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Highsnobiety Commentary March, 7 2011

Commentary | Bape Sold To I.T. – Does Anybody Care?

Now that the news of the sale of A Bathing Ape has settled, we thought the moment right for discussing consequences of the shift from Nigo to Hong Kong’s I.T. group.

At first the news was certainly upsetting. The way we see it, some of the most impressive brands have a single individual leader building up a company over the years and keeping on pushing the limits of the company and/or brand. Nigo achieved with Bape, over the last two decades, something that we will most likely never see again. From a small shop in Harajuku the man has built a global brand, with people lining up for nearly every single release. Moving from a distribution based business to exclusively selling in his own stores was the first impressive move by Nigo. But what we have always found most impressive is the weekly drop idea. Rather than releasing an entire collection at the beginning of the season, Bape started dropping product every single week of the year – both in line releases and special collaborations. That resulted in a never ending hype around new product and people just continuously wanting to purchase into the latest A Bathing Ape gear. Years later with the rise of US streetwear, we have seen similar methods from brands such as The Hundreds and Johnny Cupcakes. Everybody tried it, but only very few succeeded. The idea of perceived exclusivity became a blueprint for success in global streetwear.

The wonderful idea of the brand collaboration has been perfected by Nigo. Collaborations on a level unseen before and only imitated afterwards – from Bape Pepsi cans to Goyard trunks, G-Shock watches to fishing gear, scooters to cosmetics and toys – Nigo and A Bathing Ape have done it all. To many the today extremely successful Japanese architecture firm Wonderwall, has become primarily known for working with Bape on their flagship stores. The brand collaboration became a key driver in youth marketing around the globe. Again, if done right, which was the case many times with A Bathing Ape, it resulted in a tremendous success. Today we witness many more unsuccessful collaborations, of course also due to the influx in the use of the so called “collaboration”. In this area we still see Bape leading in many ways. Which other brand would have the balls to do a fishing gear collection? Or a dog apparel collection in this market? Bape still seems to go in directions others do not.

Read on after the jump.

For us Bape has been more interesting in the past year than between 2006 and 2008. The launch of Ursus Bape and a step back from mid-decade all-over print excess and overt associations with hip-hop. The brand, in our mind, refocussed on the design. There was a slight return to the innovative and cheeky take on basics that launched the brand. Items wearable again, but we do have to admit that it seemed a former leader was now following. With the market suddenly obsessed with heritage, Bape, which always had re-interprets styles in a distinct way, was becoming less inspired, and at times Bape garments seemed to fold into the fashion herd. Bape boat shoes? Bape hiking boots? As excited as we were about URSUS Bape in the beginning, we are now finding the main line more enticing. Too many brands are exploiting the idea of “great basics”, which happily has us seeking out the unique again.

The question that we are asking ourselves right now is – will the core Bape fan still buy into the brand after ownership changes? How much of the success of the brand really goes hand in hand with Nigo, and most importantly how will brand direction be affected by a shift in owner/creative dynamic?

Streetwear takes change a little more personal than other markets. Stussy is an almost singular successful example. Few of us are old enough to have bought Stussy when it was still owned by Shawn himself. Yet the brand is wildly supported by fans around the globe. In other fashion segments a take-over seems to be less of a consumer issue. Who cares who owns Gucci or Louis Vuitton? Who cares if they are independent? Maybe we are wrong here, it just seems like streetwear has a special relationship with its brands, where such things matter more. This is a situation which can play out both negatively and positively, depending on how you view it.

One might even argue that what is happening to Bape is indicative of what is happening to streetwear in general. How true can a brand stay to itself while adapting to the market needs? How much heritage influence does a streetwear brand need in order to incorporate a trend? Aren’t brands best off that keep change minimal and stay 100% true to original mission and consumer base? These brands might not be able to bank in on a current trend, but if there is one thing that we all know, a trend will be over one day and what do you do then?

To get back to our main topic, many people predict a quick rise of Bape in the Chinese market. The Chinese consumer is hungry for cool, and the new ownership by a Hong Kong based firm makes perfect sense in regard to Chinese expansion.

What we want to know is, what happens to the long time Bape fan and consumer? How does this effect you guys? How do you see the situation?

We would love to hear your opinion!

David

Selectism