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UBIQ x Vault by Vans

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When Vans came to UBIQ to design a shoe, we knew we had to do something really special. As a brand, Vans itself has over 40 years of heritage in skateboarding and surf culture, but the timeless silhouettes of Vault by Vans made this project particularly unique. Rather than throwing together random colors, we wanted to draw on our namesake and go far outside of our usual boundaries. And we went far, as far as Osaka, Japan to Three Tides Tattoo shop and the work of Hiroshi Hirakawa.


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Because of their meticulous attention to detail, classic Japanese art was something we wanted to incorporate into the design of the UBIQ x Vault by Vans shoes. Japanese tattoos have a characteristic aesthetic and beauty, with a rich history so connected to painting it’s entirely its own artform. The original illustrations used in classical Japanese tattoos were created by some of the best ukiyo-e artists. Ukiyo-e, which translates to “pictures of the floating world,” is a genre of traditional Japanese painting and printmaking originally depicting the pleasure-seeking urban lifestyle of the Edo period (think brothels, teahouses, geishas, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers.) Later images portrayed legendary heroes and religious motifs, sometimes combined with flowers, symbolic animals or mythological beasts set against landscapes which usually included a background of waves, clouds and lightning bolts. During most of the 19th century, an artist and a tattooist worked together – the artist drew the picture with a brush on the customer’s skin first, then the tattooist worked over it.

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Our featured artist Hiroshi Hirakawa didn’t just adapt these illustrations for tattooing, but was skilled in creating the artworks himself. Before ink designs, Hiroshi was first known as a ukiyo-e painter, his illustrations of the mysterious yet deliciously exotic world of geishas in nature scenes or samurai fighting dragons, added to a longstanding tradition of Japanese art. Hiroshi’s detailed portfolio, along with his deep appreciation for historical techniques and precedent, earned him a spot at one of Japan’s prestigious Three Tides Tattoo shops. His images often portray cephalopods, tattooed concubines, and geishas, in dissolute ecstasy. In addition, Hiroshi’s frequent allusions to mortality give his work a vividly contemporary twist that completely enchants and mystifies viewers, enough to make you curious about the man behind the images.

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UBIQ is honored to work with Three Tides Tattoo shop in featuring Hiroshi Hirakawa’s artwork for this collab on not one shoe from Vault by Vans but two pairs from their definitive line: a Sk8-Hi LX and Era LX. On both styles, you’ll find a depiction of a samurai on a Vans cargo ship confronting a mountain dragon looming in the sky. On the Sk8-Hi LX you’ll find the illustration on a canvas mid-panel fixed between black suede, whereas the full scenery can be viewed on the allover print of the low-top canvas upper of the Era LX. The box in which both of the UBIQ x Vault by Vans shoes come in is also fully covered in the same artwork.

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For the UBIQ x Vault by Vans lookbook, we continued the themes of nature reflected in Hiroshi Hirakawa’s artwork and included components of Japanese aesthetics as well as tattoo culture. We then integrated all these elements into a story between a guy and girl, as the shoes will be available in both gender sizes. Our two characters meet at the always scenic Kelly Drive, the morning light on the Schuylkill River a perfect contrast to the cherry blossoms trees that were just beginning to turn. We took a midday sake break at a dimly lit Japanese restaurant, its minimalist dark wood paneling provided a private setting for two while letting the shoes take spotlight. To end the evening, we stopped by an after-hours tattoo shop, whose fluorescent ambience gave just enough illumination for indefinite decisions on ink designs.

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Models: Brian and Catzie. Special thanks to Yakitori Boy and Olde City Tattoo for letting us shoot at their locations.

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