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July 3, 2008 6:30 PM

Fashion, Retail

Planet of the Bapes

A young Bape consumer, photo by Yukie Kasuga Since moving here late last year, I've been on the hunt to find the next Nigo, the designer behind street brand A Bathing Ape. But the fact is, the cartoon gorilla...


A young Bape consumer, photo by Yukie Kasuga
Since moving here late last year, I've been on the hunt to find the next Nigo, the designer behind street brand A Bathing Ape. But the fact is, the cartoon gorilla face is omnipresent -- there's not another brand here that can match Bape's cultlike following.

I guess if your brand is still cutting-edge cool 15 years after you've founded it, you must be doing something right. And if you're pulling it off in Japan, home to many a fleeting fashion trend and some of the world's most finicky shoppers, you must really know what you're doing.

Sure, teen and twentysomething Japanese hipsters love Bape's thick-soled, star-slicked sneakers and camouflage sweatshirts -- so much so that they'll patiently wait in line to enter the brand's stores in the Harajuku, Omotesando or Aoyama neighborhoods when traffic peaks.

But Bape's impact stretches far beyond that demographic. On any given Saturday, you'll see nuclear Japanese families -- man, woman and very small child -- wearing head-to-toe Bape, eating at the Bape Cafe, toting Bape shopping bags (which probably contain a wardrobe for doing the exact same thing the next day) and swinging by the Bape Kids store with its foam banana play pit as Nigo builds his customer base out of the next generation.

As Nigo's $70 million label expands abroad -- Bape opened its second U.S. store in Los Angeles in April -- it looks like the label still has plenty of room for expansion here, too, both with the Japanese and with foreign tourists. Case in point: The other day, I witnessed a Chinese-speaking couple posing for photos in front of a Bape store.

In Tokyo's teeming street fashion scene, the next Nigo is surely just around the block. But the original article apparently still has plenty of mileage in him -- at least if street traffic is anything to go by.
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