From Kanye to Crocs: Takashi Murakami’s most interesting collaborations

Collaborations are becoming more and more commonplace each year, with many welcoming the creative merging between two artists from different creative worlds. These kinds of crossovers are becoming more commonplace and “selling out” is not an issue for artists anymore. Why? Because a meaningful combination of reactive offsets is fascinating, both from an artistic and visual point of view.

One artist who is frequently involved in such collaborations is Takashi Murakami, whose influences span from the antiquated techniques of traditional Japanese nihonga paintings to contemporary anime. This unique collision of old and new has proven immensely popular and also given way to Murakami’s distinguished Superflat movement. This refers to what the artist deems “flat” Japanese artistic traditions, taking elements from pop culture and blurring the lines between high art and consumerism.

Murakami’s work has been some of the most highly sought-after by collectors in recent years. As an esteemed artist famous for blending art and commerce, it’s no surprise Murakami has been involved in a multitude of diverse collaborations over the years, covering music, fashion, and even sport.

"Graduation" was released on September 11, 2007. Roc-A-Fella Records/UMG Recordings, Inc.

“Graduation” was released on September 11, 2007. Roc-A-Fella Records/UMG Recordings, Inc.

Takashi Murakami x Kanye West

Kanye West first approached Murakami in 2007 about working with him. Three months after a meeting in the artist’s studio, Murakami got the call that West wanted an album design for his third album, Graduation. The cover art depicts an animated bear version of West in space, expressing colorful, pastel imagery synonymous with Murakami’s style. He also directed the music video for the opening track “Good Morning”, which was shot using the characters he created.

“The cover is based on Kanye’s theme of student life. School. It’s a place of dreams, of righteousness, a place to have fun. It’s also occasionally a place where you experience the rigid dogma of the human race,” Murakami explained to Entertainment Weekly. “Kanye’s music scrapes sentimentality and aggressiveness together like sandpaper, and he uses his grooves to unleash this tornado that spins with the zeitgeist of the times. I too wanted to be swept up and spun around in that tornado.”

This wasn’t their only partnership. The first collaboration was such a success that West asked Murakami to design the cover for the 2018 debut album by Kids See Ghosts (a hip-hop duo comprised of West and Kid Cudi). Murakami was inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s famous Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, with the mountain sitting in the background of the psychedelic scene presented, showing a ghost-like figure riding on top of a monster with sharp teeth and haunting eyes.

A detail from Lionel Messi and a Universe of Flowers by Takashi Murakami. Photograph: Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co./PA

Takashi Murakami x Lionel Messi

A Japanese artistic icon teaming up with an Argentinian football superstar. Now if that’s not an interesting collaboration, what is? As part of a charitable initiative aimed at providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children in Asia, Murakami created a portrait of Lionel Messi, where a photo of the sportsman was superimposed on a backdrop of his iconic colorful flowers — similar to the designs seen in Gangantua on Your Palm and Celestial Flowers.

The work sold for $483,000, and despite admitting he did not know much about football, Murakami acknowledged Messi’s cultural significance. “I hope each portrait that I do will eventually collectively culminate into something bigger that will capture the essence of this era. Just as Warhol did a portrait of Muhammad Ali, who was the biggest figure in sports at that time, you can see something similar in my portrait of Messi.”

Multicolor monogram canvas, 2003, France, The Museum at FIT. 2010.56.2

Takashi Murakami x Louis Vuitton

This collaboration came about in 2003 when Marc Jacobs, creative director of Louis Vuitton at the time, invited Murakami to makeover a collection with his distinctive pop-colored palette. He partnered with the luxury brand to introduce some brightness and a new sense of style, as it traditionally leaned towards black and brown. Murakami’s LV bags were made with injections of hot pink, turquoise, yellow and Kelly green.

The initial Murakami collection launched in Spring/Summer 2003 and became an instant hit within the industry and with its customers, infiltrating the world of pop culture as it appeared on the arms of celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Ashley Tisdale, and Naomi Campbell. The collection has been deemed “The Defining Fashion Collaboration of The Noughties” by Vogue.

Classic Fusion All-Black Murakami is both animated and elegant. HUBLOT

Takashi Murakami x Hublot

The iconic Swiss watchmaker delved headfirst into an unusual collaboration with Murakami at the start of 2021, eclectically blending Japanese pop culture with fine jewelry. The most recognizable input from the Japanese artist is his signature flower motif, 12 petals with one for each hour. The smiling center of the flower is created using sapphire crystal and the 12 petals are studded with over 450 black diamonds.

“My wish was to be involved in watchmaking at the level where I could design a completely original piece and my decision depended on whether that was possible,” Murakami said, as reported by Esquire. “So I visited and toured the factory in early 2020, and was absolutely, truly blown away, seeing how it enfolded both the super high technology and artisan techniques and values. I was convinced that it would be possible for them to make the kind of watch I envisioned, and so I humbly decided to go forward with the collaboration.”

©︎2021 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami x Grand Hyatt Tokyo

Grand Hyatt Tokyo now has a hotel room decorated by Murakami, featuring 14 pieces of original art that he created for this special collaboration. The highlight is perhaps the two-meter golden ‘Flower Parent and Child’ sculpture, a smaller version of the artist’s giant 10m-tall statue displayed at the entrance of Roppongi Hills Roku-Roku Plaza.

But it doesn’t end there. Murakami’s unsubtle touch is everywhere, whether it be plush stuffed flower people, paintings, rugs, flower balls, and even the flower-decorated bed. If that’s not enough Murakami to fill your appetite, you also get an in-room flower dinner course, a flower sweets box with champagne, an autographed art book and an (optional) nail art service.

“When I started to travel around the world and stay at hotels, I noticed that there were always works of art exhibited at Hyatt hotels, starting in the entrance area and all the way into individual guest rooms. I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I see there is a need for art in this kind of context’,” Murakami explained in a press release. “It was different from the context of art with which I was working so I was fascinated. I wanted to try dipping into such a world, but I couldn’t find the entrance, and there was just no way in.” Until Grand Hyatt Tokyo granted him the opportunity and made his “long-held dream come true”.

Takashi Murakami x Crocs ©︎2021 Crocs

Bonus: Crocs

You thought we forgot, didn’t you? Crocs embarked on its first collaboration with an artist in 2019, teaming with Takashi Murakami for a wild multicolored clog. Murakami used his iconic images for the collaboration, turning his smiling flower designs into Jibbitz charms. The collaboration is currently available on resale sites for around $1,000.