Nagao Tomoaki in the New York Times

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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.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
December 22, 2004

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

22 Responses

  1. Antonin Says:

    bape is a hip hop brand these days, with pharell and co acting as living advertising for the brand in the states and abroad. the whole move in the past years around bapesta has this same kind of goal in mind: bape is reinventing itself as a hip hop ‘exclusive’ brand, a sub genre of a bigger fashion market, and at the same time it moves to the girly market with bapy. trendy girls used to buy bape T shirts matching their then trendy boyfriend outfit; now girls who buy bapy would never had bought a bape T shirt. smart move: hip hop is big in the states (and japan) and the girl market is important; I wouldn’t be surprise to see nigo starting a pret a porter line in london. and that subtle touch of ‘unauthorise’ness in bapesta ! clever :) hip hop+ exclusive BUT wait they actually dont have the right to copy that airforce one model from nike+international cred reimported to japan AND locked with key figures (thing SDP as japanese beastie boys)= well done. Good for the cred, and the rural kids buy anything anyway !

  2. Chris_B Says:

    I still see bape stuff on kids in Harajuku, of course those kids may well be inakamon, but who knows. Funny you should mention the Stussy angle. By the time the bridge and tunnel crowd had found Stussy in NYC, it was dead to the hipsters there. Soon after that time I started coming to Tokyo and saw hipsters here sporting Stussy. Guess its an age old trick, when your home market is played out, export to be cool elsewhere.

  3. Momus Says:

    Well, it certainly worked for me. I was a very old and tired brand in the UK by the mid-90s, but I managed to be touted by the New York Times and other US media as a hot new act between about 1996 and 2001. Yet more proof that the US lags behind countries like the UK and Japan when it comes to style and fashion? (In the case of intellectual fashions, it can be even longer than that: 2004 also saw the New York Times discovering the concept of ‘rockism’, pioneered in the UK music press in the early 80s.) Or simply the fact that power and money mean never having to say sorry for being out of date, because the moment you embrace something it’s relevant again, and ripe for re-importation to its home territory? Interesting, though, that it’s now only black Americans who can award this kind of belated cachet to brands. A Dick Cheney endorsement of Momus is not going to help my cred anywhere.

    By the way, I was delighted to see a waiter in a really crumby cafe in Macau wearing a pirated Bape T shirt this summer. Pirate Bape in Macau = cool. Real Bape that you paid some silly price for, worn in either America or Japan = fool.

  4. Momus Says:

    By the way, I assume that the silly prices Nigo charges for a Bape T shirt are a way for him to tax the rich in order to clothe the poor. He factors likely piracy into the price of a T shirt, knowing that for every one he sells at 100 dollars in Tokyo ten will be sold in places like Macau for 2 dollars. He not only recompenses himself in this way for lost intellectual property revenue, but he imposes a sort of ‘fashion tax’ or sartorial egalitarianism. The rich and poor end up wearing the same T shirt, but the rich have effectively subsidized the poor, paying all Nigo’s art and development and promotion costs and allowing some little sweat shop guy in a Bangkok backstreet reverse-engineer a quick knock-off.

    Bruce Sterling makes some interesting comments about pirated Nike shoes and Chinese digital watches at the end of this lecture:

    http://www.iconic-turn.de/staticpages/index.php?page=StreamSterling

  5. marxy Says:

    Chris: In the early 90s, Stussy became the cool brand for surburban teens in the US. I was surprised that it had any cred at all in NYC or Tokyo in the late 90s, but James Jebbia did a very good job of making it “street” again. They certainly used Tokyo for this. I found this article about Stussy from a long time ago and their limited-edition marketing strategy predates Ura-Harajuku. Fujiwara Hiroshi etc just revamped it, and it ended up working much better in the Japanese market.

    Momus: I have a suspicion that Chinese kids do not “ironically” wear fake Ape as much as they do not distinguish between real and knock-off. Do they really subscribe greater worth to the fake shirts or do they just not understand why anyone would pay more for real Ape when there is no difference in their culture? Also, seeing that you can’t buy real Ape in Macau, maybe there is no choice but to buy fakes.

    By the way, I assume that the silly prices Nigo charges for a Bape T shirt are a way for him to tax the rich in order to clothe the poor.

    Well, the Japanese economic strategy has always been – sell cheap abroad and soak the consumers at home. I have not been to the SoHo shop yet, but I guess that T-shirts are the same price as Japan. Certainly, Hong Kong and London prices were about the same.

    It’s also important to remember that no one in China had any idea about Bape until Nigo opened that Hong Kong store, which told Chinese knock-off manufacturers – here’s a new brand to rip-off! Only rich kids in China knew about Bape before 1999. You couldn’t get fake Ape on Ebay before that. There were some knockoffs on Takeshitadoori in 1998, but they were really bad, obvious knockoffs.

