When Trendy Cafes Disappear

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According to JeansNow, they have closed down the Bape Cafe in Aoyama. I had only been there once in 2003 for some opening after-party, and I found the food and interior to be very classy. But as explained by my Japanese friend at that time, “Nigo opened it and Bape Cuts (Ape’s hair salon), because he didn’t want to pay tax that year.” In other words, these establishments were likely unprofitable tax dodges rather than legitimate attempts at new business.

(B)Ape is clearly in a certain level of decline, but their track record should warn against predicting the end. Magazine editors have been whispering about Ape’s death from about 1998, but since then they have only got bigger. Nigo’s new alliance with the U.S. hip hop world and the Buppie market may pay off back in Japan in a couple of years, but a trip to Busy Works Shop Harajuku these days isn’t quite what it used to be. Last time I visited, the staff was helpful, the stock was plentiful, and the customers were an international mix of young and old — all signs of decaying brand cachet. Kids at Bunka Fukuso don’t want to wear the same clothes as families from Singapore.

Back in the ’80s, Japanese kids massed in Harajuku to buy the “latest American fashions” on Takeshita-doori, and then later in the decade, massed in Omotesando to buy the “latest designer fashions.” The whole Ura-Harajuku scene’s charm was the idea that Japanese kids were “buying the latest Japanese fashions.” Ape was just T-shirts and jeans, but they created a whole unique subculture around them. Earlier this month, the only queue I saw in Harajuku on a Saturday afternoon was for the limited-edition Nike shop. Maybe Japan still gets the premier sneakers first, but all that money goes back to Portland.

It’s way too early to write a full eulogy for A Bathing Ape, but the cafe’s disappearance may mean that the brand can no longer flagrantly use their cash flow to build vanity projects. What a pity.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
March 29, 2005

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

9 Responses

  1. Jean Says:

    I stopped by the Babexlusive shop yesterday, and the only customers there were from Hong Kong, and one of the staff actually smiled at me.

  2. r. Says:

    david said: Back in the 80s, Japanese kids massed in Harajuku to buy the “latest American fashions” on Takeshitadoori, and then later in the decade, massed in Omotesando to buy the “latest designer fashions.” The whole Ura-Harajuku scene’s charm was the idea that Japanese kids were “buying the latest Japanese fashions.”

    and i say: but the thing to keep in mind is that even in the 80s, an ‘american fashion’ was an international fashion, even if it was casual or street or whatever. same goes for the very high-end european stuff. even though these are formal wear, and very expensive they are international. a suit by a good italian designer is known and respected the world over by the GENERAL populace. as ‘international’ as BAPE might ever get, it is still of a different fashion echelon. a kind of ‘double niche’ market. and that is one reason that nigo has been so eager to latch on to the hip-hop thing, since hip-hop is probably the only phenomena on earth that is capable of brining a ‘provencial’ brand like bape to the world market. what you lose in ‘elite cool’ you gain in marketability. i guess a bape dystopian scenario might have, say in 10 years, nigo getting paid an insultingly small fee for licensing his monkey-ass designs out to someone like uniqlo.

  3. Vali Says:

    Marxy,

    Re your post of 3/23/05: You think Rubens are “so out?” Are you fucking crazy?

    Vali

  4. marxy Says:

    Not Reubens the sandwich, Rubens the artist.

  5. Chris_B Says:

    Personally I never understood what made bape cool in the first place. Looks like pakuri to me.

  6. marxy Says:

    Ape did visual sampling very well at a point in the 90s when logo parodies were big. If Cornelius out PostModern’d Beck, Ape beat out Stussy. I think a lot of Ape’s innovations have been absorbed by the mainstream market, but in 1998, having “APE SHALL NEVER KILL APE” embroidered in your denim seams was pretty neat.

  7. Momus Says:

    Perhaps Ape can start paying rappers $5 to mention them in tracks, like McDonalds:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4389751.stm

    http://imomus.com/bearclaw.jpg

  8. marxy Says:

    I keep reminding people that Arrested Development’s “Tennesse” would make a perfect ad for “Hennesy” with a little fine tuning.

  9. Chris_B Says:

    I wonder if the surviving members of RUN D.M.C can collect back royalties from McDonalds for every time “You be illin” was played?