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Throughout the last few years, A BATHING APE® founder NIGO® and musical artist VERBAL have maintained a close relationship. Originally acquainted through a musical partnership with the TERIYAKI BOYZ (where NIGO® serves as the group’s DJ), the two now look to expand their horizons as they transcend music into fashion. VERBAL’s own brand, AMBUSH® Design, and A BATHING APE® puts together one of A BATHING APE’s most innovative and visually stimulating releases in some time, for a collection which releases January 2nd. We took this opportunity to discuss a number of different topics with NIGO®, as well as VERBAL and his AMBUSH® Design counterpart and wife, YOON. Ranging from the relationship between fashion and music, AMBUSH® Design’s approach to this project, to the current outlook of A BATHING APE®, this is perhaps one of the more introspective looks into the world of A BATHING APE® in recent times.
Interview: Jey Perie
Photography: Ivan Hugo
A BATHING APE®: A Bridge Between Music and Fashion
Hope things are well with you, first off, in your opinion what’s the intersection between music and fashion?
NIGO®: Since I originally got involved in music first and foremost with Hip-Hop, music was mostly a precursor to fashion due to the relevant and associated style that accompanied the culture. It was definitely music that introduced me to fashion.
VERBAL: Same with me, my first introduction to fashion was through Hip-Hop culture and the whole late 80s East Coast movement that I witnessed, when my mom first took me to the States. Back then in Japan, kids my age were still listening to cartoon songs… So you can imagine how dumbfounded I was, to see American kids around my age who were breakdancing and chanting along to RUN DMC.
And still now, when you are designing products such as the upcoming AMBUSH® x A BATHING APE® collection, how does music play a role and influence you?
VERBAL: Music definitely inspires our designs, and vice versa. Our latest collabo with BAPE is mainly inspired by vintage B-rated movies, but the Half-Shark-Alligator Parka is pretty much designed as an homage to Kool Keith’s (Dr. Octagon) song, “halfsharkalligatorhalfman”.
In the past we could say that each musical genre had its own sense of fashion and style. But do you think this notion has become dated? Do these pre-existing relationships no longer exist (i.e. stereotypical Hip-Hop and fashion over the years)?
NIGO®: It’s constantly evolving. RUN DMC were wearing skinny pants back in the day, then the fashion evolved towards a more extravagant XXL/over-sized style of fashion. But nowadays it seems that it’s slowly coming back to a more 80s-esque style.
VERBAL: Looking back to the 90s, NIGO® and I came up in different camps when it came to Hip-Hop influences. NIGO’s influences were pioneers like Kan Takagi and Ito Seiko, while I was more influenced by the dance scene and by artists like Buddha Brand, King Ghiddra, etc., where Hip-Hop meant baggy jeans down to your knees and bad attitude to match. But over the years, as I discovered NIGO’s end of the Japanese Hip Hop spectrum, and fell in love with the whole culture and philosophy… For example, it bugged me out to hear that Ito Seiko used to get on stage with a Vivienne Westwood get-up, and rock the mic!!! That’s why in my last mixtape “Delirious Japanese”, I was naturally drawn to songs by Tinnie Punx (Kan Takagi & Hiroshi Fujiawara), Melon, ECD, and other pioneer acts that NIGO® recommended, as they seemed to fit right in with my current vibe for music.
Is A BATHING APE® a brand that transcends many demographics and represent a brand that can be worn by people of many different backgrounds?
NIGO®: A BATHING APE® has been going on since 1993, over the years our fan base and customer base have evolved with the brand from a more underground label to an international brand. Throughout the years, its inevitable that our demographics’ tastes change but they still maintain an allegiance to the core concept that A BATHING APE® represents.
Now that A BATHING APE® is a global brand with flagship stores in more than 5 countries, how would you differentiate between the average fan in the West versus Japan and Asia?
NIGO®: It really depends how one experiences the brand. For example in the United States, most of our customers have known about the brand through Pharrell so their vision of the brand is built around him as opposed to Japan and the rest of Asia where our customer is more familiar with A BATHING APE because of myself and my work. Even London where we opened our first overseas flagship store maintains a different atmosphere than other markets in Tokyo and New York.
Why did you choose London as the first European location to open A BATHING APE® flagship store?
NIGO®: In my opinion London and Tokyo had a very similar fashion sense and energy so it was easier to bridge the gap. In addition I always had good connections there and it’s definitely helpful when it comes to opening or starting a new venture.
How did the AMBUSH® x A BATHING APE® collaboration originally come about?
VERBAL: NIGO® and I have been working together on music for a little while now, but it’s definitely during the TERIYAKI BOYZ’ “Serious Japanese” Tour in 2009, that we really linked up. We both shared a common passion with collectibles and jewelry. We were on the Shinkansen traveling south, when NIGO® and I had this conversation about accessories and jewelry and the idea of doing a collaboration came about naturally.
