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Getting Friendly with Friends With You

We all want to have a little fun. Isn’t that at least part of the reason we ended up in the world of design to begin with? Beyond affecting bottom lines, we have the capacity to craft new meaning by interpreting and re-expressing our world through the eyes of designers and tools of design. In what seems like an arid desert of dried up ideas and plant-life neglected, there lies a mirage just ahead—a tropical oasis filled with joy, laughter, wit, and some handy craft work.

On the waves of the hazy horizon, I see a frowning midnight-blue figure greeting me, and slowly he speaks his name, “maaalllffeeeee.” Strangely, in his world of happiness he dons a look of agony or discontent yet he brings a smile to my face.

I’m not the only one similing, and it’s about time. We can use some healthy smiles. A vigorous trend has been developing and it’s manifesting itself in the form of toys, child-like toys made by adults for adults. No toy exists only as itself. Each has a story and is resident of some otherwordly microcosm. As those designing reverie have seen, the fantastic worlds these toys live in are attracting increasing interest.

Malfi is the creation of Sam Borkson and Arturo Sandoval the two members of Miami-based design duo Friends With You. Friends With You is also the name taken by the world of magic, fantasy, sophisticated humor, and child-like playfulness they’ve crafted.

Malfi brings you wealth or death.

RJH What is the attraction for the creators of a fantasy world? How does the Friends With You world layer onto reality?

FWY I guess creating some kind of fantasy world lets us expand the limits of our realities and logical thinking. It gives us the opportunity to create experiences and environments that exist in our world and can then spread an idea and blur the lines between fantasy and reality once its starts to enter into the real world.

We began sending a signal to the world via our toys a few years ago. Now we have expanded into the real world—bigger and better—from public art installations, museum environments, and hotels, to making a giant blimp parade that will float down Miami Beach! Also our base message is really meant for the world to experience. Behind all the whimsy and sparkles, we are spreading an idea that empowers all people, shows them they can be magical, and shows the importance of believing in the ideas of magic, luck, and friendship.

We also view this moment in history as very important. We are all, in present times, the pioneers of information, and this lets us act more responsibly and thoughtfully with how we bring this idea into reality. We mostly want to interrupt the heavy and negative signals that are being shoved down all our throats and add something that is cute and strange and magical and happy.

RJH Given the current global political and military conflicts, media’s persistence on perpetrating the bad news, and our own government’s fear tactics, do you find that people are looking for some fantasy to escape in?

FWY Sure!

Sam and Tury flying high in the sky and swirling about.

RJH Have you consciously addressed those issues, or does that occur just by being a part of this time?

FWY Yes we are thinking about it. I think it is impossible to not see it. I’m not sure that our art began battling this information in a conscious way; however, once people are learning more and more about what you do, it’s good to begin thinking about it yourself and expand the philosophy as you yourself and the idea evolve. We found a huge lack of spirituality in people. Aside from religious followers, people who are not attracted to controlled systems seem to be missing out on something important: ritual and understanding that helps us believe in something more than ourselves. Just maybe we are connected to each other, our planet, and animals. We are and drawing power from that huge connection of energy.

RJH The act of buying has taken on a bad rap. Do you find there’s a tension between creating products for sale while simultaneously creating escapist worlds of happiness? Is it a compromise or is it the best way to get your ideas in the hands of a wider audience?

FWY Yes, it is the best way to get these ideas into the hands of the people. We are programmed from birth to understand that buying something is giving it value. Giving it away is nice, but sometimes it is not as dear to you. Like a flyer or something free, it doesn’t always mean as much. However, with our plan for large interactive public playgrounds we intend to do just that: provide people with the opportunity to have a special experience in a brand new world!

RJH In mid-November you’re taking over the Diesel gallery in New York. I assume the Friends aren’t going to be modeling jeans. What’s going to happen there?

FWY We are creating a piece we call the Garden of Friendship featuring “The Gift.” It is an installation playing on the world of fantasy inside an extraordinary shopping environment. At the doorway we present an oversized motorized sculpture, “The Gift.” He offers you candy from his mouth. Each candy represents a hope, dream, and/or wish. They are individually low level wishes, so don’t go too wild. It will be a very special garden amidst the wintry landscape of New York. We are happy about that.

RJH You’re also going to be popping in some other venues in New York.

FWY We will also have a symposium at Parsons that week and are doing a special release of new apparel at Kidrobot!

Both of these events tie around the launch of the new book. It is so cute and lovely, and it is really a special thing for everyone. I was so happy to see kids enjoying it just like any other kids book! So nice!

RJH And then at the Aventura Mall in Miami, I understand you’re building a playground. Can you give us a few hints about what might be in store?

