Behind the HYPE: How the KAWS Companion Is Disrupting the Art World and Beyond

Appearing in major fashion collaborations, music videos, auctions and more.

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In the past two decades, KAWS’ Companion has swiftly cemented its reputation as a must-have collectible. What started out as a limited run of eight-inch toys is now an undeniable mainstay in the art industry and beyond.

The Companion’s influence on popular culture is seemingly endless. The figure took over the longstanding moon man trophies for the 2013 MTV VMA Awards. It also inspired Kim Jones’ first Dior Campaign and is in the collections of A$AP Ferg, Travis Scott, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. More recently, it took the form of two dissected Companions in Drake’s “Toosie Slide” video. These figures retailed for $6,000 USD though have recently fetched around $50,000 – $100,000 USD at auction.

KAWS first introduced the Companion in 1999 as a toy figure with Japanese brand Bounty Hunter. They were produced in an edition of 500 and sold out almost immediately. Since then, the popularity of the figure has skyrocketed and led to collaborations with some of the most reputable brands in the world including UNIQLO UT, Nike, Jordan Brand, and Dior Homme. These collectibles sell out immediately and end up on secondary market sites for up to three times the original price. This adds another layer to the concept of collecting the Companion — these figures aren’t just for purchase, they also have fluctuating prices that will appreciate over time.

Apart from editions and collaborations, the Companion character has been the focus of many of KAWS’ exhibitions with large scale installations. In 2010, he built an enormous fiberglass statue of a weeping Companion on the grounds of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum and floated a 40-foot Companion balloon down 5th Avenue during the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He also took an enlarged version of the character on a world tour with his KAWS:HOLIDAY project to locations in Taipei, Hong Kong, Virginia Beach, as well as the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan.

Recently, the artist launched augmented reality versions with Acute Art of the Companion for fans to download, and use at any location — making the presence of the Companion limitless. Watch the video above to learn more about the history of KAWS’ Companion and be sure to check out the other videos in our Behind the HYPE series.

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