Williams said that, to his generation, KAWS was "the guy that made us pay attention to art." He commissioned dozens of pieces for his Miami home.
"When you see KAWS, he is something," said Williams. "His work is really truly like a stimulant. Like, you see it, and it connects with the inner child."
Today, KAWS is busier than ever. A current show of new paintings has Parisians buzzing. He said he is more focused now on working in the gallery/museum environment.
And his fanbase has grown larger as his work has done the same. A 16-foot version of Companion traveled the world, and now sits outside the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
It caught the eye of the folks at Macy's. The store's executive producer, Amy Kule, asked KAWS to design a balloon and all of the art for this year's parade.
When asked if KAWS was at the top of her list, Kule said yes: "The list was short. There was one name on it, and it was his," she laughed.
KAWS said accepting the project was "a no-brainer." He spent the past year in his Brooklyn studio putting his touch on the Thanksgiving tradition he loved as a kid.
"When we first started discussing to do a balloon, immediately I knew that's what I would want to do," he said. "For me, I feel like he's sort of the most iconic."
The 41-foot high balloon was hand-stitched in South Dakota over the summer.
In August, at a secret location near the factory, Altschul joined KAWS as he saw the character he dreamed up 15 years ago come to life for the very first time.
Macy's employees tested the helium-filled polyurethane balloon, as KAWS closely inspected every inch.
Back in Manhattan, his artwork was unveiled along the parade route.
Even a subway car was wrapped in this former graffiti artist's design. "Oh, there's a great irony," Donnelly said.
This past Wednesday, families came to watch as the balloon - unfamiliar to most - found his spot in line.
And on the big day, with Papa Smurf leading the way, Companion bobbed through the streets of New York while KAWS watched on like a proud father, at his little guy . . . all grown up.
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