Growl: The Tiger Cometh

Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger can’t wait for the Lunar New Year to arrive

You would expect that, with 2022 being the Year of the Tiger (from 1 February, of course), many brands will be releasing tiger-themed products. And you’d expect rightly. One of the earliest to announce their adoption of the tiger for a capsule collection is Japan’s Onitsuka Tiger. But that is not surprising. In five days’ time, it’d be what the brand calls the “Year of the Onistsuka Tiger”. As it coincides with the Chinese zodiac tiger, this occasion comes only once every 12 years. A symbol of the brand, the tiger—confident, brave, and thrill-seeking—would be seen not only on shoes, but in a limited range of fashion items for those born in the year of the tiger or those who consider the panthera tigris its spirit animal. These include tees and hoodies, socks, and bags.

But the most eye-catching and desirable would likely be the Serrano sneaker with the tiger-stripe upper. At first glance, the interpretation looks a tad too literal to us, even for Chinese New Year! But we are not, admittedly, big fans of animal prints. However they are used, they frequently would result in a form that borders on the camp. And to us, the Serrano of the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger is no exception. In fact, the more we look at it, the more it reminded us of another shoe: the yellow and black Mexico 66. Yes, the pair worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, a movie with such deliciously intense artifice that even the gory revenge and growling violence cannot dial the camp down.

It is not yet known when the Year of the Onitsuka Tiger capsule would be launched. Watch this space for updates. Product photo: Onitsuka Tiger. Photo Illustration: Just So

Bag This Outer

Undercover pairing with Eastpak is not unusual. But the apparel they produced is

Eastpak has collaborated with designers on what they specialise in: bags. Names they have shared on the labelling of their wares include Raf Simons, Vivienne Westwood, and most recently, Margiela. But all these collabs yielded only bags. Until Undercover comes along. Shown during Undercover’s charming autumn/winter 2021 collection in January, the two brands offer not bags per se, but outerwear that constitutes some of the most fetching of the season. This is the first for Eastpak: clothing. And by the looks of it, this may not be the last.

Incorporating bags or fabric used in their manufacturer is a particular area of collaborative design that the Japanese do so well, as previously seen with The North Face and Junya Watanabe, as well as Nanamica for the The North Face Purple Label. In that respect, what Undercover has done with Eastpak is rather late in the game, But, as it is often said, better late than never. And it is hard to imagine the never after seeing these wearing garments with the quirky ‘bag’ details. Should they really be there? Can you store anything in them?

There are at least six styles in the capsule. From a bomber to a parka to a car coat, each comes with bag-pockets of varying sizes, as well as short handles—as seen on the top of backpacks—under the rear of the collar, above the yoke (one even emerges from there). The outers come in some strong colours too, such as the above Wellington yellow, as well as a bright red and a dark green. A real pity that we are not likely in need of one of them. Many of us are not travelling, only dreaming of it.

Undercover X Eastpak launches on Christmas Day at Undercover stores, Tokyo. Photo: Undercover

Two Of A Kind: Beekeeping Looks

Louis Vuitton’s pre-fall 2022 offers headwear that we have seen at Kenzo’s spring/summer 2021

Left: Louis Vuitton. Photo: Louis Vuitton. Right: Kenzo. Photo: gorunway.com

We really do not wish to talk about the dead in not-so-glorious terms. But some things are just hard to ignore. Louis Vuitton has just released images of their men’s pre-fall 2022 (that’s another confusing season/category), reported to be designed by the late Virgil Abloh, and was finished and photographed before his shocking demise. Among his usual take on workwear-meets-streetwear-meets-sportswear mix-ups, one single item stood out, not because it is incoherent with the looks of the collection, but because it is very similar to those already shown very recently: the beekeeper’s hat and veil. Now, we resist the C-word here, but being inspired by someone else’s idea from not too long ago: we really do not know what else to call that.

In fact, from just last year, when Felipe Oliveira Baptista showed very similar head wear for Kenzo spring/summer 2021, which also included those for men (see photo, top right). Mr Baptista’s version were offered in assorted hat shapes and veils of different volumes and, fabulously, lengths. Some are packable too. They came at the height of the pandemic, when face shields were among the options for protective gear not amounting to the PPE. It is not clear what the adoption rate of these beekeeping wear was, but they made for one rather unforgettable collection of that season.

Now, we have Louis Vuitton also doing these hat-and-face-coverings. Mr Abloh had, in fact, in the past year or so, been rather into obscuring the face, just like pal Kanye West (now rumoured to be succeeding his friend!). This veiling comes after he did a Richard Quinn! Is this beekeeper’s shield also homage to something done by someone else Mr Abloh admired? Or, in the age of the hack, just a simple trick to share output of what is already part of the luxury group (Kenzo belongs to LVMH)? Even if they come in LV’s monogram and the graffiti prints of the Milan-based artist/tattooist Ghusto Leon, are they less first-seen-somewhere-else (some of Kenzo’s veils were printed too)? Or, as we have lamented before, is the world really so confusing to make out?

