This feature is a part of Complex's Futura Week.
Graffiti is about getting up. It’s about making a name. The tag is all-important. Futura got his start by tagging his local train line in upper Manhattan back in the 1970s. He's come a long way since then, adding his tag to an exciting array of co-branded and collaborative products. These have allowed him to flip the traditional frame of reference from all-city to all-world. Simply put, collaborations offered Futura a way to build an artistic rep outside the mainstream art world and stay true to the core graffiti traditions that fostered his artistic leanings. He famously kicked off his collaborative efforts working with The Clash on the notes for the UK punk group's 1982 Combat Rock album. He didn't stop there.
Just as tags are buffed or painted over, collaborative product sometimes suffers its own ephemeral fate. Some of Futura's earliest product work remain primarily in memory. For example, he did "two T-shirt designs for the original Pop Shop," which was owned and operated by fellow artist Keith Haring and offered his tag for a silk T-shirt sold by a French brand called Poles. His work extended beyond clothing, as when "a company named Liberty from Italy reproduced a large painting on sheets and pillowcases."
Simply put, collaborations offered Futura a way to build an artistic rep outside the mainstream art world and stay true to the core graffiti traditions that fostered his artistic leanings.
At the turn of the decade, Futura teamed with French fashion designer Agnes B.—who remains an avid supporter—to create several T-shirts. This commission proved to be a crucial catalyst, prompting Futura to dive headfirst into the emerging world of streetwear. "I was part of the team that brought you GFS," he says, a pioneering brand formed with fellow graffiti artists Gerb and Stash. GFS folded, but led to others, notably Project Dragon and Subwear. In London, he linked with Hardy Blechman of maharishi at the same time he met James Lavelle and began working with UNKLE. Not surprisingly, "camouflage would be the common denominator," and eventually Futura translated his signature style to unique, contemporary patterns. Garment collaborations then spread to Japan, where he produced co-branded goods with BAPE and Silly Thing.
Futura's resume expanded in the 2000s to include work with global megabrands Levi's, Nike, and Vans, all while building his own Futura Laboratories line. He also linked with The Lance Armstrong Foundation to produce the graphics adorning the star's bike for 2009 Tour de France. It was a collaboration that spoke to two of Futura's loves—cycling (he is a former bike messenger) and France (an affair detailed in our cover story.
This week, Futura releases his much anticipated collaboration with Hennessy, applying his trademark abstract graffiti to a staggering run of 360,000 Hennessy VS (Very Special) cognac bottles. With this large scale project hitting stores, the artist says he is “less inclined to work with others in the future." That noted, we present a timeline of Futura's most notable co-branded products. Consider it a retrospective of reinvention and an exhibition of one man's path to art stardom.