Revisiting UCC — “Future of Creativity” with John C Jay
Photos by Christina Choi
Photos by Christina Choi
Unexpected connections are the simplest way of describing creativity. In its most basic form, it’s pattern recognition, and at its most complex, it’s a tangled web that humans have become surprisingly great at deconstructing.
Imprint and MAEKAN: Unexpected Connections is about celebrating those who have embraced new intersections around them in both positive and inventive ways.
Our format invites fascinating people from contrasting disciplines to talk and find an unexpected common ground. How does the tattoo artist connect with the sneaker designer? How can designers of different backgrounds link experience to great work?
Unexpected Connections is about the rich opportunity for exploration when two different vantage points are joined together.
Next on our list of speakers is none other than John C Jay, President of Global Creative at Fast Retailing, who talks about the mindset needed to prepare for the future challenges of entering and thriving in the creative industry. Over John’s illustrious career, he’s been an important force in bringing clarity and empathy to the world of creativity. He sits at the crossroads of numerous pillars and serves as a master connector of multiple worlds.
At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.
John: Sure, you know, like Tupac comes as a hologram, John Maeda gets to come as a hologram, but I have to show up in person. So you’re gonna have to put up with me in person. I apologize in advance. I would just sort of talk a little bit about the convention and I’m not her agent or anything, but I am such a fan so Unexpected Connections of course, and John just did a marvelous job of setting this up. This is one of my favorite pictures here talking about unexpected connections. Imagine if the sage or our philosophers of the future all came from space and they were monks who wore LV backpacks, and these are the words from your brochure—if you’ve read your brochure.
“Imprint Culture Lab is the intersection of diverse creative forces and people. It continues hyper connected individuals and collectors from art, design, media technology and culture that flows beneath the surface of the mainstream.” And that’s the part I’m interested in here. The part that flows beneath the surface of the mainstream. What is exactly that energy? What is it that we’re talking about? What is it that makes me so interested to come back year after year? And you know when Julia extends an invitation, it’s a must do. It has to go on my calendar. But what is that energy? What is it that flows beneath the main stream and why is that so important for us? First of all, in my in my opinion, this Culture Lab has brought together the most eclectic mix of thinkers and makers and influencers in the past 10—I thought it was 10 years—Julia, that’s 12 years, apparently..
And it has a finger on a global pulse. It’s really unusual because I go to a lot of these conferences. I go to Khan, I go to all of those things when I have time. But this one has something special to it. It has a special pulse— it has a special feel for that pulse. This is a group of people I’ve been lucky to been a part of this for several years now. So today’s speakers include a wonderful mix and that mix is important food, interactive physical play for children, storytellers of all types of people, land speed record holder, car designer—one of my favorites—content creators, tattoo artist, streetwear icons and different types of artists of all types. And of course, design philosopher.
The leaders in the world of international conferences led by big brands, famous marketers, researchers and technologies and creativity often are really actually in the dark. And again it's because of that flow of energy underneath the surface of the mainstream. So in addition, top institutions of culture—and I mean those institutions that are very famous that are government-led, perhaps—very much of the status quo, are usually the last to understand. They're usually the last to know what that flow is.
So the magic is in the mix. But you know this term of “high culture, low culture,” I think is perhaps time. That time has passed to be making such definitions of high culture and low culture. But you understand what it means. You understand and as the day goes, you’ll understand why that still has some application here.
So many corporations, in my opinion, academia, think tanks, tech firms, ad agencies—all those types of people that have the you know some play in the creative space—have very little understanding of what this conference has done for the last 12 years. And that’s the truth. So the leaders in the world of international conferences led by big brands, famous marketers, researchers and technologies and creativity often are really actually in the dark. And again it’s because of that flow of energy underneath the surface of the mainstream. So in addition, top institutions of culture—and I mean those institutions that are very famous that are government-led, perhaps—very much of the status quo, are usually the last to understand. They’re usually the last to know what that flow is.
And Imprint Culture Lab is constructed and connected to an influential creative subculture that is not visible to the mainstream institutions and media. So I go back to that word “culture that flows beneath the surface.” If it’s not obvious already, as John mentioned, one of the keys to this uniqueness of Imprint Culture Lab is the DNA and that the much of the DNA flows from Asia. Now that’s okay. Julia, in fact, I think the founder is one of the most unsung heroes of creativity in this country today quite frankly. Give it up. (Applause).