Visited: Goodluck Bunch

Although they have been around for five years, they have remained relatively low-key. Is the Goodluck Bunch the best streetwear store on our island?

On Bali Lane, the shop houses are not as spruced up as those on both sides of Haji Lane, just one street away, towards the Sultan Mosque. Built in the mid-19th century, the Bali Lane shophouses, numbering around 30, have rather simple façades, described as belonging to the Early Shophouse Style (1840-1900), distinguished by their lack of ornamentation. They are part of the area known by the road that links Victoria Street to Beach Road: Arab Street. Bali Lane is only one of two named after Indonesian islands (the other is Java Road), rather than a place in the Middle East, such as Bussorah Street and Muscat Street. It is a rather short lane. At about 100 metres, it less than half the length of Haji Lane. Most of the businesses here are of F&B persuasion. Between a halal restaurant that serves Japanese grilled meat Waku Waku Yakiniku and an empty shop lot is the only one of its kind on this motley makan row: a clothing store.

Without a striking shop front, it is easy to miss Goodluck Bunch (GLB). But the visual restraint is also its allure, the relative plainness and lack of sheen often make up secret addresses among those in the know. Devoid of obvious swank, it has an absence of pretentiousness to match. Stand on the five-foot way and peek inside the heritage shophouse, and the space, bathed in incandescent glow, beckons like a treasure trove, within what is often considered the exemplar of indie cool: white walls and concrete floor. But there is something more welcoming in GLB’s not quite calculated relaxedness, with merchandise displayed in a free-hand manner that will doubtlessly encourage browsing and touching. It is the market vibe too, which we refer to, in the best possible way. After all, one of our island’s best multi-label stores is self-touted as a market too.

Goodluck Bunch looks to us like something out of the arterial streets of Tokyo’s Daikanyama; a cross between the area’s long-serving Hollywood Ranch Market (that word again!) and the rock of an outdoor store High! Standard, with a touch of Nanamica and the posturing of Kikunobu. GLB has been described as a streetwear clothier, but the merchandise includes a spirited mix of Normcore and Gorpcore labels thrown in for good measure. The selection of clothes is augmented with practical accessories to allow shoppers to purchase a complete look, including less common items such as shoulder bags for water tumblers or the odd bottle of Ayataka green tea. And just as you thought everything stocked is for those with an inherently casual wardrobe, immaculate business/dress shoes from the Thai label London Brown incongruently greet visitors near the entrance.

There seems to be a subtle Asian slant to the merchandising approach, with Japan being an obvious source. While there are brands from the US (we’re talking about streetwear after all), it is the Japanese offshoot of American labels Ben Davis, Chums, and Gramicci, and born-in-Japan Mont Bell that shoppers seem to enthusiastically target, as well as the now-sold-out tote bags featuring the simple and striking drawings of Tokyo-based illustrator Noritake. Given the Japaneseness of the store, the Nippon connection makes sense. But rather than evoke Harujuku, the heart of the not-readily-definable Tokyo street scene, GLB takes on the indie spirit of Japanese retail that is found in other neighbourhoods, such as aforementioned Daikanyama, and situates itself on a street here that has virtually no shopping. The dissimilarity to its neighbours probably stood it in good stead.

The two founders of Goodluck Bunch are not newcomers to clothing retail. Quek Swee Ying (known on social media as Swee) and her husband Lee Hong Ping started GLB in 2016 on the weath of experience Ms Quek had gained from her typical blogshop-made-good label Runway Bandits. First hosted on LiveJournal in 2008, two years after Love, Bonito began as BonitoChico on the same platform, Runway Bandits, “catered towards students with limited budget”, as Ms Quek told the press. These school-goers were spending, and two years later, business was so encouraging that a bona fide e-commerce site for the label was created. When Plaza Singapura remade its basement 1 into a haven featuring “leading local fashion blogshops” in 2018, not-marauding Runway Bandits was there with their first physical store, diagonally across from rising star Fayth. Ms Quek told us then that it was “a pop up as trial”. On what made her brand stood out, she said that it was the “soft and neutral palette” and that they “engaged customers by allowing them to vote for their favourite colours”.

Of the half-a-dozen or so stores that opened on-theme at Plaza Singapura that COVID-19-free year, only three have survived, and that include Runway Bandits. In June this year, the brand was renamed From There On, catching fans quite by surprise. Where “there” might be, it does not say. Why the change of moniker, it is not yet known. One retail consultant told us that “‘bandit’ does not have a positive connotation”. Even after more than 10 years of use? Outlaws aside, the word, informally, also refers to individuals who take unfair advantage of others. Neither runway or bandit, the brand was a misnomer. The new name, a clear departure from the old, however, is no indication of a fresh aesthetical direction. From There On sits comfortably on the same-old plot of unconstricted shapes, immediate everyday-ness, and sassy girlishness of Runway Bandits. A clear lineage. One chirpy shopper at the store recently, who said she was “doing a course at SOTA”, told us that she was a regular because she liked the “better basics” there.

