It’s a 22-year-old manga series, and yet One Piece has not faded into obscurity, perhaps aided by the yet-to-end story of treasure hunting and fashion’s odd fascination with pirate-hunter Monkey D. Luffy and co
Recent One Piece collaborations (clockwise from top right) Uniqlo, Puma, and Skechers. Product photos: source. Collage: Just So
This is not KAWS, and they are not the characters that caused mayhem in Uniqlo stores when T-shirts bearing the torpid, X-eyed beings of KAWS’s (aka Brian Donnelly) were released (the video from China that went viral!). Yet, the members of the cast from the Japanese manga and anime One Piece are attracting fashion brands (Uniqlo again this past June) to their swashbuckling madness with as much fervour as those drawn to Disney’s timeless (or dated?) goofiness.
It is hard to imagine One Piece as fashion’s favourite manga-to-adopt. Graphically, the characters seem too pre-Photoshop and too pre-Studio Ghibli to tuck at heartstrings or stir the side of those who find Totoro irresistibly cute. The lead character Monkey D. Luffy wears a straw hat and from under that, circular eyes and a nearly always teeth-baring mouth catch readers’/viewers’ attention. The boy isn’t exactly as beguiling as KAWS’s BFF, although both of them have something in common: the letter X—to mark out eyes, and, on the other, as a pirate-credible scar. Nor has he the idol-like cuteness of Naruto, the titular character of the other massive manga hit. Luffy won’t be out of place on merchandise in a manga-themed gift shop, but on clothing, he is, to some of us, too cartoonishly exuberant.
Ground Y X One Piece fall 2019 collection. Photo: Ground Y
Still, Luffy and his motley group of equally open-mouthed pirate chums are attractive enough that brands eagerly use their delineations on both clothing and shoes. And it isn’t just the sold-out collaboration with Uniqlo of three months ago that surprised and impressed. To drop this Friday are the pieces conceived in partnership with Yohji Yamamoto’s sub-brand Ground Y. How the creator of Y3 can integrate characters of an anime series prone to flashy action with clothes of funereal, or monastic glum may suggest a vestige of marketing genius we have yet discerned. Mr Yamamoto’s S’yte line recently pairing with horror legend Junji Ito is understandable. Ground Y’s partnership with One Piece, conversely, baffles, but may quickly strengthen the manga’s fashion cred and, thus, forge a mutually beneficial relationship for both.
One Piece (ワンピース) first appeared in print in 1997. The story of Luffy, a boy with big dreams of becoming a pirate and not just any ordinary sea bandit, but the king of them all, appealed to many manga fans not only in Japan, but also otaku-types overseas. That plucky Luffy acquired superhero abilities a la Mister Elastic, which preceded the start of his madcap adventures when he unintentionally ate the supernatural Gum-Gum fruit, is endearment to the countless who dream of powers that can only exist in Marvel Comics. And the titular one piece? What every pirate goes for: the elusive treasure.
Conceived by Eiichiro Oda, the Kumamoto-born manga artist considered by critics and fans alike as the man who “changed the history of manga”, One Piece’s massive success, first as a comic book, which set the Guinness World Record for “the most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author”, then as anime that led to it being one of the “highest-grossing media franchises of all time”, with estimates placing it as a generator of USD21 billion in total franchise revenue, covering everything from manga to merchandise.
The Skechers X One Piece ‘Luffy’ sneaker introduces refreshing colours associated with the manga’s character. Photo: Zhao Xiangji
The reach One Piece is able to achieve is as commendable as those of the major characters under the Marvel universe. It is little wonder then that even unlikely labels, based as far away as Los Angeles, would want in on its staggering popularity. One of them is the shouldn’t-be-cool-but-it-is ’90s name, Skechers. Apart from the chunky sneakers that allowed the spotlight to be trained on the brand, that in the 2001, Forbes considered to be “one of the hottest name in footwear”, Skechers is not filled to the rafters with fashionable kicks to fill your wall of floor-to-ceiling, stackable, drop-front shoe boxes.
But collaborations changed that. Back on-trend last year after a rather long hiatus, Skechers knows that jumping on trends is one thing, riding on it long enough to keep the interest going is another. In January last year, the Korean division of Skechers began a collaboration with One Piece, producing six colourways of their thick-bodied, thick-soled D’lites, with hints of the manga protagonists rather than blatant images of them. The result is, by many accounts, a massive success. The brand is back again this summer season with another One Piece partnership, offering four colourways that correspond to the colouring of Monkey D. Luffy, Trafalgar Law, Jinbe, and Blackbeard—Marshall D. Teach, all again sans indiscreet character placements, probably to keep the kicks away from kiddy overkill and to allow the choice cut of the sneakers to tempt. Which, too, would be consistent with Luffy saying, “I want to eat meat!”