I’m ashamed to say that if I went back to Wieden + Kennedy I talked about Imprint Culture Lab, many of them would not know of it. If I go to Khan, many of them may not know of it. And that’s because of the uniqueness and the kinds of people that I can tell you ten years ago when I made my first appearance there, those relationships are so strong and so unusual and so global, so thank you Julia for giving me that opportunity for the last 12 years.
So the original invitation for this event started like this. And what was so interesting when I first started here was this organization Giant Robot—and if you know this magazine—really helped Julia to bring together a sense of the underground from Japan. The whole scene of a manga world and anime world and toys and so forth. That was very very influential at that moment for what Eric did at Giant Robot and brought many interesting people to that first conference I appeared in. But then later, another flow of information, another flow of influences came. That’s Hiroshi Fujiwara on the left and Jeff Staple on the right. And suddenly you had the street culture of Harajuku on the left side here with Hiroshi and the strict culture of the Lower East Side of New York on the right with Jeff coming together and leading the programming and leading really interesting discussions here at Imprint Culture Lab. And now we have MAEKAN. We have Eugene, and Eugene describes his own organization as curiosity that guides MAEKAN: “We’re constantly looking to uncover the unexpected connections and its creativity in the people who embody them.”
So this is kind of for me—as I observe—is a third wave of this conference and how it is changing. Now it is being led and collaborated with a major podcast with creative force out of Hong Kong. So the changes that this this cultural lab has brought have been obviously intellectual, creative, but it’s been very physical as well. And Julia’s support for POW! WOW!, the artists, the street art so you can see their work all over the world now. I just opened a store in Hawaii and of course, that’s where they’re from. They have a major influence but, as you walk through the city of Long Beach you’ll see the influence that Julia’s had through art on the streets. So the culture lab has deep connections to the Pacific Rim and I go back to that DNA. Why is this important? It’s the growing powerhouse of business, technology and culture. And if you look at this map, you look at the red dots. Of course there’s not enough red dots—the dots are growing by day and extends all the way down through Latin America. But think about the cities that those dots represent: those dots represent Vancouver, Seattle, technology there coming down to Portland coming down to San Francisco, Silicon Valley to Los Angeles, which is becoming such an important place for art now.
And then you reach across the Pacific to Hong Kong, to Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore. This is the power force of the future. And the fact that Imprint Culture Lab has deep connections to that Pacific Rim gives it a unique place in terms of creativity, so the influence of the Pacific Rim are economic, and the political and cultural. But underneath it again is this powerful and connected subculture of youth and creativity. So what do most of these status quo organizations lack? Connection to youth. Where do new ideas come from? Connections to youth and that subculture of youth is important because they are the technology leaders now. So today: what’s the purpose? What do I hope for?
Well, many of the same things that Julia and John has expressed already: to learn, experience something new, to be inspired? Of course, of course. But the question is ‘why?’
To leave today with a more open mind than when we first arrived and if yesterday’s elections proved one thing is that this country is suffering from a lack of an open mind and hopefully people are voting. And I’m talking about both sides of the aisle. This idea of an open mind is the idea that we need to pursue in all aspects of our lives, not just creative. So I say that we must unlearn in order to learn again and for my personal experience, coming from Wieden + Kennedy— very awarded, I would argue top you know creative agency in the last 20 years—and then you worked with a Nike for 20 years.
You think you are successful, you think you know a few things and then you come to Japan and you worked with Uniqlo. You worked with the management that’s primarily Japanese management. It is so easy to walk in as a Westerner, especially as an American, And think you know at all. It’s the disease that we suffer from. It’s the virus that we suffer from. So the first thing I tell people when I recruit: “I know you’re great. Obviously I wouldn’t have hired you, I wouldn’t have recruited you but the number one thing is to unlearn what you think you know and start to learn again.”.
What we must recognize that we’re always a product of what we’ve done and what we aspire to. And it’s not enough to lead our current businesses and we must lead our future businesses and believe me, I can’t say it as well in Japanese but this is the mantra—this is what I’m teaching every single day—not only from the people who I’m hiring to build a new organization. First is that they’re saying: “John, you’re a creative director. What do you do?”.