For many, the two-storey, 1,300 sq. ft Goodluck Bunch is also likely the place to score better basics. To be sure, despite their veritable street cred, GLB is not quite the same as, say, Undercover’s Madstore. Yet, there is no denying the clearness of their merchandising direction. With about 30 brands in-store, what you’d get is a happy wearable jumble that includes Danton (the French label that’s so Normcore-cool that even DSMS—yes, that market!—and Hong Kong’s i.t are stockists), Gorpcore heavyweights Kavu and Patagonia, the fun-centric Chinatown Market, hip-hop’s fave hat brand Kangol, Singaporeans’-must-buy-when-in-Japan Champion, and Jil Sander’s latest collaborator Arc’teryx. The mix is varied and a joy to uncover. The staff told us of their other boss Lee Hong Ping: “he treats this as his playground”. A clothier who has fun with the stocking of his store often allows that pleasure to shine through in the merchandise. This is totally palpable at GLB.

Going through the stuff after you enter will take you some time. And then you remember that there’s upstairs. (The staff will happily remind you too.) So up you go. As the view of the second floor unfolds, the Japanese vibe again hits you. Up here, there is a faux tree in the middle of the space, a shade provider that seems to bring the disparate brands together, like a group of well-togged friends convening at their favourite spot. On the weekday afternoon we were there, we heard giggling behind a curtain. As it turned out, some girls were trying on the Ben Davis. Although GLB stocks mostly menswear, it also attracts women with a weakness for jendaresu-kei (genderless style) or too-big T-shirts, sometimes inexplicably massive. In fact, most of their social media posts are photos of girls dressed in tees and bifurcated bottoms. One of them in the fitting room emerged to have a better look at the mirror. She could have just leapt out of Goodluck Bunch’s Instagram grid.

Goodluck Bunch is at 26 Bali Lane. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Two Of A Kind: Vaccinated Too

Valentino hacked Cloney who had “cloned” Valentino. So who is Depression duplicating?

Valentino’s hoodie (left) and Depression’s T-shirt (right). Photos: Valentino and Depression/Instagram respectively

Yes, COVID-19 has made our world more confusing than it has ever been. In the fashion world, no one would be surprised if you see double: one design like another, or two names as one. Fendace! Designers are now hacking, cloning, and swapping. What is real, what is not? Who came first, who came after? To further boggle the mind, our very own Depression has joined the race to declare one’s vaccination status across a T-shirt, shortly after Valentino’s made theirs on a hoodie. Coincidence? Or is there something in the air, apart from virulent viruses, that makes people want to do the same things? Perhaps one of the side effects of vaccination is the afflicting of individuals to have the same idea, at the same time?

How about about identical fonts? Depression’s ‘VACCINATED’ shares an extremely similar type to Valentino’s, a serif style. Is the occurrence more than a case of mere chance? Sure, it is possible that the Depression designers, still depressed, was jelak of Helvetica and its ilk. Or, 腻烦 (ni fan—sick and tired of), to use a phrase that is more 武林大会 (wu lin da hui—general assembly of the martial arts world), as the Depression flagship considers itself to be. But the similarity does not end there. The word is spelled in full-caps too, and stretched from arm hole to arm hole as well. Okay, Depression fans would say that the T-shirt is slightly different since the 10-letter word is emblazoned in white and appears in the back. Yes, same difference or, as they say in Thailand, same same.

We truly live in a world when one person sells bubble tea, another has too; when one TV star hawks home-baked goods, another must too. As in much of the food world, which now dominates the (still) pandemic-stricken world, just because my ang ku kueh looks like yours does not mean I copied you!

Kenzo Tribute Tees

Some wearable mementoes to remember him by before he is completely forgotten

Do people even remember that Kenzo Takada was a real person? Many Gen-Z consumers that we have spoken to recently did not realise that Balenciaga is the moniker of an actual human being (there were those who struggled to recall the first name)! Ditto for Saint Laurent—few remember Yves, let alone how to pronounce it. None could describe how either designer looked like. When we asked who among designers no longer around that they might recognised, all said Karl Lagerfeld. Not surprising: up till now, two and half years after his death, brand Karl has not stopped producing images and dolls, such as the K/Ikonic collectible, in the likeness of the man. Even without these playthings, who’d forget the Kaiser when his silhouette is part of his logo?

Eleven months after Kenzo Takada passed away due to complications from COVID-19 and just a week after the announcement that Nigo will take the helm as artistic director of Kenzo, the Paris-based house has announced that a capsule Kenzo Takada Tribute Collection will be launched this week in Japan via the e-commerce platform Zozovilla (part of Zozotown) that is dedicated to luxury brands. This release could be an attempt to enshrine the legacy of Kenzo Takada by personifying, even just graphically, the man himself on something as mundane as a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a hoodie. In death, Kenzo Takada becomes a streetwear icon?

