The New York Times had a story last Sunday on the new A Bathing Ape store that recently opened in SoHo. Unfortunately, the piece was mainly just descriptions and cheerleading, not any kind of deeper appraisal of the Ape phenomenon or accurate reporting on the brand’s current decline in Japan. Like every article I seem to read about Japan these days, this one perfectly describes Tokyo in 1998, not 2004. For example:
But judging from the customers that Bathing Ape continues to attract in Japan, none of this growth or attention — not even collaborations with Pepsi and MAC cosmetics — has put a dent in the brand’s street credibility.
Do you mean customers like housewives and rural teens? Bape’s marketing in the late ’90s miraculously preserved the brand’s “underground” image, even while selling millions of T-shirts. But around 2000 and the Pepsi campaign, Nigo himself decided to forget all the Mo Wax and limited-edition nonsense and go bling-bling, and as a consequence, the brand lost its hipster cachet in Tokyo (and I would argue, elsewhere as well). For true Japanese fashionistas, the brand was “dead” by 1998 or so, but I can’t even find young kids really wearing it in Harajuku anymore. Seems as though people from places like Fukui-ken just pick it up and wear it in their small towns.
I have always been disappointed with Bape in the last couple of years, because the company could have become a Stussy-type, “New Traditional” brand, but Nigo always made the clothes a “big deal” with all the rockstar promotion and rarity factor. Once Bape — a brand primarily sold on the idea of exclusivity — could be bought on Ebay or at actual stores outside of Japan, that kind of destroyed a huge part of why the brand was attractive in the first place.
The SoHo store, however, is an extremely smart move, since he now has access to American hip hop stars and can re-import this street cred back to Japan. Will Japanese hip hop kids buy Ape as a hip hop brand? I find it highly possible.