For Takashi Murakami, it hasn't always been easy. Today, he's one of the most recognizable figures in the art world and has pioneered the intersection of fashion and art since the early days of his career.
Now, the Japanese icon has teamed up with luxury watchmaker Hublot to introduce the Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Sapphire Rainbow watch.
When Murakami joins our Zoom call, he is smiling, showing off the watch through his laptop camera. There are only 100 pieces available, each featuring a 45mm-diameter case cut from sapphire crystal, with a dial that takes the shape of his signature flower, with 12 petals set with 384 colored gemstones.
But, luxury watches haven't always been a part of Murakami's world.
"This year, my dad passed away," he tells me. His first memory with watches? "My dad presented me with a cheap watch. A complete imitation of some kind of Rolex. One day, I had a big battle with my dad and I told him I don't like this watch, that I hated it! So he threw it out, and that is my first impression of watches," he says with a smile, letting out a chuckle.
"Life is short, life is pain, laughing is not just happy."
"I didn't like the watch, but I had to make him smile," he says, adding that he initially lied to his father, pretending to love the timepiece to make him happy.
Smiling is a central theme in Murakami's work.
Recently, the artist lost a great friend and collaborator, Virgil Abloh, to an aggressive form of cancer. During our chat, he speaks highly of the late fashion designer. "I'm very emotional after his passing." "I had to just keep smiling," he explains. "Life is short, life is pain, laughing is not just happy."
Virgil Abloh and Murakami both changed luxury as we know it, paving the way for underrepresented groups within the industry, and opening doors. "Virgil did a lot for Black people," he says, explaining that when he first began his career in art, representation wasn't a thing. "When I debuted my work in New York, it was very difficult. I was the minority."
Takashi Murakami's art has become synonymous with happy, bright colors for many, but his signature flower character is a lot more than laughter.
"The [idea of the] flower initially came from the artistic tradition of depicting the beauty of nature called “Kachōfŭgetsu,” he explains. The inspiration to create his characters came from a T-shirt he spotted whilst living in NYC, marking the beginning of his distinct "kawaii" art.
Now, his characters are recognized all over the world. "Adults look at my art thinking 'Oh, this character is very happy,' but children are different. Children sometimes ask me 'Hey, Takashi, why is the smiling face so sad?' They see my message. This has happened so many times – children understand my deep messages."
When talking about his collaboration with Hublot, he describes the $106,000 as something that feels "childish." "It has the feeling of a toy," he says, but emphasizes the intricate craftsmanship of the watch, as well as the rotating dial as he shows how it moves through the Zoom camera.
Murakami previously worked on an all-black version of the same watch, also sporting his signature 12-petal flower, and it is clear that something else is cooking with the watchmaker. "All I can say is, stay tuned."
"I love working with a luxury brand because art is a big part of history, and watchmakers work with time. In the future, 100-200 years, we can keep the watch and [its] quality, and that is the same with art."
However, in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, Murakami is spending his time researching the Metaverse. "Right now, I'm very focused on NFTs. You know, the Metaverse?"
We briefly speak about cryptocurrency, and how every industry is slowly becoming part of the digital world in one way or another.
"The art industry already has a strong connection with the Metaverse," Murakami explains, adding that if he was to work with Hublot on another collaboration, it would be "a digital something."
Digital art is now at the forefront of innovation, and Murakami is carefully watching, and plotting his own creations. "In the near future, fashion is [also] expanding into the virtual world."
Like plenty of other people during the pandemic, Murakami spent time playing Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch with his two kids. "There was a firework [in the game], and my daughter looks at it [and says] 'wow, beautiful' but it is just in the game! But in her head, it looks like a real firework!"
For Murakami, it is important to stay connected and updated, despite having already achieved years of success worldwide.
"I still struggle every day. Technically. With the communication thing," he explains. "When I was young, after success, I thought everything would be happy. But, after success [there] is also a struggle."
"I'm 59 years old right now, I'm a pretty old guy," he continues. "My [entire career] has been a struggle, so please, for the young artists, prepare for struggle."
We wrap up the Zoom call by saying goodbye, and Murakami gives me one last look at the Hublot watch. Despite the low quality of our virtual chat, the gemstones still dazzle as the face moves. To Takashi Murakami, it is much more than just a watch.
"Wearing this watch is a way to enter my world. It is a very unique experience"