This trio of tops (in different colours), reportedly part of the autumn/winter 2021 collection—a reinterpretation of archival pieces, put together by an in-house team—sport a lined silhouette of the designer with his longish hair and what appears to be spectacles, taking up sizeable real estate on the chest. His recognisable signature is placed under the left jawline. The sum is part kawaii, part hippie. According to Japanese media, the T-shirt will be sold for ¥22,000 (approximately S$269), the sweatshirt for ¥39,600 (S$485), and the hoodie for ¥53,900 (S$660). Not too wallet-straining if remembering someone you admire by wearing his likeness close to your heart truly matters.

The Kenzo Takada Tribute Collection launches in Japan on 25 September. It is not yet known if it will be available in the Kenzo stores here.

Update (13 October 2021, 3pm): the collection is now available at Kenzo stores. Photos: Kenzo

Another Surprising Pick

Nigo has been appointed the new designer for Kenzo. Really!

It was announced a short while ago that Japanese multi-hyphenate Nigo will join the LVMH-owned Kenzo as the brand’s new artistic director. This appointment is surprising as few had thought that the creative helm of Kenzo would be returned to the Japanese. Born Tomoaki Nagao, the founder of A Bathing Ape (the brand pulled out of our island in May this year) is often described as “the OG designer stalwart” of Japanese streetwear and the street culture that followed. The 50-year-old is no longer associated with the simian brand he created, but his links to streetwear is undiminished, not just in his homeland, but throughout much of the world, cemented by his friendship with Pharrell Williams and the like, even helping the Happy singer launch The Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream. The news of Mr Nagao’s appointment, released on Kenzo’s official Twitter account, was met with tremendous enthusiasm online. Twitter user and streetwear retailer @ChaseNCashe posted, “Sign me all the way up for the Nigo Kenzo wave”.

LVMH’s pick for Kenzo leaves no doubt as to which direction the luxury conglomerate wishes to point Kenzo to. The world’s largest luxury group has installed a streetwear designer to oversee the artistic direction of one of their brands before—most notably Virgil Abloh, a Nigo admirer, for Louis Vuitton’s menswear. Kenzo itself, in fact, went through the oscillation of aesthetic change when Carol Lim and Humberto Leo of Opening Ceremony joined the company in 2012 as co-creative directors. The brand took a decidedly street-bent turn and was, by many accounts, successful because of that. It found new, younger customers, but such a following came at the expense of design quality. With gaudy graphics and loud logos to keep the brand buoyant and customers spending, Ms Lim and Mr Leo turned out to be two of Kenzo’s longest-serving CDs—seven years in total—after Antonio Marras (also seven).

When the Opening Ceremony duo departed Kenzo in 2019, LVMH picked Lacoste’s designer, the Portuguese, Felipe Oliveira Baptista as their replacement. Kenzo Takada died a year later from complications due to COVID-19. We are fans of Mr Baptista’s output for Kenzo. He kept to the original spirit of the brand without traipsing too aggressively into the territory of streetwear, yet, at the same time, he was able to give the brand a renewed vigour that was decidedly modern. But, like his predecessors after Kenzo Takada’s withdrawal from the brand he built, such as Gilles Rosier and Mr Marras, both passionately retaining the “romance” of the label’s DNA, Mr Baptista was not able to make Kenzo the cash cow that other brands of the LVMH stable are.

Kenzo store at MBS

A corporate statement was posted on LVMH’s website. It quoted Mr Nagao saying, “I am proud to have been appointed Artistic Director of Kenzo. I was born in the year that Takada Kenzo san opened his first store in Paris. We both graduated from the same fashion school in Tokyo. In 1993, the year that Kenzo joined the LVMH Group, I started my career in Fashion. Kenzo san’s approach to creating originality was through his understanding of many different cultures. It is also the essence of my own philosophy of creativity. Inheriting the spirit of Kenzo san’s craftsmanship to create a new Kenzo is the greatest challenge of my 30-year career, which I intend to achieve together with the team.” Yes, we noted the capital F for fashion too.

When we mentioned Mr Nagao’s appointment to an SG designer who formerly worked in Tokyo, he merely said, “Aiyo”. It is debatable if A Bathing Ape is still what it was. No one could say for certain why the brand was sold to Hong Kong’s I.T Group in 2011. Mr Nagao left the brand two years later. He joined Uniqlo in 2014 as the creative director of the retailer’s sub-brand UT (a T-shirt line), after creating Human Made four years earlier. Despite his seemingly prolific output and unceasing global projects and collaborations, it is hard to determined if his brands are that successful or if he, as a designer, is that creative. To some, Mr Nagao is just a T-shirt designer. One successful item associated with Nigo is A Bathing Ape’s first footwear, the Bapesta sneaker, which, popularity aside (BBC’s Jonathan Ross describes it as the “epitome of collectable footwear”), is really based on another sneaker, Nike’s Air Force 1.

