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Over the weekend, Japanese streetwear label OrginalFake, the brainchild of world-renowned artist KAWS, announced it was closing its doors for good. When the label launched in 2006 with the help of Japanese toy brand Medicom, a whirlwind of hype and anticipation came along with it. At the time, KAWS's popularity was just starting to peak, fully completing his transition from underground street artist to multi-million dollar gallery star. Streetwear was also in its prime. Labels like Bape seemed unstoppable, while other small labels were popping up every day. Seven years later, OriginalFake was noticeably stagnant, while Nigo's announcement that he had resigned from Bape left their own, once guaranteed, future in the balance. As for OF, their once coveted T-shirts seemed like knock-offs of themselves and the trademarks that had made KAWS famous—the X’s, the use of legendary cartoon figures—seemed tired. Clearly, customers felt similarly.
That’s not to say the brand didn't put out quality product in their heyday. While always expensive and mostly exclusive to Japan, the brand’s non-graphic tee offerings were strong. Their Fall/Winter 2011 collection was likely their best and saw a clear effort to transition the brand from merely streetwear to that grey, but no less profitable, area between streetwear and classic menswear. I remember one pair of chinos particularly captivating. Seen above, they boasted a classic khaki base, topped with subtle, white stitched X’s throughout. Detailed with a black leather patch on the back and KAWS “teeth” taping on the interior waist, they were the prime example of where OriginalFake might be headed. In retrospect, it’s fair to say the collection, as a whole, was too little, too late. Not to mention too expensive. visvim did the whole quality thing better. Supreme’s lack of connection to one particular artist left them nimble, with seemingly unlimited viewpoints. OriginalFake, caught in the middle, faded along with KAWS’ own popularity, like many celebrity driven brands before it.
Six sequel film franchises and watered down brands gone mainstream only exist because we let them.
But just because the label is closing its doors now doesn’t mean they necessarily had to. Outside the worlds of streetwear and art, I think it's safe to say many still had no idea who Brian Donnelly aka KAWS was, leaving a large, untapped market. Clearly, OriginalFake had no intention of becoming a "mall brand". However, that's not to say such scope was out of reach considering Donnelly’s genius in not just his artwork, but also his marketing. I mean, we are talking about a guy who turned graffiti and a series of billboard alterations into a multi-million dollar business. If he wanted to make OriginalFake available at every PacSun and Urban Outfitters, he could have. And people would have absolutely bought it. The fact that he has decided to call it quits is critical given the fact that more lucrative choices were readily available. In a world where brands, musicians and Hollywood try to milk us for every last penny, there’s something to be said for knowing when to call it quits. Sure, seeing OriginalFake T-shirts in malls would not have been the best look for a high-end artist, but that doesn’t mean OrginalFake’s self-awareness and artistic integrity shouldn’t be appreciated, or lauded even.
Hopefully this drop in the ocean of consumer products has some ripple effect, big or small. Six sequel film franchises and watered down brands gone mainstream only exist because we let them. We eat that shit up and, in the process, destroy the need to come up with new, exciting ideas. Without becoming overly optimistic, OriginalFake's systematic shutdown is kind of the thing that needs to happen more often for the world of mainstream art consumption to become more credible. Perhaps now, KAWS will be inspired to create a new label with an entirely new vision. Rest in peace, OriginalFake. Thank you for your restraint and inspiration.