Ape Heads, in the thousands, took over Manhattan’s Terminal 5 venue on Wednesday evening, signaling the return of the famous BAPE HEADS SHOW. A concept first introduced by the original A Bathing Ape General, NIGO, the once-yearly event looked to unite music and fashion under one roof. This week, the showcase made a glorious return in celebration of BAPE’s monumental 30th anniversary, with a massive runway and high-caliber musical lineup in tow.
The one-hour show let the BAPE label and all of its decades-spanning influences — be them dance, skate, music or sports — collectively articulate the past, present and future of the brand and its impact on streetwear, at large. It began with a runway presentation packed with more than 100 looks from the imprint’s main line and its four sub-brands: AAPE, BAPE BLACK, BAPY and APEE. Shown in succession, each categorical Fall/Winter 2023 range relied on BAPE’s core design ideologies to effectively display the brand’s wide-spanning hold on the pulse of bold fashion.
First up, the flagship BAPE FW23 line mixed myriad nostalgic silhouettes with just as many contemporary ones, condensing 30 years of fashion design into three key themes: “SPORT MANIA,” “COLLEGE CLASSIC” and “DENIM PAINTER.”
Championing the prevalent music culture and graffiti artworks that frequently inform its style codes, the “SPORT MANIA” series paid tribute to the ’90s hip-hop fashion archetypes of the American West Coast. Across the line, the BAPE monogram letter pattern and the “ABC Camo” print devoured all sorts of double-take-worthy tops and bottoms. Meanwhile, iced-out jewelry, fueled by the revival of the retro Y2K aesthetic, offered a luxurious bling to a selection of looks.
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The “COLLEGE CLASSIC” theme wrote a love letter to American collegiate style, from which BAPE has long drawn inspiration. Here, the brand made ’90s American school uniforms fun, pumping once-buttoned-up ensembles with its signature patterns and explosive color pairings. Notably, the BAPE Check prints took on newly-evolved forms, commanding jackets, shirts and underlayers alike. In unison, leather baseball jackets, snowflake-covered knit sweaters and sportswear cuts formed the dress code for the imprint’s own cast of youthful luminaries.
Offering a direct tribute to the American artist Jackson Pollock, the “DENIM PAINTER” sub-line was all about workwear and, as the name suggests, denim. Abstract brushstrokes formed BAPE’s new “Art Camo” print, which was applied to GOBELIN fabric with a unique weaving technique. In practice, the kaleidoscopic graphic appeared atop a number of baggy coats, wide-set trousers and accessories.
Following the main collection, BAPE’s latest AAPE designs shifted the show’s gears, placing the sublabel’s skateboarding inspirations at the fore of the runway. The line, pumped with saturated tones, again reflected ’90s tropes. Among the standout pieces, a strong apricot-hued tracksuit flaunted the brand’s Moonface monogram, claiming prominence under a leather down jacket. Camouflage appeared en masse, covering tracksuits and cotton vests, while jersey-inspired sweaters and patchwork pants spoke to the brand’s roots in hip-hop.
“Music goes hand-in-hand with fashion, especially nowadays when the two can influence each other virtually overnight.” — Thomas Hui, chief operating officer at BAPE
BAPE BLACK came next. This collection pulled notes from “the retro outdoors,” leaning momentarily into sophistication, with formalwear attire, artful knit sweaters and utilitarian sportswear — all of which cited references in the great outdoors through colors, illustrations and construction.
Business remained the priority for the BAPY range, which put forth a powerful lineup of “office essentials” for the modern woman. Naturally, the collection included finely-tailored suits and functional workwear; but BAPY ultimately broke free from workplace traditions, sending elegant party attire and a slew of vivacious gowns down the walkway. It was a stylistic statement on the versatility of feminity.
The final capsule, from APEE, celebrated Japanese Gyaru subculture and Gen-Z culture through a theme the micro-brand is calling “GEN-Z GYARU WINTER.” Throwing it back to the 2000s once more, the range embraced the subversive wardrobes of Japanese Gyaru alongside the modern fashions of Z-era girls. Silhouettes were largely form-fitting and revealing, with key pieces including crop tops, mini skirts, platform boots and leg warmers. True to BAPE, camo ran wild once more.
After a hoard of BAPE’s famous Shark Jaw hoodies rounded the runway, models emerged from backstage in close-knit squads, filling up the entire stage in organized lines to reveal the entire collection at once. Separately, each sub-line effectively identified its niche target audience; but when viewed simultaneously, it was clear that BAPE’s full FW23 entourage kept all corners of modern-day streetwear in mind.
“Music goes hand-in-hand with fashion, especially nowadays when the two can influence each other virtually overnight,” Thomas Hui, chief operating officer at BAPE, told Hypebeast. “BAPE’s streetwear aesthetic can be attributed to the music community, especially rappers. It is important to us to acknowledge the community that helped get us to where we are and honor the stars of today, tomorrow, and beyond.”
In 60 minutes, the BAPE HEAD SHOW proved that the pioneering Japanese fashion label still knows exactly how to generate hype — a concept that has dramatically shifted since the brand’s early days. In today’s fashion landscape, many would declare streetwear “dead.” And while that debate is still hot, it’s clear that BAPE’s stake in the genre is robust.
See the full BAPE Fall/Winter 2023 collection in the gallery above, and watch the show below.