A Bathing Ape (BAPE) in Levi’s
Words & PHOTOGRAPHY Adam Bryce
MODEL Juno Jung studio Symmetry Studio
To fully appreciate the importance of BAPE, we first need to tack back into the history of Japanese streetwear. In the 1980s, a young Hiroshi Fujiwara moved from Tokyo to London where he landed a role working for Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, a duo at the forefront of culture. He found himself smack bang in the melting pot of contemporary culture, gaining the sort of education money can’t buy.
Fujiwara eventually returned to his homeland in the early 90s and with him brought a new culture — a blend of hip hop, punk, and skateboarding. A culture that combined subcultures from the streets, music and fashion.
Fujiwara’s influence was, for the most part, spread via a monthly column entitled Last Orgy in the Takarajima magazine. The column quickly became gospel to the cool kids of Tokyo — what Fujiwara said, well, sold.
Alongside his new editorial clout, Fujiwara also added DJ to his roster and incorporated the same blended aesthetic to music that he did to fashion. Fujiwara had become very important very quickly.
Amongst his most committed fans was a young man by the name of Tomoaki Nagao. An idolisation which resulted in the nickname “Nigō” (or Fujiwara Hiroshi Number 2) by his peers. The name stuck and Nigō went on to become his idol’s assistant.
Now in Fujiwara’s inner circle, Nigō began to develop his own voice and style, leading to the protégé’s own editorial column, entitled Last Orgy 2, in the (still!) popular Popeye magazine.
Prior to Nigō and Fujiwara’s working relationship, Nigō had made a close friend, by the name of Jun Takahashi, during his time studying at Bunka Fashion College. By 1993, Nigō was looking to step out of the shadows of his idol and Takahashi was looking to open a store for his punk-inspired label, Undercover.
The result was a store by the name of Nowhere. Physically divided down the middle, one half full of the thriving Undercover brand and the other a curated selection of goods by Nigō which included vintage Americana (including Levi’s), and young local brands such as Forty Percent Against Rights, plus Takahashi and Fujiwara’s newly-established collaborative clothing brand, AFFA.
The store was a huge hit, bringing a new, contemporary culture to the Tokyo district of Harajuku and a revitalisation of its economy.
Nigō began to take note of Takahashi’s success with Undercover and decided, he too, needed a brand of his own that he could control and grow. And so he teamed up with a designer and artist with the moniker, SK8THING and A Bathing Ape was born. Starting off with a few t-shirts, their demand was exponential and the new brand quickly grew to fill much of the store.
Before long, Undercover and A Bathing Ape outgrew their small-beginnings Harajuku store and shut shop to focus on expanding their ever-growing brands. Both labels opened their own namesake flagship stores in Tokyo and, eventually, around the world.
A global, cult-like following saw buyers from the likes of London and New York making special trips to Japan just to visit the A Bathing Ape headquarters. And by the late 90s, Fujiwara’s style and culture and brands like A Bathing Ape had created a global subculture unlike anything seen before.
In a partnership that travels full circle from Nigō selling vintage Levi’s alongside his first A Bathing Ape t-shirts at Nowhere, the two brands meet again. This time, in the form of a new collection inspired by their respective histories but for a new generation of youth culture who are inspired by each label’s shared anarchist journeys.
The A Bathing Ape x Levi’s collaboration is available now globally and in Levi’s stores across New Zealand.