Is it Black Friday? Armageddon? No, it’s Monday, June 3, but the new and (allegedly) final collaboration between KAWS and UNIQLO has launched like a missile full of bath salts, and bedlam has broken out at stores in China as fans and fast-fashion flippers battle it out for products from the last of the KAWS x UNIQLO UT line.
In video footage originally uploaded to websites like Weibo (and now gone viral on Instagram and Twitter), shoppers are behaving like the flesh-crazed undead in your favorite zombie movie: frantically slithering beneath security gates, barreling through store aisles, dismembering mannequins, and pulling down entire in-store displays as they compete for the objects of their obsession.
Should we be shocked to see enthusiastic crowds of shoppers clamoring for the latest KAWS gear? Considering that the graffiti-artist-turned-market-sensation has been on a meteoric path toward world domination, definitely not. But this is next-level animalism on display. We’re talking about dozens of grown men and women—yes, the videos show a gender-balanced menagerie of hypebeasts—wrestling each other to the ground at shop entrances and ripping t-shirts from one another’s hands as if they were the last jugs of potable water after total societal collapse.
In retrospect, maybe we all should have seen this coming. Think back to Art Basel Miami Beach last December, when the overwhelming demand for KAWS’s limited run of editioned works for Pace Prints forced the gallery to institute an ad hoc lottery system to keep rabid collectors at bay. Those works, certifiable fine art pieces, still fetched prices in the five- and six-digit realm en route to selling out.
But at UNIQLO, a Japanese fast fashion label with a whopping 678 stores in mainland China alone, the products are selling for less than $20 a pop. If you buy into the marketing jargon, which calls the line a “wearable retrospective,” these works are available for a fraction of the cost of a sculpture. And what better way to flex on the less chic members of the population than to be able to literally drape yourself in your newest acquisition anywhere you go?
Wildest of all—and please brace yourself for this plot twist, art world—not everyone contributing to UNIQLO’s product-line panic is collecting out of connoisseurship or sincere emotional investment. On the popular blog Whats on Weibo, some shoppers admitted that they weren’t even interested in clothes, or KAWS for that matter. They were just in it to be a part of the action. The blog quotes one Weibo user who said, “What I love is not UNIQLO, nor KAWS—what I love is to rush and clash with all these people.”
Resentment and opportunity are both rising in the aftermath. The brand’s own social media accounts have been flooded with disgruntled comments from those who missed out on the drop. According to Whats on Weibo, the hashtag #EverybodyKAWS had more than 140 million views by midnight in China. No wonder that, as of press time, resellers were already pumping their asking prices for individual items up to as much as six times their original retail price.
The collection launched today in the US and China. So far, it appears that the release has been much calmer stateside than in the People’s Republic, perhaps thanks to American shoppers’ proximity to the subdued emotional flame radiating from KAWS (AKA Brian Donnelly) himself. He posted about the launch on Instagram today, saying simply, “I’m excited about this new collection…I really hope you enjoy it.” Which, FYI, is also a cold-blooded line to deliver as you drop a rival shopper like a fused-together bag of ice for blocking your path to KAWS x UNIQLO t-shirt glory.
Keep that in mind for when the collection debuts in Europe on June 6.
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