There’s a caterpillar on David Melgar’s right forearm, and four floating Peter Pans inked behind his left ear. “I think I want to be in a wonderland,” says the 28-year-old creative director of Joyrich, who recently launched his first collection in collaboration with Coca-Cola. “There are certain things in children’s stories I relate to.” The cross-hatch caterpillar, which he drew himself, references a particular Wonderland, its most famous dweller being Alice. “When I create, I always go into this zone, this fantasy world of just my imagination.”

As for the tattoos of the mischievous boy who can fly, explains Melgar, “I think when you get older you discover the meanings behind the stories. Obviously, I live in a real world, and we have to. But I don’t want to lose that innocence in terms of my work. You should never grow up … as in, never allow society to kind of take and kidnap that innocence of creativity from you.”

A Pop-Culture Obsessed Child of the 80s

That innocence, that sense of playfulness and surprise and openness, is very much the narrative of David Melgar, in person and in the pieces he designs. “I was born in the 80s and I’ve always been obsessed with pop culture,” he says, “with taking influences from pretty much everything.”

Indeed, Melgar is the rare force in fashion who’s effervescent, open to delight — equally at home talking about children’s bedtime stories as he is, say, hosting a party with Rihanna. (He’s also one of the few people who can start a tweet with “Last night my boo @rihanna …” and know she might actually tweet something similar about him.) This is a designer whose bold, colorful take on pop art-influenced streetwear is so spot-on he’s moved guys to wear Betty Boop —and not just guys, but guys as diverse as Lil Wayne and Zayn from One Direction. His heroes range from the universal to the obscure, Mickey Mouse to Michel Gondry.

“It’s just like blending all these things together and you get this sort of smoothie of Joyrich,” Melgar says. “But the main ingredients are hints of 80s and 90s style and what’s current now, but not too trendy. You’re telling a story in a different way.”

Inspired by a Classic

The new Coca-Cola by Joyrich collection — graphic, sportswear-inspired mesh jerseys, tank tops, shorts and accessories, for men and women — tells such a story, one that’s both highly current and somehow classic. Misako Kiyoto, Global Business Manager for Japan, notes, "It has been a wonderful collaboration working with Joyrich. The program reflects the strong interest in vintage we see in Japan. It works because it is authentic and very fresh and bold."

Joyrich Dress
Bold graphics are the hallmark of the collection.

“At Coca-Cola we celebrate our history while always looking ahead,” says the company’s global design director Deklah Polansky. “We kiss the past hello. When Joyrich shared their concept, it was pure magic. David gave Coca-Cola a jolt of street cred and attitude. It’s sexy.”

It’s also notably largely in black-and-white—an unexpected kick to the ubiquitous red Coke can. “You still have red accents, which keep it Coca-Cola,” says Melgar. “But the majority of the print is black-and-white. I’m very into two-dimensional graphics. I wanted to take the Andy Warhol idea of oversize and iconic pop culture things and make it a little more relatable and not so much an art piece.”

There’s nothing gallery-static about these pieces, a collection of basketball and pop culture-cool. The clothes are fizzy and fun but with staying power — and Melgar is the master of the mix. The blocky “86” marks athletic-chic today, as well as the beginning of Coca-Cola in 1886. (The 19th century is an uncommon reference in hip-hop, to be sure).

“Coke is such a global brand,” says Melgar, “and extremely involved in youth culture and music and the arts. It’s incredible how a brand as simple as a soft drink can be tapped into so many different sources and always be cool, you know. It’s relatable to all walks of life.”

Polansky could perhaps be describing the designer himself with her take on his new pieces: “I love how graphic, bold and strong the collection is, while it still has a sweetness to it.”

West Meets East

When Melgar, a Californian, was hired at age 22 by the Japanese-born, Los Angeles-based Joyrich fashion company, he didn’t even have a passport (“I think I’d only ever been to Texas,” he recalls). For the past five years, he has spent about a quarter of his days in Japan, and more and more time across Asia.

“What they’re able to do there with what I design is something I just don’t see in L.A., I don’t see in New York,” he says, with Alice-level wonder. “The kids just layer it. They go full-force. In Tokyo especially, it’s print on top of print on top of print. It’s their interpretation of Western style but skewed in a surprising way. It’s so inspirational to me.”

And, in the hands of the right storyteller, new ways of putting things together, new ways of looking at global style, mean new discoveries, new delights. “We share the same mission,” says Polansky about the collaboration, “to make people happy, to create unforgettable moments.”

Meanwhile, the boy with the caterpillar tattoo is having his own moment. “I got this,” he gestures with one arm to the other, “because he’s asking Alice in this scene, 'Who are you?' I think as you go through this journey of life, we’re constantly trying to find out who we are.”

Watch the New Collection in Action