In Tokyo, as we are always being reminded, the currency is cool, and A Bathing Ape is the gold standard. The clothing line looks, to the uninitiated, like standard big-jeans streetwear, heavy on the camo. To the faithful (who know it as BAPE), it represents membership in a cult brand that’s spun off a record label, hair salon, café, and toy line in just over ten years. The secret? Exclusivity—everything is limited-edition, and BAPE’s Hong Kong branch is open only to prescreened “members”—which produces rock-concert-style lines at BAPE stores and a resale market where a T-shirt can fetch $1,000.
Now BAPE has arrived in very above-ground Soho (212-925-0222). “I don’t want to promote or sell,” insists founder DJ Nigo, who recently had his teeth covered in diamonds to match his $30,000 Jacob & Co. watch and Flava Flav throwback pendant. But, judging from the patient army of camo-clad kids who queued up on opening weekend, he will sell, and sell a lot.
Nigo looks much younger than he is (34) as he waves his gold-plated Vertu cell phone around like a talisman, explaining his love for hip-hop: “I never understand what they’re talking about,” he says with a giggle, “but the look is cool.” (Hip-hop loves him back: Nigo collaborated on Über-producer Pharrell Williams’s Billionaire Boys Club clothing line, sold at the store.) On success, Nigo is more reticent. “I just want to see my things in America,” he shrugs. “I don’t care if it makes money.” Like all smart marketers, he knows that cool never declares itself.