Originally a graffiti artist, Brian Donnelly, known professionally as KAWS, first painted his Instagram-friendly graphic cartoon characters on hoardings, bus stops and photo booths. Soon the distinctive characters were turning up on toys, street wear and all kinds of commercial collaborations.
KAWS has come a long way from his early days doing graffiti: almost all his paintings have sold way above their estimates at art auctions. His top price now stands at $14.7 million. “His work is universal, and it transcends the traditional market,” David Galperin of Sotheby’s explained to the New York Times. “It bridges fine art and commercial art, and that taps into a global, deep audience.”
Chinese consumers are also enamoured with the artist.
His latest collaboration with Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo sparked a frenzy last week with customers stampeding into Chinese branches of the fast-fashion retailer to snap up Rmb99 ($14.30) T-shirts and other items designed by the American artist. Even though Uniqlo mandated that each shopper could buy no more than two T-shirts of the same colour and design, many blatantly ignored the rule by grabbing a whole stack without even bothering to check the sizes. Some desperate shoppers even crawled under the security shutters just as stores were opening up. Others ripped T-shirts off the mannequins.
Shoppers even posted videos of men fighting over the merchandise. Another video clip showed a young man clasping a pack of T-shirts as other shoppers tried to snatch the garments from him.
In an attempt to explain the frenzy, Southern Weekend wrote: “In the eyes of many young people, KAWS is the symbol of trendiness and fashion.”
Still, like other newspapers it was appalled by the behaviour. “Sprinting through shopping malls could really cause great alarm for other people who had no idea what was going on; shoving each other for a few more pieces of the merchandise and getting into physical fights… We often talk about civility, but civility is something that is reflected in our daily actions. The most basic form of civility is the ability to follow rules and order. No matter how fashionable these consumers are, the only thing we saw was how rude and barbaric their actions were. It is deeply disappointing,” Southern Weekend lambasted.
Some critics compared the chaotic scenes to dama (older middle-aged women) fighting for free eggs at supermarkets. “Why are people pushing before the security shutters even opens? Why are tens of thousands of shoppers fighting for what seems to be their lives in Uniqlo? Are there secrets hidden behind the T-shirts? Is this the worst of humanity or the death of social responsibility? All this for a Rmb99 T-shirt. All of a sudden, young millennial consumers become a group of middle-aged women that fight for free eggs,” one blogger wrote.
Another factor that contributed to the frenzy is that celebrities – including Jay Chou and model Liu Wen – were spotted wearing the T-shirt prior to the release. Moreover, KAWS announced it would be his last collection with the Japanese fast-fashion label, giving it more of a rarity value. Already, some savvy shoppers have listed the merchandise on resale platforms. On Chinese app Du some of the T-shirts were going for as much as Rmb799.
That said, compared with KAWS’s last collaboration with Dior Homme, the Uniqlo merchandise is very affordable. Dior KAWS T-shirts are being sold for as much as Rmb8,000 on some reselling platforms.
“This is the last time we can buy something that’s worth millions of dollars for just Rmb99,” one excited netizen wrote.
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