Tokyo is not only the capital of Japanese fashion, it is also the heart of Japanese streetwear. It is curious that in this throbbing hub, only Nigo stood out for LVMH. When we discussed this with a marketing consultant who keenly observes the Japanese fashion design scene, he said, “I can understand Kenzo preferring a Japanese designer, but if they need a streetwear fellow, why not Undercover’s Jun Takahashi, a contemporary of Nigo’s. Undercover is unjustly described by the Western press as a ‘streetwear brand’. While I can see the appeal to streetwear consumers, Jun Takahashi in my mind is a better, technically superior designer, who’s also good in womenswear. Kenzo needs someone with a more sophisticated sense of how to bridge the past and the present.”

Updated: 16 September 2021, 15:30

Illustration: Just So

A Stronger Ape?

Just a week after our only A Bathing Ape store announced its impending closure, the news now is that they’re embarking on an expansion drive. But not here

The closure of A Bathing Ape (Bape) at The Mandarin Gallery on 18 June 2021 would not be a sign that the brand is approaching any semblance of doomsday. There is, it seems, a long life ahead for the Ape. According to recent media editorials, private equity firm CVC Capital Partners—“co-investor” in Bape—has “successfully completed an investment” in the streetwear brand. The value of that investment is not announced. Bape’s Japanese company Nowhere Co was acquired by the I.T Group (the company behind the also-now-closed i.t multi-label store) in 2011 for what has been described as a bargain: US$2.8 million, which, according to the The Wall Street Journal, amounted to a 90% stake. Founder Tomoaki Nagao (aka Nigo) stayed on for the following two years to help with the transition. It is not known who ran the design studio thereafter or if a creative director was ever installed.

Last December, it was announced that I.T Group founder and chairman Sham Kar Wai has enlisted CVC to take Bape private. CVC’s fashion portfolio includes Breitling and Spain’s Tandem (manufacturer and retailer of the brand Springfield, once available in Isetan here). At around that time, Yahoo News informed that I.T was “delisted from Hong Kong Stock Exchange for US$168 million as it struggled with getting its online operations up to speed”. Despite its shoppable e-commerce platform, I.T curiously does not deliver outside of Hong Kong and China. According to the South China Morning Post, the retailer “reported a net loss of HK$337 million for the six months ended August 2020, a 373 per cent jump from HK$71.2 million a year ago”. It is not unreasonable to assume that A Bathing Ape was part of those losses.

Although it is widely said that Bape has lost much of its appeal and is no longer as cool as it once was, when it became inspiration behind other streetwear labels such as Pharrell Williams’s Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, both aided by Mr Nagao in their conception, Mr Sham and CVC seem to believe that there is still potential in the 28-year-old A Bathing Ape. In a press statement, Mr Sham said, “I take great pride in the success of the brand to date, which has been thanks to the commitment of our leadership and staff. CVC is the right partner to support the transformation of BAPE as we focus on our long-term growth.” Further reports indicated that “CVC will support the expansion of the business, both online and geographically”. Markets cited include China, the United States, and Europe. There is no mention of the continued presence of A Bathing Ape here or or anywhere in Southeast Asia. It is possible that the Ape, in a bath or not, would’nt be returning.

Photo: Chin Boh Kay

A Bathing Ape Will Go Out With The Bath Water

Once a popular streetwear label, The Bathing Ape has lost its simian appeal, and will exit our shores on 18 June

Gone will be the good ape. The well-loved, urban primate that bathes will vacate its flagship premises at the Mandarin Gallery after 12 years. The impending closure of A Bathing Ape (also known as Bape) was announced on Vesak Day via the label’s Facebook page. “We hope to see you all one last time before we say a final goodbye,” went the message. Although another fashion brand to exit Singapore is hardly surprising these days, some observers thought Bape, one of the better-known and established Japanese streetwear names, would survive the retail havoc caused by COVID-19 since it had past the one-decade mark. When a member of the staff was asked yesterday why the store would be closing for good, he shrugged his shoulders and then added, “don’t know”. But it requires no effort to guess that even the great ape is unable to survive the pandemic jungle. Next month, the bath water will be thrown out of our island, and sadly, together with the ape.

The Bathing Ape opened its first Southeast Asian store here at the Mandarin Gallery in December 2009 (then, the seventh outside Japan. Three years earlier, Hong Kong saw Asia’s first). Distributed by the thirty-year-old fashion retailer Kwang Sia Fashion, a Singaporean company that brought to our shore brands such as Max Mara and Y3, and lost those, such as Hugo Boss, Dsquared2, and Replay Jeans, Bape was very much welcomed at its 186-square-metre debut. Prior to its opening here, most fans would cop their must-haves (mostly T-shirts) in Japan, or nearer, in Hong Kong. The opening of Bape also attested to the growing popularity and importance of streetwear here. And that there was a sizeable market for those willing to pay for what has been touted as a premium brand (no S$29.90 T-shirts!). Bape’s logo—a recognisable silhouette of a species-indeterminate ape—was the Supreme box logo of its day. It would not require extraordinary insight to know where our own The Slurping Ape (conceived in 2001, eight years before Bape’s splashy Orchard Road appearance) took inspiration from.