Well I’m creative directing an organization to take a very famous, very successful Japanese brand and make it an international Japanese brand. There’s a big difference. So the same holds for our careers: Hold on to stubborn outdated beliefs and mistaken assumptions can make you obsolete in the business or industry without knowing even why. Now this point here, this first part is so important because I see a lot of young faces out here and the audience—this is just fantastic and that’s very encouraging and it’s very inspiring to see you here.
You think you are successful, you think you know a few things and then you come to Japan and you worked with Uniqlo. You worked with the management that's primarily Japanese management. It is so easy to walk in as a Westerner, especially as an American, And think you know at all. It's the disease that we suffer from.
Many of you are just getting that career off the tracks or maybe you’re at phase two. But at some point you’ll be at phase four, phase five and the thing is you have to understand that everything comes to an end. Every career comes to an end. Now, hopefully you’ll flame out at that point and use that energy and move on to something else. But keep that in mind that John said this to you a long time ago when you move forward: every point comes to an end and you have to be ready for the next part. You have to sow those seeds for the next part. Brands especially evolve and brands too come to an end. So if learning is an external act then unlearning is an internal one. I love this quote: “The illiterate of the future are not those who can’t read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn.”‘.
That is the one thing about the technology age that has taught us, what the beta age has taught us and some of us who come from the O.G. world and the old school of craft, we all want everything to be perfected before we let the world touch it and see it and read it and feel it and smell it. No. The important thing is get the idea out there and let the world experience them and let it evolve and let it change. I say all the time because we are entering an age that’s very scary for people like me, the age of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the age of Big Data, what is happening to a creator? What happens to an editor? What happens to a master of a certain particular craft? Are they no longer going to be important? Are they no longer gonna be relevant to the world?
Well, it depends if you want your world to be Spotify all the time and let other algorithms create what your taste level is and so forth, that’s fine. But I think the critic and the editor will become more and more important. Recent surveys from IBM showed that the one core skill out of 1000 CEOs that they interviewed that creativity will be the core skill for all leaders in business in the future. That’s really important. And I hope the B-schools around the world are listening to that so information alone is not knowledge, and knowledge is not insight. And if you’re going to be a creator, you have to create from insight—cultural insight. So what’s the most most important word in the vocabulary? Well I would say it’s this “why.”.
And I know from my work—this is when I’m preaching every day—before we jump to execution, before we jump to the ideas: why are we doing this? What is the problem that we’re trying to solve? Why why does your does your business exist? Why does your brand exist? Why do you exist? Now I share with you this book. Now I’m not the discoverer of this— this book’s already sold a million copies, that’s the number three most watched presentation on TED—but start with “why?” I hate it when we got to go into meetings and people are just jumping all over a place with executions without understanding what is the purpose, why are we here today, what are we trying to solve today.
So how can Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Key phrase there: “inspire everyone to take action.” So in the age of Big Data, the question “why?” gets asked less and less. We think we know the answer: we just go to our phone and Google it at the dinner table and we think we know the answer. So the Internet has likely been the most profound invention in recent times, but it also has the power to rob us of this unique quality and that is deep curiosity. Googling it doesn’t give you deep curiosity, so transformation begins with this curiosity.
And if there’s one thing is that really interesting, I am opening Creative Labs around the world in different cities. I started with Portland and then New York and now Tokyo and now Shanghai, Paris and London. These Creative Labs are very small right now. New York has 10. I have four in Tokyo, but the purpose of the Creative Labs was to increase the creative IQ and the cultural IQ of our company, of our brands. But they’re not a subset. They’re not like this “cool corner” over here that has the beanbag chairs and the pool table. We have placed it—and the founder has given me that charter to place the Creative Labs as the center of our company so it touches all aspects. So when I go to Japan next week, one of my first meetings I’m so excited about is that the H.R. department has asked for our help. The H R department is asking us for how to connect to the world and how to recruit. How do we find new people, how do we find the kind of people that we need to progress our brand into the future. First step: who’s curious? That’s the number one litmus test.
'Curiosity killed the cat.' And where did that come from? [...] Curiosity has not been viewed as a good thing throughout history: Saint Augustine wrote that before creating Heaven and Earth, God fashioned Hell for the inquisitive, which means that curious people were doing something wrong and will go to Hell. So how many times have we gone to meeting where you've been 'cool your heels on that, don't ask that question. Let's just follow the orders here.'
