In the heart of 1993’s Harajuku, Tokyo’s home of outlandish fashion and subcultures, A Bathing Ape – more commonly known as BAPE – was born, a lifestyle brand that promised to offer up a renewed take on streetwear through the eyes of its already acclaimed founder Tomoaki Nagao, or Nigo. As a devout hip hop fan, Nigo formulated the brand through his own interest in the music scene of Japan, ultimately creating the label alongside collaborator Shinichiro Nakamura, also known as Sk8thing.
BAPE quickly became a household name in the region, renowned for its signature graphic apparel and iconic motifs, such as its ape head and camo shark print. It wasn’t until the early 2000s when the brand began to break out of its Japanese borders and explore the world beyond, particularly in the US, where those leading America’s streetwear movement – namely Pharrell Williams – helped to drive BAPE’s move into the new market.
Now, 30 years later, BAPE has set about returning to its roots in favour of Japanese consumers that have shown a desire for locality. Now led by Michael Yolkik – who took on the creative director role after Nigo stepped down in 2013 – the brand celebrated this milestone year with its first ever runway show in Tokyo, held in the Yoyogi National Stadium Second Gymnasium located in its birthplace, Harajuku.
Rakuten’s efforts to bring home locally born brands
In an interview with FashionUnited, the marketing manager of BAPE, said that following an event in New York in June, holding a show in the district’s ever-changing setting reflected the shifts the brand has also seen since its inception. They continued: “We have seen these changes as an opportunity for growth, which is why BAPE has been able to continue its brand up until now. We chose to hold a runway to give our fans and newcomers a deeper understanding of what BAPE is and what it will become.”
The occasion was possible with support from ‘by R’, an initiative by the headline sponsor of Fashion Week Tokyo (FWT), Rakuten, which launched the project as a way to encourage the return of Japan-born brands to the event’s schedule. When announcing BAPE’s participation, Rakuten said that it was aiming to broaden the appeal of BAPE to more fans, both in and outside Japan, while also further amplifying the awareness of Rakuten FWT.
This was further reflected in BAPE’s reasoning for joining the event’s lineup. When asked what the brand’s motivation was, the marketing representative said: “The impetus for this project came from our empathy with the concept of ‘by R’ by Rakuten’s fashion business, “to transmit fashion from Tokyo to the world”. This is the same concept that BAPE has been pursuing from Harajuku to the world. Participation in ‘by R’ is a tribute to BAPE’s roots and celebration of its 30th anniversary, as well as a way to promote Japanese fashion culture.”
And it appeared from the event that BAPE’s involvement came with much buzz, from an audience that was both infused with local personalities and industry insiders. Each sat at the forefront of a circular runway that was lit up from all angles and accompanied by a backdrop of flutes and Japanese taiko drums. This rang in the arrival of a stream of models sporting a total of 82 looks, each of which aimed to portray an “interpretation of street style’s new frontier”, as stated in the show notes.
Mainline BAPE, AAPE and APEE get their place in the sun
The first lot to make its way down the runway was BAPE’s mainline, where the brand’s signature styles took centre stage, albeit in updated forms. While many of the pieces in the streetwear-centric cascade referenced classic BAPE tropes, such as eye-catching graphics and sporty monograms, others took on a more sparkly edge, with garments adorned in shiny material that decidedly stepped away from the brand’s typically collegiate style. However, BAPE didn’t stray too far from this aesthetic, as was evidenced in the second phase of the show in which its youth line AAPE was unveiled.
Here, hip hop, sport and collegiate were distinctly combined in looks that bore resemblance to American football, baseball and basketball attire. This was promptly followed by APEE, the brand’s young women’s line, which once again departed from signature staples towards Y2K femininity, defined by mini skirts, corsets and crop tops. To round the show out, a parade of the brand’s trademark shark mascot, ‘Baby Milo’, took a human form. Two piece suits with the signature shark head hoodie came complete with oversized hoods and inflated wings, reminding onlookers of BAPE’s roots in the brand’s quintessential charm.
Collaboration, another element integral to BAPE’s identity, was also not to be missed for this collection. Taking cues from current culture, the brand looked to MSCHF to supply a handful of its viral ‘Astro Boy Boots’, footwear that had caused a stir on social media for their comic-like shape, yet this time appearing in a BAPE camo print. The brand’s marketing manager reiterated the importance of collaboration to BAPE, noting: “Over the past 30 years, BAPE has become a globally recognised brand for its unique designs and diverse collaborations with brands and artists. The show also featured a teaser of boots and other items, and the Japanese-inspired direction of the music and stage performances could also be considered a collaboration.”
BAPE sets about connecting with global communities
Now, BAPE is hoping to continue bolstering its presence in both the Japanese and international markets, riding off the success of the fashion week in a bid to maintain interest in the eyes of viewers. Such efforts are helped by the fact that the markets of Japan and the West are becoming less disparate, as noted by BAPE’s representative, who said the spread of fashion media and SNS were responsible for these shifts.
Its inclusion in FWT will also build on the brand’s relationship with Rakuten, which is to partner with BAPE on a limited-edition merchandise drop, as well as a joint strategy to leverage their dual strengths. On this collaboration, BAPE’s representative said: “We believe that BAPE will expand its reach to consumers through Rakuten's established e-commerce platform, while Rakuten's collaboration with one of the most iconic and innovative brands in the industry will have a mutually positive impact.”
When asked what we can expect to see from BAPE in the near future, they concluded: “We will continue to be passionate about pushing the boundaries of different cultures with endless ideas. As an influential lifestyle brand, we will continue to expand our channels and reach communities globally.”