FWY This is the first of many playgrounds, play areas, or interactive installation we did to be a permanent mini amusement parks. It’s called “Rainbow Valley” and is the lovely story of a small mountain and his journey to find the valley he belongs in! We are so excited about this project and can’t wait to see kids going wild on it!

Rainbow Valley playground opens at Miami’s Aventura mall in December

RJH It sounds like a blast! At what point did you transition from making plush toys to building installations? How has that impacted both the two of you and the world you create?

FWY I was doing installations actually way before I ever made toys, but it was a very natural transition for us. The toys are kind of like mini installations in a way, where you interact with them in the world. When we build an environment the same principals come into play.

RJH In your new book we see the friends being experimented upon in a laboratory. Who’s using the friends as an object of research and to what end?

FWY Well that is how we discovered them in the first place. Those lab pics were just the test we conducted to see what kind of powers we could find out they had, at this point the results are inconclusive except for a few.

RJH Some of your characters appear, at times, to reference anime forms, or sometime other styles that the medium of execution seem to have attachments to. Do you feel as though the world you’re representing changes depending on the format, tools, etc, or are those a transparent technical layer?

FWY The world already exists. We always try to show it the best we can.

RJH The book shows some collections of snapshots, many of which show the friends. Both surprisingly and refreshingly, there’s an abundant feeling of familial attachment in the images. They’re playfully sentimental. Do characters like Malfi embody that spirit or project it? Or both?

FWY Yes, the pictures really explain a lot of it. Mostly we are just lovey-dovey guys, looking for a hug or to give one. We love and respect our friends, family, and fans, and care a great deal about them. We are jokers and love adventure. We’re always looking to act silly and have fun! Malfi is exactly me and Tury to the T, and he describes us very much! Except he has some hardcore magic powers, and we are just special humans.

Mystic Chase, the first encounter of the plush dolls gone wild. Malfi and Albino Squid take flight!

RJH With the assumed risk of implying that anything is average, what’s happens in a typical day with the two of you? Are you working full-time on FWY projects?

FWY Now it’s Friends With You all the time. It’s really great, but we are also nice people too. We hang with friends and go to the beach in Miami. Tury has a new baby and he breast feeds her. You know the normal stuff. And then right around the corner some adventure always lies.

RJH How much of that is self-initiated and how much is commissioned.

FWY Hmm. Most and a lot!

A car FWY gave a soul to. His name is Albino Fox.

RJH Tell me a bit about the Hotel Fox project and how you were engaged to work on the rooms. How do you address these art pieces? Or do you look at them as design projects? Is there a distinction for you?

FWY This was full art installation for us, where we could create four special environments and a great albino fox installation! We loved the opportunity, and it is one of our best projects to date for spreading this magical message! The distinction between art and design, well, this has gone on forever, right? And here it is. Artists now should take full advantage of their deign skills to more intelligently spread a message; we use branding and other design concepts constantly in our art! But I think a lot of graphic design mostly means using your craft to solve a problem for a client, and then it might not be art at this point. In Project Fox, it was pure art because even though there was a client involved, the message was ours.

RJH What would Red Flyer have to say about this?

FWY He would agree, Red Flyer is what everything is made up of in a micro scale. So he really knows what I’m talking about.

Los Montanas, the FWY world of magic and mystery.

Friends with You are participating in The State of the Art illustration symposium at Parsons on November 11th.

On November 15th, FWY take over the Diesel Denim Gallery with the Garden of Friendship.

Their book, FriendsWithYou Have Powers!, is published by Die Gestalten Verlag.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Nov.01.2006 BY Randy J. Hunt
Pesky Illustrator’s comment is:

Nice one, Randy. There's something suspiciously like optimism to this work. I know we've all discussed toys before, and escapism into Cuteness, but something about these figures that bypasses the brain and goes right to the funny bone. This has the silly innocence that reminds me of the Teletubbies. (but then again maybe it was the morphine they gave me in the hospital...)

Some interesting parallels:


Anything that can bring levity to some of current design serious dullness is subversive. Thanks.

On Nov.04.2006 at 11:05 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Thanks, Pesky!
I couldn't agree more. Well...I'm not sure about that teletubbies part ;)

On Nov.09.2006 at 04:52 PM
CB’s comment is:

Here are some pics from today's Friends With You Blimp parade that I thought you might enjoy:


On Dec.08.2006 at 02:48 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Thanks CB! I love the trio of Malfi balls.

On Dec.08.2006 at 09:49 AM
penelope smith’s comment is:

i luv u guys, you should come out with plush edition line of all your characters, and sell them on your website!!! Stay cute ya'll.

On Mar.01.2009 at 10:58 PM