One of the most recognizable footwear brands in the world, Vans has managed to keep its reputation on a seemingly grassroots level, all while catering to the mass market. Down to earth and unapologetically accessible, the brand’s Californian sensibility is undeniably tied to skateboarding, surfing, and BMX. Its street-bred aesthetics has also parlayed onto the realms of street fashion with art and music being the focal point in many of its projects.
Tying together various design philosophies in utmost sophistication is Vault by Vans, and its mastermind is Taka Hayashi. Often considered as Vans’ “premium” label, the line sets itself apart from its vulcanized sole/checkboard brethrens. Its collaborations (with the likes of Star Wars, WTAPS, Diemme, and Engineered Garments to name a few) and OG styles, which reworks archive silhouettes under its LX moniker, breath new meaning into Vans classics.
Yet under the pillar of Vault by Vans, some of the most coveted designs come from Taka Hayashi, an artist who has his own namesake line (even though he’s a full-time Vans employee). Here, we learn more about the enigmatic shoe designer who one way or another contributes season-after-season to our favorite Vans releases.
From the Skate Park to the Studio
With nearly a decade under his belt with the longstanding skate imprint — Hayashi, an artist by training — got his start at Vans through a few friends who were involved with the footwear company, notably, Berto of Supreme LA and Vans Syndicate. Berto had approached Hayashi after seeing his art, so infatuated with his designs that he invited him to collaborate on the second season of Vans Syndicate in 2005. His deft use of materials otherwise sampled in high-end footwear would earn him a full-time gig at Vans, joining Syndicate before moving onto Vault.
“I try to bring the details of my own work to the shoe but I never try to over design it. I’ll add subtle accents to the Vans Stripe or maybe add to the heel tab. Each Vans silhouette has such distinct heritage to it already so it’s important to let those stories speak for themselves.”
However, Hayashi isn’t just an artist that happened to strike gold with Vans, in fact, he lives and breathes the culture synonymous with Vans’ sun-kissed California heritage. Born in Yokohama, Japan, before relocating to Santa Monica, Hayashi grew up with a quintessentially Californian childhood. He regularly frequented the local skate shop and park with his two-wheeler. “When I was thirteen, I used to hang out at a skateboard shop in Santa Monica called Fred Segal Wheels. It was owned by this really cool skater, named Mike Teele, from El Paso, Texas. A lot of pros would roll to this skateshop and I would see Eric Dressen wearing Vans Old Skools and Sk8-Hi’s, Natas wearing Converse Dr. J’s and Weapons, Mark Gonzales wearing Jordan 1′s, and Mike Vallely wearing adidas “Ewings” and the gold/red Instincts.”
Despite his skateboarding background, Hayashi isn’t your stereotypical irreverent, brash, West Coast skater. In fact, he’s timid, soft spoken, and takes a little prodding before opening up. “I hurt my ankle a little while back, but I still cruise around.” said the shy designer when asked whether he’s still an avid skater. Taking his time between questioning to deliver thoughtful and concise answers, Hayashi’s unique designs derive from being able to tie the knot between the lawless and disorderly known to skateboarding with the refinement one would expect from luxury footwear. A sensibility which is perhaps indebted to his multicultural American-Japanese upbringing. His vision earned him his own line within Vans, in turn, providing seasonal offerings under his guidance. A Taka Hayashi x Vault by Vans model can be spotted from a distance. Epitomized by a strong attention to detail and an elevated aesthetic that is heavily defined by prints and patterns, the South Western Native American motif continues to be an ongoing trademark in his works.
The Native American Appeal
Hayashi is particularly inspired by Native American culture, constantly referencing it in many of his collections. Particularly, Hayashi’s infatuation with it stems from his fascination with the Ainu people of Japan — the indigenous people of Japan with immense Russian and Native Indian influences. “I’m infatuated with their culture and it’s provided inspiration again and again” says Hayashi pensively. These influences result in his incorporation of lush suede and Navajo embroidery, or the use of cowhide laces and rustic eyelets in accentuating Van’s iconic silhouettes.
While his own artwork provides inspiration for his designs, Hayashi admittedly “goes elsewhere for ideas before applying [his own] style to footwear.” Vans sends its design team to various locations around the globe to acquire new tastes and influences, constantly keeping them inspired. “Designers actually get to go on inspiration trips – to Egypt, Morocco, Italy where we immerse in the culture for a short while and come back to California with refreshing ideas,” says Hayashi. Most recently, he was sent to Morocco where he was “blown away by their leather craft and artisanal goods.” This inspiration will become the core of Vault by Vans 2016 spring/summer collection. While each model is trademarked by Hayashi’s detailing, the designer still holds Vans’ heritage highly, “I try to bring the details of my own work to the shoe but I never try to over design it. I may add subtle accents to the Vans Stripe or to the heel tab, but it’s important not to overshadow the distinct stories of each model.”
For many, Vans sneakers are meant to be worn-in, with each wearer developing unique relationships with their pair via explorations on a skateboard. Yet with Hayashi’s line, which is strongly ensconced in detailing and intricacies, should wearers trade in their tearaway mindset for care and consideration?
Despite the sophistication seen in Hayashi’s Vault by Vans designs, the designer says it’s up to the wearer to interpret and wear the shoe however they want. “Its completely up to them how they perceive it. But I guess, the Hayashi line is targeted at a more mature audience who appreciates details and a different take on the traditional skate shoe. The print and patterns do a lot in telling a different story.”
“Its completely up to [the wearer on] how they perceive it. But I guess, the Hayashi line is targeted at a more mature audience who appreciates details and a different take on the traditional skate shoe. The print and patterns do a lot in telling a different story.”
Apart from his upcoming core collection for Vault by Vans — which he looks to expand onto apparel — Hayashi also developed a Vault by Vans collaboration with Pendleton. The classic heritage brand known for its woolen goods will be fusing its aesthetics with Vans, with a wool blanket, Sk8-His and Slip Ons. This is a match made in heaven, as both Pendleton and Hayashi can find common ground in its attachment to heritage and traditional designs. Elsewhere, Hayashi will bring back the Seria for 2016 spring/summer, a running-inspired silhouette in homage to ’80s performance designs. “I applied my own aesthetic onto the archival silhouette. Its not meant for skating, just a lifestyle shoe.” Following art initiatives with the likes of Takashi Murakami and Ron English, rumor has it that Vaults next collaboration will be with no other than Brooklyn artist and Kanye West collaborator Wes Lang. With a handfull of project on-the-go, we wonder if Hayashi ever gets sidetracked. A query which he quickly answers “I always keep the core skate audience in mind, that will always be ingrained in my work.”