A Bathing Ape is the brainchild of Japanese street-fashion impresario Nigo—on his passport, it would have read Tomoaki Nagao. Mr Nagao is no longer directly associated with the line he created, but Bape and its sibling brands that emerged later are still linked to their creator/founder. Nigo’s A Bathing Ape emerged in the early ’90s alongside schoolmate Jun Takahashi’s Undercover. These were the fledgling years of street fashion in Japan. In the late ’80s, Mr Nagao, then a high-school student, met his idol-turn-mentor Hiroshi Fujiwara, the godfather of Japanese hip-hop, as well as its “living legend”, as Western followers of Japanese street style like to call him. As luck and the intervening hand of fate would have it, Mr Nagao ended up working for Mr Fujiwara, whose first clothing brand Goodenough (considered Japan’s “first streetwear brand”) was a rapid success after its launch in 1990. Soon, he decided to open his own retail store. It was situated in the then not-quite-frequented ura-Harajuku, and appropriately named Nowhere. Two of Mr Fujiwara’s friends were asked to operate the business: Mr Takahashi, who took one half of the space to stock his Undercover line, and Mr Nagao, who took the other half, sold imported labels, such as Stussy. But, Mr Nagao’s share of the store reportedly did not fare well. He realised that, just as with his mentor and friend, he needed to have his own brand.

A Bathing Ape was born in 1993, before, as we remind ourselves, the Internet, before Instagram. As many know by now, the name was derived from the old Planet of the Apes films that found a fervent fan in Nigo, who had (what we call today) binge-watched on them on television. The simian logo requires no explanation. The name, however, came not from any scene of the films in which a primate was bathing. Rather, as author Marx W. David wrote in the seminal book Ametora, Nigo “slapped on an English slogan—A Bathing Ape in Lukewater (sic)—borrowed from a line in an underground Takashi Nemoto comic that described an old man “like an ape in a bath of lukewarm water”. The initial run was T-shirts (just 50, reportedly) and jackets in the vein of American vintage wear that was popular at the time. From the start, A Bathing Ape (shortened to Bape in the late ’90s) was aligned with local hip-hop stars. And then there was the meeting with British electronic musician James Lavelle, also founder of the indie record label Mo’Wax and a member of the band UNKLE. Mr Lavelle wore a lot of Bape. He would also soon introduce Nigo to grafitti artist Futura (formerly Futura 2000, who, two seasons ago, collaborated with Comme des Garçons). In 1997, Nigo—even not a musician—surreptitiously debuted the album (B)Ape Sounds under Mo’Wax. The blink-heavy cover was, unsurprisingly, designed by Futura.

These deep connections with the music world, especially hip hop, led to long-lasting affiliations with those of similar taste, who eagerly endorsed Bape, such as Pharrell Williams, the Notorious B.I.G., and Lil Wayne. In no time, others came to sing Bape’s praises, including Kanye West and Virgil Abloh, with the rapper Souja Boy even going on about eagerly acquiring some Bapes in the 2007 Crank Dat. In return for the enthusiastic response he received in the West, Nigo (and his friends) would help launch Mr Williams’s now-waning labels, Billionaire Boys Club (BBC) and Ice Cream. The Japanese graphic designer Sk8thing (aka Shinichiro Nakamura) from the days of Goodenough, and a faithful Bape collaborator, would also create BBC’s astronaut logo and the brand’s well-loved repeated patterns. A Bathing Ape, now an international brand, sold in some of the buzziest streetwear stores in the world, and worn by performers from both sides of the Atlantic, gained even more traction in Japan, where it was sold in the Nigo-conceived Busy Work Shops. The success in America meant that they could open flashy Bape flagships, such as that in Aoyama in 2005 and in Shibuya in 2007, both designed by the bigwig Masamichi Katayama from the esteemed firm Wonderwall.

Market watchers believe Bape enjoyed a peak in popularity between 2000 and 2010. At its height, there was even a Bape café and a Bape TV station. But after 2010, adoration for the brand started to wane. There were always complaints of scarcity, a deliberate merchandising model to project the forced exclusivity that would come to define Supreme, but it became detrimental to Bape’s ability to win continued customer support. Quantity unfortunately remained below market demand. ‘Limited editions’ soon limited the brand’s appeal. Bape’s standing among Japanese consumers can perhaps be best summed up by what has been clearly observable. Vintage pieces are mostly found in the grungy neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa, for example, rather than those in the secondhand shops of swanky Ginza or Shinjuku, where Bape’s fellow brand in Nowhere in the ’90s, Undercover, could often be found. When one visited the Shibuya store (now closed), just next to the old Parco, one would often see mostly mainland Chinese tourists wanting merchandise that would allow them to boast about their visit to a Tokyo Bape store. Its arrival here in 2009, although rabidly received, was really at the tail-end of its popularity. Singaporean consumers, as it’s still often said, tend to be late adopters.