AMBUSH® Design: The Brains Behind the Operations
Who and what is AMBUSH DESIGN®?
YOON: AMBUSH DESIGN® is basically just the two of us.
VERBAL: Well, we didn’t start AMBUSH® with a focused artistic ambition at all. Actually, I created the company in the first place to have a legal base to allow YOON to move to Japan with me, so our first objective was a little more practical… [laugh] But since then, she held her own as a talented designer. Alongside her work for AMBUSH® Design , she has been working on designs for magazines, CD’s, and she has been doing a lot of styling lately.
YOON: Styling and fashion came along naturally to me. I was always into both of them in general but I really took it seriously when I helped VERBAL during his m-flo tours and campaigns. At that time, it was very hard for him to work his personal fashion style mainly because nobody around him understood what he was about. Many sort of discounted his style and pigeon-holed him into the stereotypical baggy over-sized Hip-Hop look.
What does A BATHING APE® mean to you?
VERBAL: Wow, A BATHING APE® is “THE” brand to me. It paved the way for a lot of brands from Harajuku. NIGO® has inspired and continues to inspire a lot of people with the fashion and artistic community. As a business, BAPE® set a precedent for the Tokyo fashion people, as BAPE® became widely known and was welcomed by the world. NIGO® set a perfect example on “how to sample”: re-animating and re-inventing influences around him and translating them into fashion.
YOON: I wasn’t in Japan when BAPE® started blowing up but I first started paying attention to what they were doing when I was looking for original ideas to work with for VERBAL’s styling. That was around his 3rd m-flo album. The brand definitely brought a new approach to fashion in Tokyo.
Can you describe what sort of aesthetic you were looking to incorporate into the design for the AMBUSH® x A BATHING APE® collection?
VERBAL: When the opportunity to work with A BATHING APE® came along, YOON and I sat down and talked about about all the 80s B-rated vintage horror movies. She has her ways of incorporating unexpected elements and mashing them together so it makes sense… and look FRESH! So as she started designing the chains in that direction, we were “on”, just going back and forth and coming up with crazy stuff.
YOON: Basically I wanted to design a kind of shoe that we would want to buy at a BAPE® STORE. I wanted to avoid doing another clean-cut BAPE® collaboration and really switch things up and bring in something typically not seen from BAPE®.
VERBAL: For the jewelry that we’ve made for this collection we used the same standing-ring concept that we had for our AMBUSH® “BEEEEETHOVEN” series. Except this time we used the iconic Baby Milo, with his brains showing.
A BATHING APE®: The Present
Does the direction of A BATHING APE® now represent 100% your interests? Is that why we see such a diverse variety of style from sneakers and boots, to more refined pieces?
NIGO®: My original goal for A BATHING APE® was and still is to design clothes that I want to wear. This hasn’t changed over the life of the brand. But of course, over time and given the expansive reach of the company, we’ve inevitably reached a scale where it isn’t possible anymore to center all the creativity around my own desires. This year I also started a new company in order to work on different creative projects. This helped sort of distance myself from all my previous contributions to A BATHING APE®. However, now I truly understand how much I am correlated to A BATHING APE®.
This year, A BATHING APE® has open the door to many collaborative collections such as URSUS this latest capsule with AMBUSH®. How important is it for you to work with talented designers with different backgrounds including TET and VERBAL?
NIGO®: The brand has been running a long time and I believe it’s important from time to time to bring fresh influences and challenge myself with an outside perspective. In addition, the people I usually bring on board are close friends with whom I have developed a strong creative connection with. The URSUS capsule and the AMBUSH® capsule are the results of long-standing friendships and mutual respect between myself TET and VERBAL.
Was it hard to incorporate an outlet style “The Pirate Store” into A BATHING APE’s current retail framework? How does this affect A BATHING APE® as a brand?
NIGO®: Up until now, leftover pieces from each season were destroyed but this year, along with our new manager we decided to go into another direction and try to incorporate a parallel retail experience. We felt that we could do it in a way that fit the new scale that BAPE® has reached over the past few years and also work well given the current economical situation. We secured a couple of interesting locations to develop this concept into a Pirate’s stolen treasure that would offer our product to a different audience.
Do you feel that A BATHING APE® has reached a scale where it is now considered as an international brand more than a Japanese “Harajuku” brand?
NIGO®: Absolutely, I think we reached that scale in terms of image and activity a few years ago which now finds us sharing a common platform with fellow Japanese brands with a global reach such as UNDERCOVER and COMME des GARÇONS. In addition, the whole Harajuku movement has really ceased to exist as a cohesive group of brands with common influences and a lot of brands that were founded at around the same time as BAPE® aren’t active anymore. Since A BATHING APE’s foundation 16 years ago, Junio (UNDERCOVER founder) and I were aiming to grow our brands into businesses and that wasn’t particularly the case for other brands at that time.