So “curiosity killed the cat.” And where did that come from? It’s interesting because curiosity as we think is a given, but for an long time, it was discouraged. Curiosity has not been viewed as a good thing throughout history: Saint Augustine wrote that before creating Heaven and Earth, that God fashioned Hell for the inquisitive, which means that curious people were doing something wrong and will go to Hell. So how many times have we gone to meeting where you’ve been “cool your heels on that, don’t ask that question. Let’s just follow the orders here.” Answers are more value today than inquisitive thought—think about that— and therefore, curiosity is being trained out of us.
We’ve seen all the surveys that show how school kids are much more creative and so forth. The Internet has forged a curiosity gap in which those conditioned to be inquisitive plumb the depths of knowledge and the fingertips and are hungry for more, and while the population of the incurious inventor invariably grows, and perpetuated by a self-absorbed society that treats big complicated questions as puzzles to be solved and not mysteries to be mined. So don’t let this technology suck you in and be one of the incurious. The erosion of curiosity, however, is shaped by many factors beyond our doing you know shaped by factors well beyond online in fact and it is impacted by widening poverty gap and overwhelming swaths of information making it so complicated.
And of course, our educational system. As I travel and work throughout Asia and Europe the differences between the educational systems that I’m learning is so critical as I see which societies are really raising themselves up the bootstrap and how education is a part of that. So why is curiosity so important?
I found these four reasons I think will resonate with you:.
- It would make your mind active instead of passive.
- It makes your mind observant of new ideas.
- It opens up new worlds and possibilities.
- It brings excitement into your life.
And so your answer to that list of four might be: “Duh. How many meetings have you been in that work where these four things don’t apply? One of the things I’m teaching my company is how to be a great client because you cannot be you cannot expect great creative work from your suppliers, from your agencies, from whomever if you are not good. But how many times on the other side when I sat for twenty one years at Wieden + Kennedy—when I sat on this side of the table from the client—and I’m thinking: “why am I wasting my time here and why are you challenging me to prove to you how good I am or my agency is when I know I’m not even so sure how good you are?” How many times have you thought that sitting at that conference room?
So the main thing is for me is that before I start barking about “this agency is not so good and oh my God, they don’t compare to Wieden + Kennedy” and all that, how good are we? Take care of business at home. Some more obvious things the eight habits of people who have retained this sense of curiosity: Number one, They listen without judgment. Listen. Key point—they ask a lot of questions, a lot of whys and they seek surprise. How many of our companies and our brands and our clients and so forth and our mentors even at work—suppose that mentors do not want to be surprised —make sure that we’re fully present that we’re willing to be wrong and we make time for it, that we actually make time for that curiosity? And they’re not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” And they don’t just don’t let past results affect our future.
So one of the things I talk a lot about in practice, hopefully still is cultural IQ. In some of those things I talked earlier about about these organizations of the mainstream the institutions the status quo, what they lack is the sense of cultural IQ. And this book was really interesting. The challenge is to innovate by learning from the world—competitive advantage in the future will come from discovering, accessing, mobilizing and leveraging knowledge from many other locations around the world. So when John talks about going to meet people, that sounds so simple, but when you’re stuck on your phone and you’re stuck on your computer you’re not meeting people, really.
Artist: I love the cover of this in terms of data culture, so the future is here, coming. Whatever. Embrace it. And if you don’t think you can deal with it then this is going to be difficult because no matter what, it’s coming. It’s here. And for art and artists and creative people, this issue of data is very very important and this issue of artificial intelligence is very challenging. But it could be a tool to make you even more creative. That’s my belief. So data’s infiltrating culture. Artists are using data as a subject for critique or as a new method of form generation, creating work that may help us come to terms with a changing society. So artists themselves are embracing data.
And people confuse intelligence with consciousness. They expect A.I. to have consciousness, which is a total mistake and the intelligence is the ability to solve problems. Consciousness is hopefully what we have here today. The ability to feel things: pain,hate, love and pleasure. Hopefully it won’t be too much hate or pain here today.
