NIGO’s Influence on the Hype Culture Timeline

NIGO’s Influence on the Hype Culture Timeline

There is no greater influence on hype culture than that of Japanese designer NIGO. Through A Bathing Ape, his seminal clothing line launched in 1993, NIGO established much of what would become our contemporary understanding of style. As a pioneer of collaborations between brands; keep products tight and exclusive in order to create rarity and foment intrigue; aligning itself with rappers and DJs at a time when luxury companies still feared any association with hip-hop; establish a clear, concise and immediately recognizable iconography; bringing together the worlds of youth fashion and high-end luxury, he became the model of desire – so much so that none other than Virgil Abloh once said that “there is no one like Nigo. He helped us understand how luxury can relate to a new generation.

Now something of a streetwear veteran – a Star Wars fanatic, he recently half-jokingly called himself Yoda – Nigo, born Tomoaki Nagao, has focused on a calmer, unassuming, Human Made brand. , as well as serving as artistic director of Kenzo, the famous niche French fashion house. The days of BapeSta-mania are long gone, when a new colorway of his signature sneaker – a Pop Art patent leather takes on the shape and feel of the classic Nike Air Force 1, with versions made in collaboration with Kanye West , SpongeBob and DC Comics – would send the kids into a fever just to get their hands on a pair, an early harbinger of the ridiculously long lines that now roll out of the Supreme store with every new drop of its apparel. While in the past NIGO had a preference for somewhat aggressive tropes – military camouflage and gorilla illustrations – the Human Made logo is encased in a soft red heart, and the most recurring print at Kenzo is a cheerful daisy motif. a flower poppy.

While he was once the master of hype, NIGO now seems content to create in his little, albeit still famous, corner of the world. Selling a majority stake in BAPE in 2011 before leaving the brand for good in 2013, he was put off by how big it had become. “I consider the BAPE era as a lost battle. But it taught me a lot,” he told me. NIGO had what some would describe as a midlife crisis after leaving, even beginning to wonder if his time in streetwear was over, until his longtime friend and collaborator Pharrell Williams encouraged him to return. in the game. Now he says the end of this life helped him understand the future. “At the end of the day, I spent so much time dealing with the management side that I wasn’t really capable of designing,” he told WWD at the time.

Turning away from trends to focus more directly on understated quality, Human Made has therefore been a humble reshuffling of priorities, allowing it to take control and stay focused, a streamlined collection of classics like warm hoodies and jackets academics, adorned with ducks. , valentine hearts, and bunnies, it’s more of a cottage industry than a massive, mainstream business. “He has a completely vertical fashion brand,” observed the late Abloh in 2020. “In one building, he designs, does the photoshoot and does the manufacturing. I was impressed with that.

The line is filled with a range of cute little home and decor products with a playful appeal: a papier-mâché sunglasses holder in the shape of a bulldog’s head, enamel cups and plates for camping, a bottle of sake, a banana holder for the kitchen. (with two replica bananas), a paperweight in the shape of a melting ice cream cone and a chime covered in polar bears and tigers. These are silly ideas that feel special, collectible, one-of-a-kind, tailor-made for the most eccentric among us. “I wanted to do something that was the antithesis of how fashion has passed, where everything is fast fashion, disposable: buy it, use it, throw it away,” he said in 2012. “I wanted to do something that had weight and value – the materials used in the method of construction. It’s more about the personal connection to the clothes.

NIGO enjoys making clothes for and with his friends, a tight and motley crew of like-minded misfits he’s brought together over the years, including Pharrell (they co-founded the cult clothing line Billionaire Boys Club in 2003), Kanye, Pusha T, Tyler, the Creator, A$AP Rocky, Lil Uzi Vert, Abloh and Kid Cudi, who wore a blue Kenzo cape and tuxedo designed by NIGO at the last Met Gala. Abloh, who once called NIGO a mentor, brought him to collaborate on Louis Vuitton’s collections. Cudi, who actually worked as a retail clerk at the BAPE store in New York, is wide-eyed even when talking about NIGO. “I’m always impressed when I’m around him, in his office and studio,” the artist told me earlier this year as he prepared for the annual fashion event. “I’ve never seen anyone who has a world designed quite like Nigo’s.”

Not teaching is a pathway to the most valuable learning.

