A Bathing Ape also called Bape is a Japanese clothing company that specializes in urban street wear. The brand’s roots trace back to the Harajuku area of Shibuya in Tokyo and is one of the pioneers in Japanese street wear brands that kicked off in the early 1990s. While its logo and style influences come from the original Planet of the Apes movies, Bape is more known for the use of very limited production runs resulting in skyrocketing demand for its products.
Brief History of Bape – A Bathing Ape
The brand’s full name is A Bathing Ape in Lukewarm Water and was founded by Nigo in 1993. This designer, producer, drummer and DJ has been an active part of the Teriyaki Boyz, a Japanese hip-pop group hailing from Yokohama that contributed to the OST of Fast & Furious – Tokyo Drift. The brand was the brainchild of two students going to the same school whose ideas took the shape of a store in Harajuku called NOWHERE, a brand which would later be revived by both Nigo and his school senior Jun Takahashi of the UNDERCOVER fame.
The brand derives its name from the indulgent, opulent and lazy lifestyle of the Japanese youth as seen from Nigo’s eyes relative to the Japanese method of bathing wherein bathing in lukewarm water is considered an over-indulgence/luxury. At the onset, the brand maintained a shrewd marketing approach by remaining underground and selling at low volumes. Initially, they did not even advertise the brand via traditional mass media but then surprised the world with a Pepsi collaboration in 2001. This catapulted the brand into the limelight.
Exactly 10 years later, Bape hit the American shores as hip-hop icon Pharrell Williams and Nigo joined forces with the latter becoming a co-owner and head designer of Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club clothing line. This was somewhat counter-intuitive for Nigo as the move resulted in mass production. Japanese brands in general tend to focus more on the creative aspect of their work rather than making a quick buck right off the bat. This is the reason why Japanese brands take longer time to scale globally. Regardless, the US mass market brought a lot of success to the brand but after a few years, started to fizzle out. As the demand dropped, the brand got devalued and resulted in Nigo selling 90.27% of his share to Hong Kong Fashion giant I.T for $2.8 million (USD) in 2011.
The brand also spawned an alternate line called Aape which is a collection of more casual clothing from A Bathing Ape and focuses on comfort and lighter materials. Another line called Mr. Bathing Ape sticks to slightly more premium stuff and shirts etc.
Tomoaki “Nigo” Nagao
Nigo was born in 1970 in Maebashi, Japan. While he’s mostly known for his involvement with Bape, there are several other facets to his career. He is the DJ for the Teriyaki Boyz, owns a record label, is a drummer, is the lead designer for Billionaire Boys Club and Human Made which are both Pharrell William’s brands, and has his own TV show called Nigoldeneye on MTV Japan. He’s also known as a big Star Wars fan and has a vast collection of the franchise’s memorabilia.
Bape clothing and Sneakers are still priced pretty high for what you get. Even though the exclusivity of the brand has dropped a lot over the years, anything with their signature camo still sells out pretty fast. While the original founder has since moved on to other things, there’s no denying the desirability of what he created.