* A Bathing Ape
By Nigo with Akio Iida and Ian Luna
Rizzoli, 368 pages
You've seen Nigo's clothes, even if you don't know it. Look closer at the camouflage jacket on the back of your favorite hip-hop star, or the neon-colored sneakers on the feet of the latest pop dance sensation. Chances are you'll see the silhouette of a heavy-browed gorilla, the logo of the graphic designer's company, A BATHING APE a streetwear icon that grew out of a hole-in-the-wall Harajuku storefront to become a Japanese Gen-Y obsession, an Asian fashion fetish and eventually a global phenomenon. Sold only in limited quantities and only through his A BATHING APE boutiques in Japan, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York and London, Nigo's clothes and footwear helped launch Tokyo's Harajuku district as a global epicenter of urban style and are today collected by aficionados worldwide. His empire now includes some 50 stores, a hair salon, art gallery, café, magazine and record label. Fifteen years after the debut of his first A BATHING APE (or BAPE) t-shirts, publishing house Rizzoli has released a slick coffee table book reprising Nigo's iconic designs for clothes, stores, toys, graphic design, food and commercial packaging if you can fit an ape on it, it's in here. (Click here to see a gallery of Japanese design's greatest hits.)
1. The Great BAPEs: Nobody's going to buy this book to read the articles, few of which consist of more than a page of loosely spaced text. It's the photo spreads especially of the clothes, and especially of famous people wearing the clothes that will make most readers stop and gawk. In that respect, *A Bathing Ape pays off. Aside from J-Pop starlets and Japanese celebrities like club DJ Cornelius and artist Takashi Murakami, the book's cameos read like an urban teenager's iTunes playlist: N.E.R.D.'s Pharrell Williams, DJ Shadow, M.I.A., T.I., Young Jeezy, Joel and Benji Madden of Good Charlotte, the late Biggie Smalls and Mark Ronson all show up sporting A BATHING APE designs; Kanye West, never one to do things halfway, appears on three separate pages.
2. BAPE Branding: Running a close second to the number of celebrities clad in his designs is the number of ways Nigo has managed to diversify his admittedly sparse collection of T's, sneakers and camouflage hoodies. Through some preternaturally savvy marketing, he's made a niche for himself co-branding products with everyone from soft-drink manufacturers to condom makers. He's an equal-opportunity opportunist, too: A BATHING APE logos have graced both Microsoft's X-Box and Nintendo's DS video game handset; his clothes feature characters from both Marvel and D.C. comics.
3. On the success of BAPE STA, Nigo's line of technicolor sneakers, which arose just as a global passion for collectible footwear took off: "Launched just at the moment Japan's sneaker boom went into overdrive, the old-school appeal of BAPE STA distinguished themselves from the techy, streamlined look that characterized athletic footwear of the mid- to late-1990s. ... For BAPE addicts outside Japan, the existence of STAs soon passed from rumor to legend. The Beastie Boys, N.E.R.D., Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Usher, Kanye West, and a host of other hip-hop V.I.P.'s began rocking them not only in private, but on stage, on MTV, and even in the lyrics of their songs... the 2005 arrival of BAPE in New York was hastened in no small part by an appetite for STAs, and kids regularly form long lines around the SoHo store once word of shipment drop-dates from Japan are leaked by sneaker blogs."
4. On A BATHING APE's beginnings: "Rewind to the Tokyo of the early 1990s. The asset price bubble that fueled the excesses of the previous decade had just collapsed, and the recession that followed in its wake had an instantaneous and crippling effect on cultural production. In fashion and its allied trades, the contraction in the economy forced an untimely end to the "Designer Boom" that defined the Tokyo high street for much of the 1980s ... [But in Harajuku], a tentative sense of revival was afoot. In its warren of side-streets, ancient storefronts and crumbling housing complexes, a scrappy group of designer/proprietors, many of them looking fresh out of high school, began to open apparel stores... enterprising magazine editors took to calling this retailing boom-let the "Ura-Harajuku Movement" and the semantic hype was soon matched by its transformative effect on fashion and youth culture. With "identity" as their organizing principle, and the "limited-edition" as its vehicle, the constituent parts of this movement introduced design and retailing concepts not yet seen in Japan or anywhere else."
Nobody's going to mistake this book for a serious look at the evolution of global fashion or a monograph on the guerilla-retailing model that Nigo and his associates pioneered; its uneven grammar and haphazard use of the serial comma alone should see to that. *A Bathing Ape is an unabashed love letter from Nigo (or Nigo ®, as he's branded in the book) and his co-authors to himself, and as such it plays up A BATHING APE's many successes while leaving any artistic, aesthetic or financial missteps well off the page. Still, what it does, it does well: if you're buying it as a coffee table book, you'd better make sure you've got an Isamu Noguchi coffee table to go underneath it. *A Bathing Ape is eye candy for graphic design students a slickly produced, bling-laden look at a brand that's managed to forge a nexus between hip-hop style, Japanese animation and Warhol-inspired pop art while keeping the kids coming back for more.