If streetwear is your thing, KAWS will need no introduction. For those less acquainted, let us bring you up to speed.
Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS, is a legendary artist and designer, best known for his super-collectible vinyl toys and impressive sculptures. While studying at New York’s School of Visual Arts, Donnelly began the subversive act of pasting his own artwork over bus stop advertisements by Calvin Klein and others, then spent a brief spell at Disney painting backgrounds for the likes of Doug.
Afterwards, one of KAWS' first big breaks was his foray into toy design with Japanese clothing brand Bounty Hunter, and in the early days, Donnelly's KawsOne blog was the main source for fans to stay updated on his work. Known affectionately as Chum, Companion and Bendy, his vinyl toy characters became cult collectors’ items in streetwear circles, and are still highly coveted today.
His style is instantly recognizable, usually by his trademark "XX" logo, which he has lent to collaborations with some of the world's largest brands (BAPE, Supreme, Nike, Levi's, Porter and Vans to name a few). As well as notable collaborations, and his original artwork which has filled galleries around the world, KAWS launched his own imprint OriginalFake in 2006, although sadly the label came to an end in 2013.
Regardless, the maintained level of output from this artist and his ability to stay ever-relevant in the hybrid world of art, streetwear and sneakers demonstrates the demand that KAWS’ work carries.
Ahead of the release the KAWS x Air Jordan IV, we take a look at some of the bigger achievements, which put KAWS on the map.
KAWS' MTV Moonman for 2013 VMAs
As part of the 2013 MTV VMAs, KAWS was recruited to redesign the iconic Moonman award. The Brooklyn native was a fitting choice, with the awards being held in his home city that year. It was the first time the Moonman had seen a rework in 30 years, and true to form, KAWS blessed it with a gunmetal finish and the iconic skull-and-crossbones motif, as well as the gloves from his Companion character.
KAWS said of the opportunity, “When I was first invited to do the project, I knew that I didn't want to create something new entirely, I wanted [to create] something you see that's immediately KAWS and immediately Moonman; people just get it.”
KAWS Companion for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
In 2012, KAWS’ most infamous character, Companion, graced the streets of New York City as part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The artist, although widely known across the globe, was perhaps a little misunderstood during the occasion. Commentators on the day had little to say about his balloon, with some calling it a "dead Mickey Mouse."
Floating unassumingly in front of a perfectly live and well Mickey balloon, this display demonstrates clearly the huge span KAWS’ work has across the globe, whether you know him or not.
KAWS for Hennessy
2011 saw street art collide with one of the world's biggest luxury brands – Hennessy. The LVMH-operated libations powerhouse could not, on the surface, be further away from the gritty world of the underground Brooklyn graffiti scene. Nonetheless, Hennessy tapped KAWS to lend his touch to the brand's V.S Cognac bottle label. 420,000 bottles were produced, each carrying their own serial number, pushing the KAWS name in front of new audiences across the world.
KAWS Artwork for Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak
KAWS produced limited-edition artwork for Kanye’s 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak. Displayed in New York City's Times Square, the artwork featured the tell-tale sign of any KAWS influence, the gloves of his character Companion, as well as Yeezy himself wrapped in a colorful extension of the aforementioned character's head.
The artwork isn't such a surprise when you consider that Kanye vocally supported KAWS on his now-defunct KanyeUniverseCity blog.
KAWS for Rizzoli
Founded in 1964 by Angelo Rizzoli, the eponymous publisher is an extremely well-respected name in the world of global media. Previously responsible for tomes covering the likes of BAPE, Margiela, Kanye and Supreme, KAWS and Rizzoli combined in 2010 to release this self-titled publication.
The release with Rizzoli was the first comprehensive survey of his work, comprised of works spanning 1993 – 2010 and quickly became a collector’s item.
KAWS for UNIQLO
KAWS and A Bathing Ape founder NIGO are far from strangers, and it was to the delight of streetwear heads in 2016 to hear NIGO had recruited the artist to collaborate on a series of T-shirts for UNIQLO. With NIGO at the helm of the brand's creative direction, he brought KAWS in who adorned tees with variations of his well-known characters.
At the time of release it sold out instantly in the U.S., and was then granted three further re-releases for ravenous fans.
KAWS x Nike Air Force 1 & Air Max 90
In 2008, KAWS was given a chance to take on two Nike icons, the Air Force 1 and the Air Max 90, as part of Nikes's 1World project. This was still relatively early in Donnelly's career, but the impact of this drop still made a splash. Both sneakers were predominantly black, with the exception of one Air Max 90 in white, featuring neon green hits throughout, and even clever double-X stitching on the toe.
Now, after a substantial hiatus from shoe collaborations, KAWS has teamed up with Jordan for a new premium execution.
On paper, Jordan and KAWS is a dream-team combination, perfect for die-hard streetwear collectors. With the teaser images we have seen so far, it looks as though KAWS’ influence has matured, with both soft and brushed suedes in a sophisticated grey color palette.
However, no KAWS product would be complete without a standout feature – enter glow-in-the-dark soles. As these are just teaser images, who knows what the final product might look like, all we know is they will certainly be in demand.
Stay posted for further information and release dates for the KAWS x Air Jordan IV.