Not so many years ago, an Italian by the name of Simone Legno created a site from which he could display his artwork. A successful Rome-based illustrator, Legno had formed a love of Japanese culture in his early childhood, and his artwork reflected as much. Dark eyed women, equally shy and strong, gave the term "cute' new meaning — a meaning as dangerous as it was endearing, and as forceful as it was adorable.

The site was tokidoki, and before long, Legno's cute-oozing, Japan-blasted caricatures had attracted the attention of Hard Candy Cosmetic's co-founder Pooneh Mohajer and her husband, Ivan Arnold. In 2003, the pair flew the artist to Los Angeles, where talks were soon underway to turn Legno's tokidoki into a brand of it's own — a brand that would soon be bigger than what any of them expected.

Now, only a few years after that first meeting, the world of tokidoki covers everything from shoes, snowboards, and skate decks, to bags, walls, and tour busses. Legno's trademark mix of innocence and allure has won fans the world over — a side effect that seems to strike regardless of age, sex, race, or gender. We chatted with Legno about his inspiration, his long list of collaborations, and his plans for the future.

Joshspear.com: A lot has changed since you first came to L.A. in 2003 — did you ever dream that tokidoki would become what it is today?

Simone Legno: Yes; I dreamed so, I believed in it, and it happened. I was lucky, but I've worked very hard for it, day and night — weekends included.

JS: Are you still living in Rome?

SL: I have been living in LA for about 4 years now. I love it here, and since I go back to Italy about 3 – 4 times a year I don't feel homesick. I am always traveling around the world, so I feel like LA is my home now.

JS: Tokidoki means "sometimes" in Japanese. What inspired you to name your company after that?

SL: tokidoki is a happy world. It is a cute, playful, pure yet provocative, and sophisticated world that I imagine, live in, and dream of. tokidoki means “sometimes” in Japanese. I chose a Japanese word because I love Japan. I love everything from the ultra-modern happy face of Shibuya to the serious magical silence of Kyoto. I chose “sometimes” because everyone waits for moments that change one’s destiny"¦ by chance or by meeting a new person. tokidoki is the hope that something magical will happen to us, the hidden energy that everyone has inside, giving us the strength to face a new day and dream about something positive.

JS: What is it about Japan that you love so much?

SL: I think it’s hard to explain my love for this wonderful country. It’s something called “Japanisme,” a term coined to describe the craze for things Japanese. It’s something I feel inside; I am totally astonished about everything that comes from Japan, from the beauty of their tradition to the super pop flashy aspects of the super modern cities. I love Japanese people: I love their kindness, politeness, seriousness – yet they can also be quite funny, playful and extremely creative. I have sketches from when I was in kindergarten, designing Japanese people and Japanese elements. Not only is my art colored and decorated by Japanese objects, so is my everyday world with souvenirs, junk packages, toys, books, prints, t shirts and food. I think Japan is the most inspiring place for anybody working in a creative field. They are extremely innovative in graphic design, art, and street and couture fashion.

In most of my graphic compositions, I use a female figure (generally with Asian features) to express “beauty." I adore their sweetness, sensuality, shyness; their soft, gentle lines and sweet behavior; the nice and funny attitude of the Japanese women. I adore the strong personality hidden behind such a fragile and delicate figure; their sensuality behind their composure.

After some time passed, I felt I could mix my Japanese female characters with some cute little ones to add to their sweetness and complete their gentle world. The “kawaii” cute elements are something the Japanese life is soaked with. Kawaii is a world used constantly in Japanese everyday life; it means cute, little, and simply adorable. There’s a perfect balance in Japan between a minimal, gentle sophisticated style and a super colorful, noisy colors chaos that is simply the best scenario for my eyes.

JS: Which collaboration have you had the most fun with?

SL: I've loved working with Onitsuka Tiger, the street division for Asics. I love sneakers, and the project was about me changing the engineering of the shoe, the structure and shape, choosing all the materials — I even decided how the shoes should be stitched (not just printed on). I am very proud of this collaboration, because it seemed a bit difficult at the beginning. This collab with Onitsuka Tiger will continue for about 2 years, with a design every 6 months. They will start to be released in June 08 worldwide, but only in select stores. At the same time, I'll be working on pure branded tokidoki sneakers, made in Italy. I am very excited – I guess they will be around in 09.

JS: You recently covered +44's tour bus — what was it like working with them?

SL: I think they are very humble nice guys. It was really a pleasure; I had total freedom. I had some of them coming to visit me in the office in the early morning and got emails from Mark Hoppus during the tour to keep me updated about how the fans were loving the bus very much.

JS: I love collecting your Cactus Friends – are there any plans to add more toys to that series?

SL: Yes, there are always new Cactuses coming. The next one should be the Cactus Punk boxed in collab with another Punk by my friends Mad Barbarians.

JS: Your first store opened in Milan a few months ago, and it's completely beautiful. Do you have plans to open a store in the US?

SL: Yes, hopefully in 09, looking for the location"¦

JS: Is there anything exciting in the works that you can tell us about?

SL: Lot of things: New pure branded tokidoki bags (but made by same people behiond LeSportsac; same team, same factories); tokidoki denim in Europe; the two cats of adios and ciao ciao called Skeletrino and Skeletrina; a new line of New Era hats; mimobots; plushes; new lines of watches, jewelry, and other cool stuff. Right now I'd like to focus more on painting – hopefully I'll find more time.

Ciao ciao!