Simone loves pasta De Cecco!

Simone loves pasta De Cecco!

“Zio, come stai?”

For the entire world he is TOKIDOKI, a huge international star who has created a cult-like following of both young kids and fashionistas  alike, head of a renowned Los Angeles-based lifestyle brand, an icon in the modern artist’s world, a painter, a man who, at the age of 34 not only has found fame and success but, above all, the love his life – Kaori.

Even with all these accolades, for me he is simply Simone, my Italian friend, who I got to know before he attained celebrity status, and, while he calls me “Zio” (uncle), I know he loves me, has a deep respect for my friendship and my passions. I just hope he does not consider me “old” because, if that’s the case, I’d kill him in a minute.

“Ciao a tutti, sono Simone Legno e sono un artista”

“Hello, I am Simone Legno, I am an artist”

tokidoki studio

Simone's Help Japan Relief campaign.

Tokidoki is the brainchild of Simone Legno: artist, illustrator, designer and above all figlio d’arte, (his mom is still a painter). Born in Rome in 1977, he began drawing cute Kawaii characters as a child: beautiful geishas, smiling cactuses, animated bullets, funny skeletons, rainbows, flowers, diamonds and milk-carton cows, all of which constitutes the world of Tokidoki – a world worthy of becoming a global multifashion brand. Simone, after collaborations with LeSportsac, Hello Kitty, Fornarina, Marvel, Onitsuka Tiger and his myth Karl Lagerfeld, still travels all around the globe to promote his brand & to pursue his artistic dream of comprehensive merchandising – Murakami docet – for all-things Tokidoki, a playful, yet provocative, sophisticated world that Simone dreams of living in. “One day, It will happen, I am sure of it.”

tokidoki primary school

Rome 1983-1984

Nowadays he lives in West LA, a few blocks away from my house, and aside from Serie A soccer games, spaghetti dinners – cooked to perfection by wife to be Kaori – and karaoke encounters, Simone has not changed so much from when he was an elementary school kid who  loved to draw, using up all his chewed, broken, unsharpened crayons to explore his passion for Japan, the world of the Mazinger Robots and the rising sun.

Simone's Mazinger drawing @ elementary school!

Simone's Mazinger drawing @ elementary school!

Ganzo meets him in his house, where he shows us his latest project: Help Relief Japan, a t-shirt whose entire sales will be donated to the Red Cross in an effort to help the victims of the earthquakes and the tsunami. We asked him a few question:

Why Japan and where did you get to know and love Japanese culture?

I love everything about Japan, from its ancient traditions to the ultra modern happy face of Shibuya, the magical silence of Kyoto, the culture, the food, the trattorie isakaya – known only by locals and open til 5 AM – not to mention karaoke, which for the Japanese, is the equivalent of a typical italian bar.

It started when I was in kindergarden, when I used to sketch Japanese robots and Asian characters.  Because the 80′s invasion by Japanese animation was so visually strong, it became part of MY CULTURE. Even my mom knows Mazinger and characters like Doraemon. Watching Japanese cartoons and animation was about more than just characters or story.  I could see their lifestyle. I looked into the world of the Japanese, what they ate, their houses, their trains, their uniforms, their little towns. From that point on I was very much in love with Japan and it was a dream of mine to go there. Then, by the age of 20, when I got my first freelance work as a graphic designer, I was able to buy a ticket to Japan. Growing up I also collected Japanese books about photography, grammar, anime, everything I could find about Japan. My Japanese library is still in Rome.”

For those who still don’t know who you are – hard to believe! – tell me what is Tokidoki and what does it mean?

“Tokidoki, in Japanese, means “sometimes.” Most importantly, it means that if you work hard…sometimes it happens for you. Far from being the Japanese version of the american dream, that is what it really is. Tokidoki means the moment we have been waiting for, a moment that changes one’s destiny.  It could be a new person or a business opportunity, a new path in your life. Tokidoki is hope, the hidden energy that everyone has inside, waiting to explode and change the world.”

