The world has called on Italians for style advice for centuries. General Motors, Porsche and Hyundai have employed Italian body designers. Nobody makes a sleeker shoe (right, Salvatore Ferragamo?). And where would Richard Gere be without the casual suits of Giorgio Armani? Japanese pop culture could use a little Roman remixing as well, and in recent years it has been getting it from L.A.-based streetwear label tokidoki.

You'll probably recognize the line's trademark iconic heart-and-bones design, the result of founder Simone Legno's fusion of classic Japanese art, Asian cartoon icons, punk rock, tattoo culture and graffiti.

“My attempt was to try to redesign Japanese art,” Legno says. “I get inspiration from traditional Japanese woodcuts of geishas. They're three-dimensional and soft. Then I converted them to modern contemporary girls using computer tools.”

The 34-year-old was a Japanophile graphic artist in Rome when his future SoCal business partners discovered his tokidoki website, used as a calling card to drum up design business, and convinced him to move to L.A. in order to turn his online images into a T-shirt line.

Legno says he's been fascinated by “the Japanese way of stylizing reality into characters.” He notes that even some police departments in the island nation have cartoon icons.

Tokidoki was launched at the Magic street-fashion show in Las Vegas in 2005 and has since blossomed into an international pop phenomenon that includes a presence in 60 countries and counting. The company even has a store in Milan. Legno says a major push into Asia and South America is imminent. Karl Lagerfeld, Le Sportsac and Hello Kitty have called on tokidoki to collaborate on everything from figurines and bags to pendants.

When he's not masterminding new products and a possible upscale invasion, you'll find Legno hanging out with his Japanese fiancée at Karaoke Bleu in L.A.'s “Little Osaka” neighborhood on Sawtelle Boulevard, where tokidoki got its first exposure in shops such as Happy Six and Giant Robot.

Legno says he went straight from LAX to the Giant Robot store on Sawtelle upon his first visit to town. “When I moved here to L.A., I started very much to be more influenced by graffiti and street art, bling bling and guns,” he says. “This is a big melting pot.”

And so you'll find his brand around town at Nordstrom and Fred Segal, as well as tokidoki's own boutiques in Santa Monica and on Melrose. Which is to say that the angelic heart of tokidoki is about halfway between Japan and Italy.

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LA Weekly