex founder Mark Ecko and collaborated with him on graphic designs for ComplexCon in 2015. When he showed up, he was shocked by how many sneakerheads recognized him and his work.
“I was completely taken by surprise, as I had no idea how they’d even heard of me,” he wrote. “Whatever the case, it turned out I was somehow popular among Sneakerheads! And so it seemed imperative that I made sneakers myself.”
If you want a pair, you can buy them for ¥64,800 (about $613 at current exchange) on Murakami’s website, Tonarino Zingaro.