  6. Momus Says:

    I have a suspicion that Chinese kids do not “ironically” wear fake Ape as much as they do not distinguish between real and knock-off.

    Oh, I never said they were doing it ironically. They distinguish that the shirts look cool and are affordable. They probably take it for granted that everything in the kind of street markets they buy these things is a knock-off. They would certainly laugh at someone paying $100 for the same shirt, though. Which makes them, in my eyes, more cool than Bape’s actual customers.

  7. Antonin Says:

    I wanted to start a webpage called FAKING APE or A BATHING FAKE with my collection of fake BAPE T shirts. Fake is always more fun in fashion.

  8. Graham Says:

    Momus: Yet more proof that the US lags behind countries like the UK and Japan when it comes to style and fashion?

    I pray the New York Times does not act as a representative for our nation’s cultural knowledge– that would be quite an indictment. Even outside of the NYT, the media here has been out of synch with large portions of the population for a long time… evidenced not in the least by the current war coverage.

    Not to say ignorant media outlets like the NYT don’t imbue many people with their understanding of the world– much to the contrary– there’s a huge problem with that, which can often result in a map full of red states. However, there is a separate populace almost as potent that operates silently outside of the now globally recognized ignorance of this country.

  9. Chris_B Says:

    momus: once again you proudly put your ignorance on display for all to enjoy. Ever hear/read the William S Burroughs bit about the man who taught his asshole to talk?

  10. Sean the Sean Says:

    “However, there is a separate populace almost as potent that operates silently outside of the now globally recognized ignorance of this country.” Very ominous Graham. This describes multiple sub-nations within the US, which i think is the main problem we face as a nation. Too many threads working semi-autonomously… makes for a media that is only able to pursue its own self-interest for example. Everyone able only to pursue their own self-interest, yet yearning for a national identity. I find it terribly depressing.

  11. trevor Says:

    i recently [couple months] had a chinese friend, tell me that the poorly done, chinese knock offs, were indeed cooler then the original. but this was a knock off of anything, not specificly japanese stuff.

    jong hung mao or die!!!

  12. Marcus Shain Smith Says:

    Hey I was wondering what is your last Name I am writing an article on Nigo clothes and i was wondering if you could tell me as much information as you know and how you truly feel about the clothing it would really help me about for example
    What do you think of the clothes
    Why would people buy them
    How do people know about Nigo’s stores when they are not labeled
    Do you think his clothing is to expensive
    Is it really so unprecedented
    Has he sold out totally
    What is interesting about his clothes
    Why is nigo so secretive
    Is asian Culture ritulistic
    How would you describe Asian fashion
    What is the history of Nigo and asian fashion
    Will nigo continue to become popular or will he die off
    Could you please include your full name, Your title ( like if you are in school like what is your school called how old you are,..or are u a docter e.t.c)
    Thanks so much guys and girls!
    Marcus Shain Smith

  13. marxy Says:

    I’d be happy to answer these questions if you email me at marxy@neomarxisme.com

  14. Marcus Shain Smith Says:

    great man i mailed you as mssmith1 just waiting for your reply

  15. m. yoshihiro jones Says:

    What was the marketing plan for APE? I realize there was limited edition and celebrity endorsment and no advertising, but did it go any deeper than that? I don’t understand what was so magnificent about this guy(in the begining). Eventually he broght Japan’s style above any other, for the hiphop neolux market anyways.

    thanx.
    mike

  16. Tomas Says:

    Japanese street fashion took everything from American and European styles/stereotypes and reinvented it in a much fresher, hip-looking way that slapped everyone in the face, specially American fashion culture where people have no sense of style or care about mixing and matching what they wear. There is no sense of individuality, everyone looks the same. In Japan, although there’s commodified/massified brands, everyone throws their personal touch/flare into the look and customizes it. In America everyone wear the same sh*t in the same ways. There’s no originality even when the clothes are original.

  17. jorn Says:

    are you looking for APE and BAPE t-shirts and other here will give you nice price and best quality pls go to websize:www.ourali.com

  18. chris Says:

    i love what nigo is doing i love his clothes i live in nyc and go to his store alot every saturday and buy a new pair of kicks the quality of his shirts are extremly good and his shoes are stunning with so many different colors. ur one of the best nigo. and i hope u get that hotel u’ll see me in it if u get it.

  19. ricky Says:

    i was wondering about how much a bbc or bathing ape t-shirt is in nyc? and any other places that it is cheaper or any sites where u can buy bbc or bape

  20. mo money Says:

    I import fake ape shoes from china! Man I get them hella cheap!
    I only get them for myself though. I but them at like 32 dollars a pair!
    I love my fake bape collection! If I was rich I’d buy the real deal I just can’t afford it.

  21. ricky Says:

    where do you import your fake bapes from?

  22. ricky Says:

    u import fake bapes from china, but how and where?