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Planet of The Bathing Apes

April 22, 2004

by: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK – Nigo feels the vibe.  It doesn’t have the electricity of Tokyo’s teeming streets, but it’ll do.Holding forthwith his entourage at the Mercer Kitchen on Monday, Nigo, the designer of theJapanese brand A Naked Ape, surveyed the Soho neighborhood where his first American store will be opened in September.the 3,100 square foot BAPE – the nickname for A Bathing Ape – store at 91 Greene Street will carry T-shirts, jeans, watches, handbags, furniture and toys as well as some new classifications.Nigo, a 33-year-old music and fashion impresario, who looks and acts like a taciturn teenager, is to Japanese youth what Russell Simmons is to their American counterparts.

Christopher Owles, a broker at Sinvin Realty, who represented A Bathing Ape, said, “When SoHo started to get really popular it was a place for the arts, a really vibrant community.  It lost some of its appeal when it became more mainstream.”  BAPE could help reestablish the neighborhood’s edge, he said.The company’s fashion consists mainly of T-shirts with the words “A Bathing Ape” and “Ape Shall Never Kill Ape.”  The ape-face logo is tucked into the pockets of jeans and hidden in Nigo’s signature camouflage patters like Hirschfeld’s Ninas.The clothes aren’t cheap.  T-shirts can cost between $60 and $150 and jackets are about $450 to $500.  When questioned about the sales volume of his company, Nigo declined to comment.  Nor would he venture to estimate first-year sales for the store.  Retail experts said based on SoHo market rents, BAPE would have to generate about $3 million.Nigo is a man of few words he spoke in a barely audible Japanese whisper.  With a mouth full of gold-capped teeth, he looked like one of the rappers he’s befriended.  His T-shirt bore the legend “Billionaires Boys Club” from pal Pharrell Williams’ line.  Nigo is helping him with the brand.

Aware of his sway over young people, Coca-Cola asked Nigo to design a camouflage-print Coke can.  He created a camouflage-print makeup case for MAC items along with a top-secret project with an unnamed US company.Nigo started his career as a DJ when he was in his late teens, then became a magazine stylist.  “A Bathing Ape” refers to the complacency of Japanese youth.  The designer, who has one of the largest collections of “Planet of the Apes” memorabilia in the world, said his simian logo was inspired by the film.Wonderwall designed the stores, BAPE cafes, a BAPE art gallery and a BAPE hair salon.  Many are large multilevel affairs with minimalist décor, dramatic lighting and innovative merchandising such as conveyor belts for displaying speakers.

If Nigo has one unfulfilled dream, it’s owning a hotel.  “A Bathing Ape is a lifestyle,”  he explained. Asked whether he considers himself and artist, Nigo said, “I don’t call myself that.  Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo are masters.  A designer is Rei or Yohji.  I’m more like a director or producer.”