BAPE = A Bathing Ape?
If you’re a brand connoisseur who knows your menswear, you’ve most likely heard of Japanese streetwear brand BAPE. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen or heard of the company until a couple years ago when my teenage brother started rocking the brand’s notorious $100 dollar graphic tees branded with that iconic gorilla face. So who’s the gorilla and what’s a “bape?” Read on and I’ll break it down…
I’m certainly guilty of spending WAY too much money on clothing, but a hundred bucks for a basic graphic tee? I was FLOORED. As a member of the fashion industry, I was forced to consider this – maybe BAPE was the Japanese streetwear equivalent of, say, Givenchy? Shock piqued my curiosity so I researched the brand further to discover that the line is much more than overpriced graphic tees, BAPE is a lifestyle brand that currently dominates every material market in Japan while infiltrating those overseas. Impressive indeed.
BAPE was founded in 1993 by a Japanese entrepreneur and branding genius by the name of Tomoaki Nagao, who goes by Nigo. Influenced by the streets, Japanese society, and the classic 1968 film Planet of the Apes, Nigo chose the name BAPE in reference to the concept of over-indulgent and complacent Japanese youth culture taking lukewarm baths as opposed to traditional Japanese hot baths – hence BAPE: ”a bathing ape in lukewarm water.” A little odd, but a catchy name, no?
(Image via Joe La Puma)
Nigo hustled for years, producing mass quantities of graphic tees and attempting to gain exposure by celebrity product placement and collaborating with Japanese DJs. The brand quickly gained notoriety in Asia but remained relatively underground in the States while picking up a following among music industry and fashion insiders. In 2005, Nigo opened a flagship store in Fallon, Nevada.
On February 1, 2011, BAPE was sold to Hong Kong fashion conglomerate I.T. In a transaction encompassing $21,850,000 HKD (approx. $2,800,000 USD), I.T. purchased a total of 668 shares in BAPE, but Nigo has remained the brand’s Creative Director.
It’s miraculous to think how Nigo does it all; BAPE is fashion’s equivalent of the “Incredible Hulk” with it’s rising authority in the industry. While the company’s kicks, hats and tees are donned by celebrities and streetwear fanatics alike, the ever-evolving BAPE brand has set it’s sights on targeting a more refined audience. It seems like every single time I read Hypebeast or Complex I learn about another BAPE collaboration, capsule collection or limited release as the brand rounds the bases again and again. While some might find BAPE’s wide reach to be overwhelming, it’s sporadic influence is the secret to it’s success.
In an article for Brand Channel, Tokyo-based writer and global brand consultant Patrick Wilson explains BAPE’s exclusivity:
“Even more crucial to BAPE’s brand success than consistency has been its “limited editions” strategy. The self-enforced scarcity of BAPE products and boutiques makes them more sought after among BAPE fans than De Beers diamonds.
It’s true, apparently BAPE’s NY flagship store release a different graphic tee every day, only available on that day. Furthermore, try scrolling through EBay listings for BAPE products – you might have a heart attack. Take this 18K white gold diamond encrusted belt buckle for $74,000.00 or this pop art Tokyo Transformers painting for $15,000.00. Put aside the jewelry/art factor and consider these Adidas sneakers for $1,500.00.
(A few famous names rocking BAPE, via Nice Kicks)
2012 marks a particularly major year for the brand, although at the rate these guys are going, I can imagine things going up from here. BAPE has certainly taken a more editorial, refined approach to their designs; the URSUS BAPE brand (in it’s eighth season) has slated a classic and well-tailored collection of jackets, sneakers, hoodies and tees for F/W 2012 release, A Bathing Ape, the brand’s full ready-to-wear men’s collection, is churning out chilly-weather pieces of fine knits, leathers and wool, A Bathing Ape x Undefeated collaboration (in it’s second season) returns for a reunion with the famous footwear and tee shop for a fall collection of camo parkas and sweatpants for F/W 2012, Mr. Bathing Ape, the brand’s highly refined and sophisticated line of men’s suits, brogues and accessories also moves into F/W 2012 with a drool-inducing collection of tailored pieces, and the launch of AAPE by A Bathing Ape, a line of colorful hoodies and graphics targeting a teenage crowd with relatively affordable price points.
(A Bathing Ape 2012 Fall/Winter Men’s Collection via Hypebeast)
I’M NOT DONE. Other current collabs include A Bathing Ape x Schott NYC F/W 2012 leather jacket, A Bathing Ape x Marvel Comics capsule collections of tees and hoodies, A Bathing Ape x Tricker F/W 2012 collection of Stow Boots, an AAPE x Oakley capsule collection of sunglasses, as well as high-end furniture releases with a study collection and even a balance bike.
(A Bathing Ape x Marvel Comics Camo and Spider Man Hoodies, via BAPE)
(AAPE by A Bathing Ape 2012 Fall/Winter via Hypebeast)
It’s frightening to consider the overwhelming influence BAPE holds over the industry, but also admirable; the creative and financial minds behind the Japanese conglomerate clearly seem to have an insatiable hunger for everything related to fashion and production.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the brand progresses over the next five years, but for now I’ll stick to my 10 dollar vintage and thrifted graphic tees…that is of course, unless somebody wants to buy me some BAPE….this shit is pretty fresh.