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.