He’s found time and space to indulge in more off-center creative endeavors, like a restaurant called Curry Up that he opened in Tokyo and I Know NIGO, an album he released earlier this year. On that, he’s the maestro, whipping up beats with Pharrell, Kanye and Tyler, and calling in guest verses from Uzi, Gunna, Clipse and Rocky. Rolling Stone described it as “a collaborative testament to the true admiration NIGO has earned in the world of hip-hop”. If fashion is his daily job, music, and hip-hop in particular, has always been his source, the place where he draws inspiration and energy. In turn, it was embraced by rappers in a way few creators have, and virtually defined hip-hop style in the 2000s, as culturally significant as Baby Phat or Sean Jean; it was Lil Wayne who constantly wore NIGO’s clothes (especially his signature zip-up hoodie) that really made the designer a household name, and he’s become a staple in the lyrics of everyone from Soulja Boy ever since. to Drake. “Nigo is just as big and meaningful to hip-hop as Pharrell, or Slick Rick or Kanye,” Rocky said.

But then again, Nigo has truly always been a music geek and culture enthusiast. Born in 1970, he grew up in the middling town of Maebashi, capital of Gunma Prefecture, but used to sneak out to Tokyo to check out the Vivienne Westwood boutique and buy records at his favorite store, Cisco. First he became obsessed with the 1950s rockabilly style of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly before turning his eyes and ears to hip-hop, increasingly dressing like his idols LL Cool J and Beastie Boys. “My first encounter with hip-hop was Raising Hell by Run-DMC. I was 16 years old. It wasn’t just the music, it was the look – I had never seen anything like it: Adidas Superstars worn without laces. It was shocking,” he told me. “Until then, I dressed in what we call ‘American casual’ in Japan: Levis 501s, white Hanes t-shirts, black-rimmed glasses. After seeing Run-DMC, my whole approach to style has changed.

He moved to the big city to attend Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, wrote for a fashion magazine, did fashion design, and fell in love with Hiroshi Fujiwara, a Japanese design legend some called the godfather. streetwear because of its trend at the time. fashion approach. NIGO actually earned his nickname – which translates to “number 2” – in reference to his place in the pecking order of the older and wiser Fujiwara, although he admits their bond wasn’t exactly a strict teacher-student relationship as much as it was just a chance to see how things worked and bring that knowledge into the world. “Master Hiroshi didn’t really teach me anything – I learned by watching him during our time together,” he says. “Not teaching is a most valuable path to learning.”

“I don’t consider myself influential, but I’m grateful to be able to continue to play a role.”

Eventually, NIGO opened Nowhere in the then booming neighborhood of Harajuku, inspiring him to make his own clothes to stock the store’s shelves. A Bathing Ape was soon born, a name that came to NIGO after watching the original Planet of the Apes. NIGO was churning out t-shirts — homemade BAPE monkey t-shirts — in runs of about 30, giving away about half to friends, and the brand eventually caught fire in Tokyo’s trendiest corners before to go to America. “It’s like a generational change. When I started, there was really no respect for that kind of stuff and even where there were dress codes: like, you can’t come in here with jeans and a T-shirt. That kind of stuff has really disappeared from the world,” he told me in a 2013 interview. “So I guess for a younger generation of people who grew up in a world where that wasn’t the case, it’s not a big deal for them, it’s not even a factor.

Now there’s something of that fundamental spirit of imagination in his work again. In the decade since we last spoke, NIGO has dabbled in a partnership with Uniqlo, where he served as creative director of their UT line, crafting graphic t-shirts to appeal to the gigantic global audience of the Japanese company, to do more sophisticated work at Kenzo and Human Made, which feels special, small, strange and, above all for any modern designer, cool. He turned his interests to more peaceful endeavors. “Recently, I’ve been deep into the Japanese Chanoyu [tea-ceremony] cultural,” he says. “Maybe that will reflect in what I do in the future.” When asked how he stays in touch with what’s going on in youth culture, he says it’s a simple matter of keeping your eyes open, paying attention and putting the most chaotic modern distractions – the genre he may have loved as an avant-garde upstart – aside. “I see the city through my car window as I travel,” he says resolutely, “not through my iPhone.”

As for the culture of hype he helped hone – the one that sent sneaker prices skyrocketing, made some coveted products nearly impossible to buy except at insanely high prices, and created a product frenzy cool so massive she almost went crazy – it’s even streamlined and practical about it all. “You could draw an analogy with any other type of environment,” he says. “There are good and bad aspects depending on where you are.”

And of course, he’s humbled about his influence on the streetwear world, pretty much focused on what he’s creating now, and just happy to still be in the game – a game he helped set the rules for – after all these years. “I don’t consider myself influential,” he says, “but I’m grateful to be able to continue to play a role.” U.S. too.

HYPEBEAST Magazine Issue 30: The Borders Issue is now available on HBX.

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