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How Japanese streetwear brand BAPE blends hip-hop with iconic fashion

Japanese streetwear brand BAPE recently released its latest hip-hop collaboration collection with Kid Cudi, who is one of many artists who have gotten to collaborate with Nigo, the brand's iconic founder.  – Photo by Bape US / Instagram

Japanese fashion designer Tomoaki Nagao, better known as Nigo, is renowned for being the founder and creative director of the Japanese streetwear brand A Bathing Ape, which is commonly referred to as BAPE.

Since its founding in 1993, BAPE has established itself a cult-like following in Japan which allowed it to cross over to the U.S. market, making itself into one of the most iconic streetwear brands.

In the early 2000s, BAPE was one of the most coveted fashion brands in the entire world, and Nigo’s position in the fashion industry allowed him to collaborate with artists like Pharrell Williams and Hiroshi Fujiwara, to name a few. These collaborations have allowed him to illustrate his creative influences and artistry in unique ways and showcase his wide array of influences and inspirations. 

Nigo is closely linked with American artist KAWS, who utilizes distinct characters and motifs throughout his work. KAWS got his start as a New York City-based graffiti artist and would tag various buildings and advertisements with his artwork.

These two creatives have been collaborating in the fashion industry for years, and their pieces are typically both extremely limited and sought after by streetwear enthusiasts. KAWS x A Bathing Ape “Crazy Camo” Hoodie is their first major collaboration that uses BAPE’s signature camo print, and its use of the gorilla logo promoted both artists’ work to a larger and more enthusiastic audience.

Additionally, the KAWS x A Bathing Ape “Eyes” Bapesta borrows from the iconic sneaker design of the Nike Air Force 1s, but it features each artists' signature work. The X’s near the heel of the shoe is a distinct visual style of KAWS, and the star replacing Nike’s usual swoosh is commonly associated with Nigo and Bapestas. 

One of Nigo's most important rapper/streetwear collaborations, Kid Cudi x BAPE collaboration illustrates Nigo’s lifelong love for hip-hop. In fact, Nigo used to be a part of the Japanese rap group Teriyaki Boyz and is also an extensive collector of pop culture memorabilia.

What makes this collaboration even more memorable was how it was a full circle moment for Kid Cudi, who was a former BAPE employee and worked at the brand’s Soho flagship store for years before his rap career took off.

The t-shirts use BAPE's Baby Milo imagery and have established a long-standing relationship between Kid Cudi and BAPE that continues to this day. 

Rapper Kanye West only partnered with BAPE once, but the resulting sneaker became one of the most iconic streetwear collaborations ever. The 2007 Kanye West College Dropout Bapestas was Kanye’s first sneaker collaboration ever and is a homage to the Dropout Bear who is on his first three album covers.

The bear graphic on the heel and the brown and red color scheme are permanent staples of Kanye’s image and influence. The lack of his name on the shoe allows the art to speak for itself. These shoes sell for thousands of dollars, and is incredibly unique, as it is the only official collaboration between these two artists.

BAPE’s keen eye for collaboration is a signature part of their brand, and these collaborations have elevated BAPE to become one of the most celebrated and successful streetwear companies of all time.

Many fashion collaborations constantly feel like a money-grab between two corporate entities, but Nigo’s blending of hip-hop and fashion makes his collaborations feel both genuine and personal. The artists he works with are people he has admired and loved for years, and this shows in the appeal of his creations and the impact they have on American streetwear culture.

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