BAPE’s origin story is as rich as the brand’s archive of product, filled with multiple fashion and music icons. The story starts with Tomaki Nagao, the son of a nurse and billboard maker who worked long hours, leaving Nagao to his own devices. As a teenager who was into fashion, Nagao was obsessed with Hiroshi Fujiwara and read his Takarajima magazine column “Last Orgy” religiously. Fujiwara’s column spiked Nagao’s interest in an array of subculture’s including hip-hop and skateboarding and ultimately inspired him to enroll in Bunka Fashion College, where he would study to become a magazine editor. It was around this time that Nagao was at a club when a merchandiser for the store A Store Robot realized the resemblance between Nagao and his idol, nicknaming him “Fujiwara Hiroshi NIGO'' which translates to “Fujiwara Hiroshi number two”. Once NIGO met Fujiwara, he quickly became his personal assistant, rising in the social ranks of the Japanese fashion scene. The two went on to co-author a column in Popeye magazine called “Last Orgy 2”.
In 1990, Fujiwara and graphic artist Shinichiro “Sk8thing” Nakamura started Goodenough, a sportswear brand. By 1993, Goodenough had grown big enough to warrant a retail location and Fujiwara tasked NIGO and NIGO’s college friend Jun Takahashi with running it. Nowhere, a small boutique located in the then-quiet neighborhood of Ura-Harajuku, was split into two sections: Takahashi’s punk influenced Undercover on one side and NIGO’s imported streetwear selections on the other. Takahashi’s side of the store was an instant success while NIGO’s underperformed.
NIGO realized in order for his section to perform as well as Takahashi’s, he must create his own label. Sk8thing came up with the concept after a series of primate related inspirations struck him. Binging all of the Planet of the Apes films resulted in the now iconic Ape Head graphic. Underground comic artist Takashi Nemoto’s Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby gave birth to the phrase “A Bathing Ape In Lukewarm Water”, which was later shortened to “A Bathing Ape” and eventually “BAPE”. Sk8thing added one other essential piece to the BAPE puzzle: the camouflage pattern. Easily BAPE’s most recognizable design, the camouflage pattern incorporates the Ape Head graphic and has been a fixture for the brand from the beginning, being used on everything from hoodies to accessories.
BAPE started off releasing goods the same way many of today’s streetwear brands do, with very limited drops and very expensive pieces. For years, they partnered with Japanese hip-hop acts and made tour merchandise, simultaneously tying its name to hip-hop and getting exposure in a multitude of venues. By the late-’90s, BAPE was a massively successful brand with its American stockists consistently selling out of product. While many streetwear brands would do their best to hold off the eventual explosion of popularity that BAPE was on the verge of, NIGO welcomed it. He signed a deal with Pepsi, encasing its soda can in BAPE’s iconic camouflage pattern, rapidly expanding the brand’s reach.
BAPE experienced more success through the 2000s as America’s most popular rappers began to embrace the brand. Pharrell looked up to NIGO in a similar way that NIGO idolized Fujiwara, often wearing and promoting BAPE. Other BAPE fans include Lil Wayne, Clipse and many others. Unfortunately, the good times came to an end in 2009 when NIGO stepped down as CEO. The company had lost a large amount of money and was forced to sell a 90 percent stake in the company to I.T. Group, who controls it today.
What does BAPE stand for?
BAPE is an abbreviation for “A Bathing Ape”.
Can you buy BAPE online?
Yes, you can buy BAPE online via its webstore or on Grailed.
Is BAPE a luxury brand?
BAPE is a streetwear brand, not a luxury brand.