On the heels of leading the art direction for NTWRK's Unboxed festival, a livestream retail event featuring toys, collectibles, and special-edition drops, Surface checks in with Japanese graphic artist Verdy at his home in Tokyo to discuss his philosophy on brand collaborations, dedication to in-person experiences, and the enduring inspiration of punk rock.
The meteoric rise of Japanese graphic designer Verdy continues to reach new heights. The founder of cult streetwear labels Girls Don’t Cry and Wasted Youth seems to be everywhere these days. Launching his first-ever solo exhibition, Rise Above, featuring his lovable kawaii characters Vick and Visty, at artist Takashi Murakami‘s Kai Kai Kiki gallery in Tokyo. Serving as art director for NTWRK‘s second-annual Unboxed festival for collectibles and designer toys where he dropped a special-edition collab with a brand he’s long admired, BountyxHunter. Launching capsule collections with Dover Street Market and partnerships with Levi’s and Nike. He even has a project with Budweiser debuting this summer.
It’s been a long time coming for Verdy to gain global recognition as he’s brought a new energy to the Japanese Harajuku culture. In recent years, he’s become a revered name in fashion and art circles—recognizable by his cherubic smile and patented peace sign pose—especially in L.A. where thousands of fans lineup to visit his pop ups.
Below, we check in with artist at his Tokyo home.
What inspired the art direction for this year’s Unboxed? What were you most excited about?
I started getting into toys when I was in high school and when creating my character Visty, I always envisioned him as a toy, so it only made sense to use him as the face for Unboxed this year. I’m really excited about releasing my Bounty Hunter x Vick toy set. Bounty Hunter was the first streetwear brand that made collectable toys and one of KAWS’ first figures was a collaboration with them, so having my own toy set with Bounty Hunter is a dream come true.
Collaborations are such a big part of fashion and products now. How do you decide who to collaborate with and what are the keys to making it successful? Do you have a few favorites either with Girls Don’t Cry or Wasted Youth? Do you ever worry about doing too many collabs?
I decide all my collaborations based on how I am feeling, it doesn’t matter how big or small the project is, I always put the same energy into them. I think what makes a collaboration successful is having fun and being friends with the collaborator and always staying authentic to your vision.
I don’t have a favorite, I love all my collaborations for different reasons. I do not worry about doing too many collaborations because I am always telling a different story with each of my projects.
What’s your dream collab?
To make a 3D animated movie with one of my characters.
You’re very oriented toward in-person sales and pop-ups instead of e-commerce. Why did you decide to go in that direction?
My work is very precious to me and how I present it is really important. Creating experiences through pop ups, getting to see who is wearing my designs, and meeting my fans is an incredible feeling. Online releases have too many bots and resellers, which I don’t like. I feel like I maintain a real connection with my customers by having pop ups.
How did the idea for your characters, Vick and Visty, come about? You recently presented them on canvas paintings and three-dimensional pieces in your first solo show at Kai Kai Kiki in Tokyo. Is that something you’ve been wanting to do for a while or more spontaneous? What’s next for Vick and Visty?
Vick is my first character that I created, he’s a panda-rabbit. He loves punk music which is why he has the signature anarchy logo on his stomach. Visty is a contrast to Vick, who is black and white. Visty is colorful and cheerful and was created as a response to the pandemic to bring a sense of joy and happiness to people going through tough times.
Having art shows and creating sculptures is something that I have always wanted to do. I feel honored that I was able to have my first show at Murakami’s gallery, Kaikai Kiki. I’m working on a lot of different projects for both of them. I see Vick operating more within the art space and for Visty, I want to do more youthful projects and I envision him becoming a staple character within this generation similar to Mickey Mouse or a Looney Tunes character.
Where do you find creative inspiration? Are there any special places, music, or types of activities that help with creative white space?
I find inspiration in my everyday life and experiences. For the most part, my wife, friends, and punk music have always inspired me. Los Angeles is a special place to me because, after my first trip there, everything started changing for me. I love seeing palm trees and eating tacos because it is so different from what I’m used to back home.
Who are your favorite designers?
Virgil and Nigo.
Raymond Pettibon because of his contribution to punk culture. He made most of the artwork for one of my favorite bands, Black Flag.
What’s your favorite food? I love New York style pizza.
What’s next for you?
I have a lot of exciting projects happening this year but I can’t talk about them yet. One project I can talk about is my Budweiser collaboration that’s releasing this summer. I’m really excited about this one because I get to work with one of the inspirations for Wasted Youth.