I’m going to give you some examples that made me feel inspired. This one the first one: sutra. I don’t know how many of you have been to New York. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. So just one still picture will tell you how interesting this unexpected connection could be. This is at Lincoln Center. Award winning Belgian dancer, choreographer Flemish Moroccan heritage, best known for choreography for APESHIT. The music video for Jay-Z and Beyonce singing at the Louvre. Another unexpected connection and meaning ‘thread’ in Sanskrit. It’s a dance performance featuring a group of monks from the Buddhist Shaolin Temple in China. (Video plays)
It brings back so many new memories. We all have this shoe box of ideas and ideas that we couldn’t sell to the client or ideas that didn’t quite make its way to reality. And I remember 20 years ago presenting the Shlain monks of the temple in China to Nike for Just Do It campaign. And they couldn’t sell it through. So if I should go back now with this video and show them.
End of Summer*
This is something very dear to my heart with a very important asterix up there. Because it is very very well supported by Intertrend Culture Lab and let me share what this is. This is a annual artist residency in Portland Oregon which brings six unknown young aspiring artists from Japan to live in the culture, in the DIY art culture of Portland. And they’re put up in this extraordinary space. One of the most extraordinary art spaces in the country called Yale Union.They have six different studios, that they put that they practice their art and they learn and really engage with the local community. So this is not about paying their way to come to Portland and then you have to make some art for us to benefit from. They’re not even asked to make art. They’re asked to enjoy their experience and then share that with their counterparts in Japan. But they do make art, of course.
And one of the great projects was this: his art piece was to make this raft and explore Portland from the water and not from the land. Amazing list of guest speakers that come and speak every year and then this is in its fourth year, this artist residency now has been accepted in the and the more status quo community of the art gallery world and it had a show called Encounters.
And this is the gallery and what was interesting in terms of connections for me is that this gallery.
This show then connected me to the Confederated Tribes of Umitilla Reservation. I didn’t know that much about this reservation in Oregon. It’s where the Columbia River meets. The Confederate Tribes of the Umitilla Indian Reservation is a union of three major tribes in Oregon: the Cayuse, the Umatilla and the Walla Walla. Three tribes living at this very important meeting point of the rivers in Oregon and one of the painters, just accepted into the the Whitney im a permanent collection. is this landscape abstract Native American painter named James Labrador. And James Labrador, with him as partners on the reservation, is this gentleman Antone Minthorn—conservations intellectual—and it was he who brought this person, Maya Lin, to the Indian reservation to build something very very important. (video plays).
So think about that: So from six young aspiring artists who’d never been to America before from Japan comes to Portland, Oregon. That residency leads to an art gallery, the art gallery leads to an Indian reservation, which I then discover that they are the ones who are responsible for bringing Maya Lin to Oregon. And the “unlearn” part as the Native American tribe’s leader said to about Lewis and Clark: “You didn’t discover anything. We were here for hundreds of years. You didn’t discover shit.”
This is something that we just did in Paris and this is interesting because Japan has hundreds and hundreds of years of craftsmanship in terms of textiles. But what a lot of people don’t know is that it has decades upon decades of technology in terms of innovation and technology especially for textiles. And so what can you do to bring something together that’s hundreds of years old and bring it to life and extend the life and craftsmanship and improve it? So what you’re going to see here is a demonstration of the machines that we use in our factories to create a knit dress out of a single yarn with no seams. (Video plays)
That’s the final product.
So kabuki, again unexpected connections when you have a classic classic art form that a lot of young people, especially in America and in Europe, don’t really understand. How can we bring this connection? How can we bring this classic art form and make it interesting and relevant for all, for everyone? This is what we did in Paris. We took over the entire store in La Marais and turned it into kabuki theater. And this is the downstairs stage in the kabuki theater, and here’s a video from it. (Video plays).
So Uniqlo City in terms of connections. So one of the great joys I’ve had the last years is to build a new headquarters and I’m 50 percent there. I’ve built one whole floor the size of a city block in terms of square footage and this whole idea is to connect our people to the world and connect people together. So the first —probably not—pride and joy of the entire project is this library that I built that started with zero books. I gave 200 books bucks to start the collection and I would argue that we probably have the best design creative library in Tokyo today all stacked with used books, out-of-print books as well as new books and then I put in a coffee shop—I’m from Portland so I was really complaining about the quality of the coffee.
