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Simone Legno | Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention 2011

The Roman-Los Angeles based illustrator is no stranger to the world of popular culture. With his Japanese-inspired apparel, art and lifestyle brand, tokidoki  (meaning “sometimes” in Japanese) seen on almost anything usable, wearable, and collectable, it is without surprise that the brand is seeing itself leading a discerning and niche market. From vinyl toys to skateboards, iSkins, jewellery, watches, apparels and even stationeries, Simone’s tokidoki is slowly taking over the world one design at a time.

ActuallyMAG speaks to the man ahead of his much-awaited guest appearance at the Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention 2011 (STGCC) to be held on Aug 20-21 at the Suntec International Convention and Exhibitions Centre.

What started you off in becoming an artist?

Simone: I have always loved drawing even when I was a kid and I had boxes full of chewed broken pencils. When I was in kindergarten and elementary school, my teachers put up my sketches all over the walls. Creation was always in my blood and it was not only about drawing, it was about playing with cardboard, glue, hammers, clay, sculpting wood with a knife and even sewing puppets that looked more like voodoo dolls than nice plushies!

In high school, when I was in a punk rock band, I was making Xerox collages using the letters and fonts from newspapers, almost like a serial killer. At that time, I realised how much I loved not just drawing but also graphic design and composition. I saw a friend’s brother using some graphic design software (some very old version of Adobe illustrator) and “eureka!” I fell in love with it.

Even though design school was expensive, I wanted to attend it. That was my calling. I started to work hard, from putting advertisement flyers in people’s mailboxes to doing statistic survey interviews with tourists, and finally saved up enough money to start school. A bit for passion, a bit due to insecurity, but from that moment I was hungry to learn and to learn it fast.

After working a few unpaid internships, I started getting some freelance work. At that time, I wanted to have a website that would represent me and show to the world the style of work I was creating. Working overnight on top of my regular job, tokidoki was born.

What have you been busy with in 2011?

S: As one of my main focuses, I have been working hard with my business partners to figure out the best strategy to roll tokidoki out into other territories like Asia and South America.

What is keeping me very excited is a massive project with a mall in Hong Kong called K11; it’s going to be an impressive installation based on my characters. In 2011, I developed a ton of products (bags, apparel, new era hats, accessories, stationeries, etc), a cosmetic line for Sephora, working on a couple of collaborations that I will be able to talk about later, and creating more toys compared to 2010 (Marvel frenzies, unicorn series, royal pride, 4 be@rbricks. etc)… busy busy.

We also focused on the opening of the Santa Monica and Milan store openings, and several corner shops around Asia.

Tell us about how tokidoki came about and its current status.

S: tokidoki started as my own website, my online artistic diary where I was posting my artwork to self-promote my professional skills. It was a very experimental flash animated website, full of characters, colours and online games. Through the website, I was finding connections in the design community and getting freelance jobs and my first licensees. Visitor traffic grew very fast, from 17,000 to 20,000 people a day; until one day my present two business partners (Pooneh Mohajer and Ivan Arnold) saw my work and fell in love with it. They proposed a partnership to establish tokidoki as a company and a brand, and I moved to LA for this new adventure.

Now, even though tokidoki is still a young company, it has a lot of potential, growing carefully in numbers and territories. We want to have organic growth, caring about the quality of production and distribution. We still enjoy a lot of what we do even though we have been working extremely hard for this life mission.

You are the creative director of the brand, how do you expand awareness of your products and how does the creative process work in your company?

S: tokidoki has always been creating awareness using the website and social, it was all about reaching out to the fans in a viral way, from blog to blog, and from mouth to mouth. I am always very grateful to my fans for their warm support.

We never had a real budget for classic advertisement. I am thankful for all the support from the co-marketing efforts of the big companies and the partners we collaborated with that did their best to promote tokidoki and myself as the artist behind it.

Regarding the creative process, I’m still the one that invents 100% of the characters. I have a team of great, passionate, serious and lovely designers that helps with the design of most of the products, below-the-line materials, the website, and the details like hangtags, packaging, and part of the patterns.

I work in tight collaboration with the creative teams of the various licensees, providing my input and approval. The same goes with the creative directors of the various brands tokidoki collaborates with.

It’s a lot; hundreds of approvals, from zipper pulls to flyers, from clothing to cosmetics, from a toy sculpt to the colour of a fabric, from the banner on the website to the paper thickness of a hangtag. A lot to learn and follow but I think that is what makes tokidoki different and special.

It is the attention to detail that my business partners and I give.

How does the advancing of technology affect creativity?

I think it helps in terms of time as it gives you the opportunity to make changes quickly or fix errors. I think the internet also helps to speed up the research process for inspiration and documentation.

How do you think artists have evolved over the years?

S: I think they evolve parallel to the changing of the world. I don’t know if they are better, they are just mirror images of present times, where there’s faster communication, when media is way more developed and becoming a much bigger business. I sometimes think that a lot of people working in the creative field are more technology geeks than real creatives with talent, passion and a vocation, like it was before.

What is the difference between the artists of today and decades ago? Do you think technology have taken away what artists have learned through trials and errors? And perhaps, making it too perfect?

S: I think the creative person has lost a bit of the capacity to imagine and create options in the head instead of on a monitor, and I think he/she has also lost a lot in terms of hand skills. Not just in illustration and art, but also even in graphic design, the hand touch is way warmer and beautiful than software generated designs.

Tell us something we don’t know about you.

S: I am crazy for mussels and sea urchins, I love wine, I talk to my mum in Italy almost every day, I use a lot of bad words as do most Romans, my cat is the one that rules in my house, I love old Italian black and white movies, I train 5 to 6 days a week when not travelling, and when I travel I party too much, but when I am in LA, I am the good guy…

Aside from being a creative director, what are your other hobbies and why do you enjoy them?

S: I still consider painting a hobby even though I have limited time and I do it mostly on weekends and strange hours. I enjoy it because it’s like a new challenge. It’s spiritually rewarding and somehow relaxing.

I do some boxing and I like it because it relieves a lot of the stress and I enjoy the feeling of daily improvement. Every week, I’m surprised when I am able to do something better or faster than in the week before. I even love to watch and play soccer and the reason is simple: it’s in the blood of every single Italian; this is the way we grow up!

I love to spend simple evenings with friends, just sitting at the bar talking till we are exhausted or the bar closes. I like it because I love having nice conversations instead of being in noisy, crowded fashionable clubs.

Depending on the company, my weekend nights  often end up in a karaoke box. I am a very curious guy, there are many other things I enjoy and wish I have more time for, from cooking to going to aquariums, from spending hours on YouTube or Wikipedia studying about stuff I don’t know about.

What can we expect from your appearance at the SGTCC 2011?

S: Seeing lovely fans charges me. It’s important to feel it for an artist; it makes me come back to LA with more enthusiasm. In Singapore, there are a lot of fans considering the size of the country, and they are very warm and polite. And I hope to meet even more fans this year. I enjoy sharing personal time with the character/toy design community in Asia.

Famous last words?

S: tokidoki is still in the beginning stage; expect way more in the year to come!

– Zul Andra

For more information on STGCC, visit the website @ http://www.singaporetgcc.com. For more on tokidoki, visit the official website @ http://tokidoki.it/

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