Late last month, A Bathing Ape took another big step into China as NIGO was on hand to open his latest store in Beijing. Created in conjunction with I.T, the BAPE STORE Beijing location joins two previous retail locations in Shanghai and Hong Kong. With the disposable income of the China market growing at an alarming rate, the brand who has long been a commonplace within the regional scene will surely see a greater presence with each grown season.

While the fledging Mainland China market wasn’t conducive to BAPE’s expansion until recently, NIGO mentioned that the understanding of both design and subculture are now something the Mainland Chinese are able to connect with. We took the chance to discuss several different topics with the ambitious founder ranging from the beginnings of A Bathing Ape, its recent outwards expansion into diffusion labels, collaborations and the brand’s similarity to Ralph Lauren.

Interview: Edward Chiu
Text: Eugene Kan
Photography: Louis Lau & Edward Chiu

Interview with NIGO

Was it always your idea to have a large scale, global identity to the brand? If not what inside you changed?

No not at all. I started the brand in 1993 and in reality it was pretty unknown until around 1996 or 1997. The first step to having a more international presence was when I decided to open my first store outside of Japan in Hong Kong. I was truly fascinated with the city hence my decision to expand there. This philosophy is still the basis of where and why I decide to expand into certain cities.

For a long time, A Bathing Ape strived to maintain a limited edition, hard to acquire mentality. However in many ways the opening of Pirate Shops changed this. How does the Pirate Shop fit within the Ape business?

I’m not all that worried about A Bathing Ape Pirate Shops and its role within the brand’s umbrella and retail model. It falls under a different part of the business. In the past I used to destroy all my leftover stock and it was kind of cool at the time but now given the environmental concerns, I felt it was wrong to needlessly get rid of whatever didn’t sell. In addition, A Bathing Ape is expensive so with a Pirate Store concept, I’m able to appeal to a wider audience.

How does A Bathing Ape look to capture new fans?

New lines and diffusion labels such as Mr. Bathing Ape will help attract new fans for the brand. It all sort of falls in line where you move from Mr. Bathing Ape and then when you start a family, BAPE KIDS is an option. If I step away from BAPE in the future, there will always been this full package.

Rather than simply being a fashion brand BAPE seems to be gravitating towards becoming a lifestyle company – we’re seeing this with your pop-up bookstores, art galleries, music ventures and previously with BAPE Cuts hair salon, and BAPE Café.

I recently opened up CURRY UP as a replacement to BAPE Café but the BAPE Café concept will likely return this year in 2011 with a location in Taiwan.

There were rumors from a few years back that you want to open a BAPE HOTEL, is this true?

BAPE HOTEL is still something I want to do. I see it as the final piece in creating the ultimate lifestyle brand.

What does the inclusion of diffusion labels such as URSUS and Mr. A Bathing Ape create for you on a creative level?

If you walk into a BAPE STORE and see suits alongside the usual offerings, you’ll feel it’s out of place. However located within a UNITED ARROWS location, it makes more sense and this allows me to dabble into different genres.

HUMAN MADE has been your latest collaboration project. What’s the new label represent?

I see the label as a test for a new group and audience… some thing for the fashion maniacs who are crazy about details and quality such as the materials, cuts and production. The collection is produced in small numbers hence the high production and retail cost.

You’ve looked into your own fashion archives for this collection, what’s the balance between your archives and your own design input?

Many people have often associated me with strictly hip hop. However it’s far from the case and with a project like HUMAN MADE, I wanted to show a more diverse side. For example, some people only look at polo tops by Ralph Lauren and ignore the lifestyle element to it. In reality there lies a much greater archive and collection to the brand. The Ralph Lauren versus BAPE model share some similarities in their hopes of achieving a lifestyle element with suits, casual wear and vintage items. Some Ralph Lauren pieces may be mass-produced but there is a strong element of fresh to them.

Ralph Lauren was the first fashion label to introduce the concept of “lifestyle merchandising” back in the 1970s. Is your BAPE lifestyle model based on Ralph Lauren’s strategy?

There are certainly some strong influences from Ralph Lauren as well as Karl Lagerfeld, both of which I count as my idols. They helped shape parts of A Bathing Ape. I admire Lauren for his business savvy and Karl Lagerfeld as an artist. For me the goal is to find the balance between the two.

Looking at the 2011 spring Previews of A Bathing Ape and the recent collaborations with SILLY THING and Stussy, a nostalgic aesthetic can be seen throughout the collections. Can you explain the reason behind this route?

The vintage and retro aesthetics have been a strong component in fashion over the last few seasons so we felt it was right to revive some of A Bathing Ape’s styles from the 1990s. Working again with SKATETHING, we were able to take a look into our own personal archives. The aforementioned Stussy and SILLY THING collaborations are two for which I’ve very happy about.

With the recent addition of VERBAL and YOON to the creative team, how do you think they will change the future direction of BAPE?

With VERBAL on board, we’ll continue onwards with the AMBUSHed diffusion line while bringing YOON on board will definitely influence the recently re-launched lady’s collection. I definitely look forward to the unique vision of YOON.

The infamous shark design has been seen as overused by fans. Was there a particular reason for its rampant return?

The return of the the shark design are for the BAPE maniacs out there. There’s a strong segment of that within the brand and it the shark re-releases are to cater to that particular audience.

Bootleg and fake products have been rampant amongst the China market, how can you alleviate this problem?

It’s definitely a big problem in their society and government should take more steps to addressing the issue. Designers simply can’t prevent it from happening so it’s beyond our control. However, if you see fakes of BAPE products, it can only mean the brand is successful and popular [laughs].

You’ve always refrained from being labeled as a trendsetter, how would you define the influence BAPE has had not only in fashion but towards urban culture as a whole?

I didn’t create BAPE as a brand to change the world or urban culture. It was basically a hobby and had I wanted to change to current streetwear landscape, I would have started or launched a new brand. I want people to see BAPE as BAPE itself, not for what it was influenced by or who it will influence.

Let the design talk?

Most definitely…

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