In 2011, the fashion world was brought to torso-straightening attention when it was announced that A Bathing Ape was acquired by the Hong Kong fashion conglomerate, the I.T Group. A year prior to that event, news had emerged that the Japanese brand had accrued a whopping ¥2.5 billion (approximately S$30 million) in debt. The sale to the Hong Kong owners was made for a surprisingly paltry ¥230 million (approximately S$2.7 million). Tomoaki Nagao stayed on as creative consultant for the next two years to “help with the transition”, as widely reported. Last December, another surprising announcement was made: founder and chairman of I.T Group Sham Kar Wai and co-investor of A Bathing Ape CVC Capital Partners had decided to keep the brand as separate company, independent of I.T Group. A year before the high-profile sale of the brand he created, Mr Nagao launched Human Made. It has, as we understand, yet to become as huge as Bape. In 2014, Uniqlo appointed Mr Nagao as creative director (namely for their UT line). A year later, he opened the rather out-of-place Store by Nigo in Harujuku’s Laforet. As expected, Human Made took the spotlight. Nigo, without his beloved Bape, is still a fashion force that brands turned to. Ten years after Bape’s staggering debt was announced, Louis Vuitton revealed a collaboration with Nigo—without doubt facilitated by pal Virgil Abloh.

At the time of its rage, many young fans found Bape expensive, even when purchased in Japan. Sure, if you look at just the T-shirts, they were cheaper than Supreme, but dearer than Stussy. Aware of the less-appealing pricing of Bape, the I.T group created Aape, which was available here in their short-lived multi-label store i.t at Orchard Gateway. But A Bathing Ape’s visual appeal slowly lost to the likes of the BFF of Kaws. Although the brand tried to counter the simian logo’s seriousness with other more affable-looking characters such as Felix the Cat and the other feline, Hello Kitty (with the cuter Baby Milo), Bape did not quite regain its footing at the apex of global streetwear, not even with best-sellers, such as the Nike Air Force 1 look-alike Bapesta (Kanye West even has his own made) or the no-longer-rare, quickly-jelak shark-head hoodie. Bape, like all primates, has aged.

A day after the closing down was announced, shoppers formed, outside the Mandarin Gallery store, a line that stretched past Michael Kors in the corner of the building. The waiting time in the scorching sun was, according to the Bape-clad crowd controller, “an hour and a half”. As with many brands suffering the same fate, A Bathing Ape is appealing when it is going out of business (50% off storewide, except T-shirts, which are marked down by 40%). A twentysomething guy in a tee with the name Alexander Wang repeated six times down his chest was deciding whether to join the queue. “Actually,” he told us, “I don’t wear Bape anymore. The last time I bought something in the store was when I was in secondary school.” He looked up, as if someone was beckoning. We looked too. On the façade of the store on level two, the familiar head of the twenty-eight-year-old primate was looking at all of us below. A speech bubble, larger than his face, sat alongside, with the text, “Go! Ape”. In all likelihood, that exhortation will be permanently gone.

Photo: Galerie Gombak

We Need A Break From Kim Jones Collabs

Air Dior is done and sold. Kim Jones doesn’t need to milk that success. His collaboration with Nike shows it

By Ray Zhang

Kim Jones can’t do any wrong. From his bringing together Louis Vuitton and Supreme to Dior and Nike, everything he touched had turned to gold. What’s next, I wonder—Fendi and whoever, whatever? But before there’s that, Mr Jones has put his own name to sit alongside Nike’s in a collaboration that many had thought might be as exciting as the shoe for Dior, probably the most hyped sneaker in the history of luxury-brand collabs. Nike X Kim Jones is the coming together of two big names in an iteration of streetwear that overplays hoopla, not design. If the publicity material and the merchandise are not identified by Mr Jones’s name (or in the case of the logo used on the clothing, the initials KJ), these could be any merchandise in Nike’s regular drops. Or something you might consider at ASOS… when they are offering a store-wide 20% discount.

Perhaps I have overlooked something here. Were these put out for kids who missed out on the Dior collab, or those who could not afford the (from) S$3,100 a pair shoes? And those who are happy to just wear anything as long as they are associated with a trending name? Frankly no one needs to pay S$149 for “classic nylon bottoms”, as Nike describes a pair of very standard-issue track pants. Or, $69 for a “short-sleeve (sic) tee” that is accompanied with a curious description: “Neon hues are combined with a reflective design Nike Air graphic to give this top an essential feel”. Or (I cringe mentioning this), the socks (S$29), with the Nike Air logo on one side and KJ on the other. Seriously? Even the sole shoe, an Air Max 95 (S$299), with orange highlights and, on the upper, “Morse code-like pattern” (I, and so many of us here at SOTD, prefer the sound), is probably one of the most uninspired interpretations ever.

…one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff

Mr Jones has had quite a track record in making athletic clothes somewhat cool and mind-bogglingly desirable. Since his work for the UK brand Umbro back in 2008, with its references to British football culture, he has been known to have an eye to sift out sportif and cultural reference to bring something to whoever. But they have never been, to me, as crave-arousing as, say, those by A-Cold-Wall*. I won’t even bring up Gyakusou, Nike’s successful, eleven-year-old pairing with Jun Takahashi, for comparison, since one is well thought-out and thought-through for both design and performance, while the other is basically commercial fluff.