And in the coffee shop, I had a Portland music shop curate 10 categories of music and 10 LPs—what he thought were the ten greatest albums of each genre of music ,so that music is being played in the coffee shop and you’re encouraged to bring your LPs every day to listen to the music to share with us. And then I changed all the workspaces so that there be more collaboratives, so there’d be more residential and more free flowing, more interesting and also more transparent, so you can see the people working together. “Art for all, made for all” is the common theme for us.
The challenge is to innovate by learning from the world—competitive advantage in the future will come from discovering, accessing, mobilizing and leveraging knowledge from many other locations around the world. So when John talks about going to meet people, that sounds so simple, but when you’re stuck on your phone and you’re stuck on your computer you’re not meeting people, really.
Working with KAWS: One of the great joys again is working with these very very famous artists, but the great thing about them is beyond their fame. You know with KAWS, he started on the streets of New York in the late ’90s and now he is elevated to becoming this very very important contemporary artist.But he works with us so that we can make product to really touch people all over the world and to make it affordable. So this is the launch of KAWS in our Fifth Avenue store. And we’ve done many many things with him and we have another installation that’s coming up now, in fact. And of course, one Roger Federer signed with us, surprising the world—talk about unexpected connections—and Wimbledon on his way walking to practice. He chose to wear our our KAWS t-shirt and of course, KAWS’ relationship with Snoopy and Peanuts and so forth is legendary already.
The luxury of street: Now this part, the financial influence of this subculture. So what we take, what we many of us understand is what is street culture obviously has infiltrated at the highest ranks of luxury. So if this is Louis Vuitton shot by Steven Meisel in 1997 and this is Louis Vuitton and ’97 men’s then this gentleman, the creative director of Virgil, has changed the shape and it’s brought street into the highest echelon of the Paris ateliers of luxury fashion. So there was a moment that was a defining moment. And many of you may have seen this already, but this is the moment that was so interesting. (video plays).
Similar to that, this is Dior shot by Karl Lagerfeld, but Dior now in the men’s area has them taken over from London and Kim Jones and this is the same day as Virgil’s show at Louis Vuitton. Who does he put at the center of his show? KAWS as the figure in the center of his show and as his models walk around, who does he pull out of the audience? It’s Yoon, Verbal. The rapper from Korea and Japan. And this is his wife who is the superstar young jewelry designer. So Yoon from Tokyo, Harajuku, Shibuya and Kim Jones from London as sitting at the center of Christian Dior men’s. (Video plays).
And this is his most recent ads in Vogue. So my unexpected connections and the reason why and this is the part where I talk about myself a little bit, so if you want to take a bathroom break or fall asleep. This is the perfect time for it. But this has been a very important part of my career. A very important part. So a large part of my role that I felt as a creative director was to bring people together in unexpected ways.
So this is 2005 in Shanghai in the center. You can’t see him. The tall white guy is Mark Parker, CEO of Nike. And what we did, he’d said, “John, I have two hours in Shanghai. Help me understand China.” 2005, three years before the Olympics. So I surrounded him with the best rappers, break dancers, DJs, artists, journalists, sports people, athletes all around him. And they spent 15 minutes each just showing what they are doing and why they think China is changing and how.
These kind of salons—this is a big one—it’s something that I’ve been doing for years upon years upon years. And what happened in ’93 when I first joined Nike, there was a concern from Phil Knight, who said, “I think we are losing relevance on the streets of New York.” So the first thing I did was not to do advertising or marketing in the streets of New York, but to go into the playgrounds and the neighborhoods and try to learn and understand and gain their trust and understand exactly what was on their mind and in their hearts. I had the great fortune of meeting this person: Bobbito Garcia. And if you don’t know he is he is the godfather of hip hop. He’s a sneaker expert, filmmaker, street ball player and a hip-hop historian. His new film is out—just went online now—was well most instrumental about Bobbito is that he was my very first presentation to Nike. (Video plays)
This person has affected my life a great deal because we used to go on inspiration trips and every year, we would pick a location or a destination and one year I took him to Art Basel. And guess who asked for a ride to New York? Was this gentleman on the far right. Mr. Kanye. Unbeknownst to him or us, he didn’t know he was gonna be flying back to New York with us. He takes his backpack out and empties all the notebooks out of his backpack and there are sneaker drawing after sneaker drawing after sneaker drawing in his backpack.
Out of that conversation, that unexpected unusual connection came this: that drawing those discussions on the plane led to the very first Air Yeezy that he wore at the 2008 Grammys and of course you all know those who follow sneakers and understand the the difference of opinion that happened between Nike and him and then he went to adidas and of course, it is the major success of adidas today.