How do feel that growing up in Italy has influenced your work?

“I think that it is the country of art. Since the time we are kids, even in a passive way we absorb art, from the ancient Romans to other periods like the Renaissance and the Baroque. That is where you can find the culture of design and the culture of fashion. Italians have a great passion and I really love and cherish everything I do. In my work I add as many Italian elements as I can, like one of my first toys, Bastardino, the cactus for the cactus friends, an idea which I got when I was in Southern Italy, where my father is from. There it’s very hot, dry, almost like North Africa and there  are cactuses all over. One day I was looking at them and I was thinking that from far away they look like bunnies. Then I designed the cactus friends. Also Latte, another one of my Tokidoki friends, is inspired by the same color and shape of the milk carton in Rome.

I miss Rome, especially now that I have moved to Los Angeles, I have become more nostalgic and I have put all my love for Italy in some iconic elements that are stereotypes of my country, like pizza spaghetti, soccer jerseys, Vespas.  There are also some bad stereotypes I like to have fun with, like mafia and death.”

He smiles at me, wearing what has become the stylish signature which he is known for everywhere, from Magic to Comicon, from Milano to Hong Kong, from LACMA to the Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Italy: a BORSALINO HAT.

bestia tokidoki simone legno

Simone, Roberto & Borsalino.

What is your passion, what are your emotional roots, what do you like to do in your downtime?

“Most important of all, I am Italian, and as an Italian, I treasure friends, family, De Cecco pasta, Illy coffee, la MAGICA ROMA, (his soccer team), Antonello Venditti, La, the first thing I read when I open my computer in the morning. I am also a Roman and I like that, because we are romantic, passionate, we give all of ourselves. Italian people are funny, warm and loving, we need to stay in contact with each other, with our culture, because for those of us who live abroad, it is a home away from home.

Talk to us about your collection, icons, role models, your concept of art.

I collect vintage robots, the same ones that as a kid I could not afford. I love Mori Chack and his Gloomy Bears. I like to challange myself everyday, finding inspirations in everyday life and in modern Japanese artists like Takashi Murakami, Devilrobots, Yoshitomo Nara and also in the old school ones, like Utamaro, Hokusai and especially Hiroshige for the shape and design of my ‘women’: sexy, but never vulgar.

It is important for me to show the world my concept of art. Being eclectic, comprehensive, helps your creativity, it doesn’t matter where you create art – on a skateboard, jewelry, fashion, shoes – as long as you are true to yourself, to the image and the message you want to pass along. I have always been creative with what I do, and today I can say that I made my dreams come true.

tokidoki robots

Simone <3 robots.

Simone, is there such a thing as an Italian lifestyle, and what are your thoughts on it?

“Absolutely. Yes, there is. It is a mixture of elegance, passion, fantasy and originality. Add a pinch of heart, humour and our capability to adapt to any situation you might encounter. Ta-da: there it is, your italian lifestyle. Our cultural heritage is also very important. Don’t forget we are the sons of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raffaello.”

How does Japan and the Japanese people see our Italian Lifestyle?

“When we are abroad, we become more italians then ever and we flock to Italian bars and clubs to find each other. Italian lifestyle is taken as a model in many many countries, and Japan is one of them. Besides the obvious love for Fendi, Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and our fashionistas, I have to tell you than in Tokyo, there are more restaurants and bar than you can ever imagine. Seriously. Lots of them. Their favorite coffee brand is Illy and their espresso is very good, italian style. The only problem is, if you want one, you have to ask for it in Japanese:

“Ko-hi 1tsu onegai shimasu….”. コーヒーを一杯お願いします。

Hello everyone, my name is Simone Legno. I am an artist from Rome, Italy. Ciao!

simone legno tokidoki roberto croci

love for toys... © Brad Swonetz

tokidoki duel roberto

Duel © Brad Swonetz

tokidoki loves robots

Love for robots....© Brad Swonetz

tokidoki art karaoke till dawn

Karaoke Till Dawn