In many ways, Mr Jones’s output reminds me of the equally lacklustre Nike collaboration with Riccardo Tisci in 2017, which also featured the initials of the designer. Given that there is increasingly more design-driven pairings between sportswear and designer labels, I would have thought that Mr Jones might have tried a tad harder. Sure, I did not expect him to do a Sacai, but neither did I regard such bland take to happen. Even the placement of the Nike Air logo on the apparel suggests to me a what-the-heck, just-plonk-it-here approach. If Nike’s pairing with Kim Jones can’t yield even a fraction of the design savvy in the former’s own truly appealing and often fascinating Nikelab or the ACG (All Conditions Gear) line, they should really not bother. Nike—and all of us—deserves better.

Photo: Nike

Must Fashion Use Religious Iconography To Be Cool?

Or is it, as usual, a lapse in the simple process called thought?

First it was Rihanna and now it’s Supreme. The skate brand that apparently can do no wrong has taken upon themselves to use the image of one of Thailand’s most revered monks on the back a camouflaged shirt, described in their website as ‘Blessings Ripstop Shirt’ (above). The icon is of the monk Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, a well-loved figure, who died in 2015, aged 91. According to media reports, Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, as well as Wat Ban Rai, the famed Nakhon Ratchasima temple with an elephant-head facade, in which the revered monk was based, asserted that Supreme made no contact with either regarding the use of the image, as well as the sacred text around it. Supreme, as it appeared, made no attempt to be respectful.

It isn’t clear how the use of clearly religious figures and scripts enhances Supreme’s design potency. Their designers—too indolent to research or understand—probably found the effect of the visuals exotic. But for the many in Thailand and outside, who hold the late monk in deep reverence, what Supreme has done is akin to sacrilege. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon, even in death, is deeply venerated and is almost synonymous with Wat Ban Rai, where there is a museum dedicated to his life and teachings. While his image has been used for charitable purposes, for example, it is unthinkable in Thailand to employ it, even stylised, in such a commercial manner, in particular against a camouflage background, one associated with war. Luang Pho Khun Parisutthon is not Che Guevara.

Is nothing off-limits? Apparently not.

Just days earlier, Rihanna caused an uproar among the Hindu communities of the world when she posted on her Instagram page a photo (so inappropriate, we wouldn’t run it here) of herself totally topless, except for a folded left arm, placed to offer a modicum of modesty, and a host of jewellery to provide fashion interest, among them a pendant of the Hindu god Lord Ganesha. This sat provocatively on her belly button, under a length of tattoo that underscores her breasts. The photo appeared barely a week after reports of Rihanna jointly “pausing” her Fenty fashion line with LVMH. To generate more publicity? It seems that because the torso tattoo is of the Egyptian god Isis (inked, as reported, to honour the singer-in-haitus’s grandmother), Riri thought it was okay to go with Lord Ganesha, totally ignoring the fact that for the 1.2 billion Hindus in the world, he is highly venerable. Or has veneration and respect totally lost their meaning?

Apparently yes.

Photo: supremenewyork.com

Not Too Many Pockets

Now that the use of masks are mandatory, there really should be a way to keep them, including those set aside as spares, and those removed temporarily. Nikelab ACG has a jacket that solves the storage problem

 

Nikelab @ DSMS vestNikelab ACG vest. Photo: Nike/DSMS

By Ray Zhang

With increase and compulsory mask use, I found myself with one problem: I do not have a dedicated space to keep them when I am out, but not necessarily about, since I do not think the time is right to be gallivanting. Yet. I always like bringing a spare mask, in case the one I am wearing gets wet (the weather, for example, is so unpredictable) or when I have the misfortune of encountering someone who coughs into my face. And when I remove my mask to eat or drink at, say, the food court, I like to put it away in a proper and clean place; none of the below-the-chin, through-the forearm, or on-the-lap deployments. I usually bring along a Ziplock bag—two, in fact (one for clean masks, one for used masks)—but for those who use fancy fabric masks, a plastic case just won’t do.

Sure, some expensive masks brands offer storage bags that can be purchased separately, such as those by the streetwear-ish brand Profound, favoured by Zayn Malik, Kendrik Lemar, even Rihanna. But I do not know if the expense is warranted. I like a pouch pocket attached to something I can wear and is within easy reach. You can, therefore, understand why I was smitten by this Nike ACG vest at first sight.

This all-nylon gilet with mesh lining comes with an amazing number of highly usable pockets: five. They come in four different sizes, and each of them has zippered opening for additional security. I am also attracted to the triangular carabiner on the the outer corner of the bottom right pocket. For those who prefer to have their mask hanging, this is a good option (there is also an additional carabiner in the interior of the bottom pocket on the left). Additionally, I find the colour-blocking especially fetching—a bi-coloured body of top-half in black and bottom-half in white and the pockets in beige. It helps, too, that the utility vest is on trend, but that is never, to me, a priority. 😷

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nikelab ACG vest, SGD189, is available at DSMS and online, as well as at nike.com