So Hiroshi Fujiwara the godfather of street culture no matter what country you’re in, in ’98 I introduced him to Nike—to Mark Parker—and what that relationship has, what I’ve enjoyed is a first of all when I opened the new Wieden offices, he designed these shoes exclusive 50 pairs for my staff. At that time, at a very small office at that time.
But more importantly, he has gone on to do these collaborations that called them one of the most exclusive his HTM. ‘H’ for Hiroshi, ‘T’ for Tinker Hatfield, the creator of the Air Jordan, and end the ‘M’ for Mark Parker and of course, I don’t think Jeff is here yet. But Jeff is of course, is one of the godfathers of course and my only connection here is kind of a loose one. But I want to show you something. He is the one who created this sneaker riot that is infamous in the history of sneakerwear, his store.
But fast forward just this past year he—for a celebration—he created that limited edition t-shirt in which he listed his unexpected connections and the people who have influenced him. And lo and behold, I get the shirt and my name is on there. So the one thing that’s important for me here is that my name is between Jenny Holzer and Steve Jobs, and this will be the only time in my life that those three names are ever mentioned in one breath at the same time. I guarantee you.
So Tom Sachs, one of my favorite artists and someone that’s really really important today and very important to me. Tom began riffing on brands, making fun of fashion, making fun of luxury brands and commodifying art. And when I brought the Nike executives there, they didn’t quite understand what he was doing at that time. But he has turned out to be— in my mind, in my opinion—probably the most interesting collaboration between an artist and a shoe company. And so when he came in, I introduced him to Japan. He came when I opened the Wiedenoffice in ‘9, he was my first guest speaker and so he made a surprise for my opening date.
He made that thing on the left, the rolling DJ booth. So what he did was that he went to Canal Street and bought the cheapest equipment that he could:, the cheapest refrigerators, speakers, and turntables, relabeled them as Bose and so forth and made them all luxury brands in terms of the markings anyway. And then when the crate came, he was so excited he called me right away when it arrived and we’re opening it. He says, “did you see my little surprise for Japan?” I said, “no.” He says,”did you see the hidden key?” I said, “no.” There’s a key and I open up, use the key and inside hidden was a zip gun made of materials that he found on the streets: an operating handgun with six bullets inside. I’m lucky that I’m not speaking to you as a hologram from jail right now! If you know Japan.
And of course, his artwork is extraordinary. His Mars landing, Lunar landing and that has inspired this shoe: His latest shoe which will come out next year. The over shoe, which is all related to lunar landings and so forth. (Video plays)
So please come and visit me and if you come to Portland, this is my unexpected connection space here. This is my my lab and my studio in Chinatown and having personal space—this has been really really important to me. So I have a library of course in the kitchen, lots of art, my office, but my latest project is this: this is brand new—I don’t think Julia even knows about this.
My newest project is a private building that I’ve acquired where I can make and show my own art and supporting fellow artists. So on the ground floor is a meeting space of course in this industrial building and the whole first floor is for exhibitions and for artists to make things, support for myself to make things. On the top floor are all these studios and what I’m doing is finding the right artists that I think are inspirational, so that on the days that I feel uninspired, I can just walk through their space and find inspiration through their work. And I go back to this one is that I haven’t had a chance to even have an event yet and my son has already taken it over and he had a Japanese food street fair on the first weekend.
So unexpected connections: seek to make a conscious effort to constantly explore the new unexpected. Why? Of course to seek new information, inspiration and insights outside of your expertise and to always always always try to be original and the connection to get off that damn computer and make for personal connections with people who inspire you, to help others connect to new people, help others to connect new people and to connect with young mentors—people much younger than you. So help others before they can help you. That’s the one mantra I will always believe in and build your personal network and make it global as well as local, inspire others to develop an open mind. Meet as many people as possible here today, please. And not only meet them but meet MAEKAN, meet Eugene, meet Julia and meet all the speakers today ,please. And make one unexpected friend in this room to carry with you.
Go someplace new when you leave here to open your mind. Thank you so much. (Applause)
So help others before they can help you. That’s the one mantra I will always believe in and build your personal network and make it global as well as local, inspire others to develop an open mind.