Ivan Arnold is a good friend of ours often reporting in from a helicopter somewhere exotic. He’s also the CEO of a very successful design driven company tokidoki, often feverishly hunting talent in our Creative Database, so we knew he’d have a valuable perspective on the design world.
Us old timers remember tokidoki as the personal portfolio website of the Italian based Illustrator Simone Lengno. tokidoki would constantly bloom with new brightly colored characters ranging from simple shapes to highly intricate illustrations with refreshingly no immediately apparent objective other than to co-exist in an imaginary world.
Sensing it’s potential, in 2003 Ivan Arnold and his wife Pooneh Mohajer brought Simone out to Los Angeles to launch a brand based on his artwork.
Today, tokidoki has grown to be an incredibly successful global brand which both by itself and through countless collaborations produces apparel, bags, shoes, toys, jewelry skateboards, gadgets, and even a cosmetic line!
There’s a lot of artists out there with day jobs who’d love their personal work to pay the bills. You seem to have a knack at making that happen. Certainly there’s no easy answer, but what advice do you have for someone trying to start their own brand?
I know its cliche but NEVER stop trying! Pooneh and I LOVED Simone’s work and we had a real passion for it. From the first time we met him, we dedicated ourselves totally to seeing his creative vision come to life in a real commercial sense. HOWEVER, when we launched tokidoki waaay back in February of 2005, there were some really really low times for us because people just didn’t get it at first, so we kept at it until the market responded a year later and finally GOT IT. And I think that’s what really separates the wheat from the chafe, if you totally believe in it and the RIGHT people are telling you that its awesome, then STICK WITH IT. When I say the right people, I’m not talking about your boyfriend or your mom but some brutally honest and objective perspective from on point trend makers, retailers and the like to make sure you are heading in the right direction with your concept. It may be painful but the best thing you can do is to kill it early before it sucks your time so you have the time, energy and money so you can move onto the next big thing.
tokidoki is known for a very specific look created by Simone. As the line has grown, the demand for original art for all these pieces must be tremendous for one guy. How has the creative process changed as the company has scaled? Is Simone still as hands on with each product?
Its hard to believe but as we’ve scaled tokidoki, Simone still continues to oversee every single product that goes out the door.
We are really fortunate though because we have assembled an incredible creative team that assists him with the production and design because it would be unnatural for someone to manage so many projects totally by themselves.
You’re constantly hiring designers. While combing through portfolios, what grabs your attention? What turns you off?
Super clean vector design. Use Photoshop filters or comic sans and I promise that you will never see the inside of the tokidoki office.
I never use the term “rock star” to describe anyone who’s not an actual rock star, but you literally have a (huge) section on your website dedicated to fan tattoo’s so I may need to make an exception. tokidoki has some very zealous fans, has this led to any interesting encounters?
Well there WERE the Thai supermodel triplets with the matching tokidoki sleeves……
Its an unbelievable feeling to be eating lunch out and have someone come up and say you have to check out my new tokidoki tat. In my wildest dreams I could never have imagined the sheer numbers of super stoked fans that love Simone’s work so much that they need it skin deep forever. He really is a rock star.
Your stuff has a distinct tokio-pop flavor. are people surprised (like I was) when they learn that Simone’s from Italy, and you’re from California?
You think that’s the Surprise? That’s only HALF of it. I can’t tell you how many emails we get from people wanting to do an interview with Ms. Legno, wondering when she is going to do her next personal appearance. Apparently ONLY in Italy is Simone a guys name. For the rest of the world it’s a girls name.
but back to your question. This is a critical part of what makes tokidoki so fun and people FLIP over that. 95% of people encounter our product before they read Simone’s story and when they learn that its designed by an Italian it tends to be mind bending. I’ve had people ARGUE with me about Simone’s heritage before because they just can’t believe he’s not Asian…..
You’ve collaborated with some serious artists and brands, who was the most fun & who or what is your dream collaboration?
We’ve been very fortunate in being able to collaborate with so many wonderful people and brands that its really tough to answer. Certainly we were BLOWN AWAY to work with Karl Lagerfeld, the reigning prince of fashion. The most fun? Without a doubt our recent partnership with MARVEL. ?I mean how else is Bastardino going to bite Spiderman on the ass???
Where’s tokidoki going to be in 5 years?
hopefully even more global than right now. Currently we have a store in Los Angeles, NYC and Milan. In 5 years I want 20 more stores sprinkled from Honolulu to Helsinki to spread Simone’s vision!