Nigo - Dj, fashion man and friends with Pharrell
The interest that became a way of life
Growing up in Maebashi north of Tokyo, Nigo developed a keen interest in music - especially hip-hop music. Nigo regularly went to Tokyo to buy records, and by the time he turned 16, he had saved up to buy a DJ setup.
It was not only the music that interested the young Nigo. He was also interested in culture and especially the maturity of hip-hop culture. As the big hip hop fan he was, Nigo tried to imitate the style of his heroes on the album covers he had at home. The big late 1980s and early 1990s hip-hoppers and rappers like Public Enemy, LL Cool J and legendary Beastie Boys became leading icons of Nigo’s clothing style.
Both the music and the interest in fashion would eventually turn out to be a lucrative way of life for the Japanese with the many interests (and talents) that also turned out to have a sense of business. More on business acumen later.
His interest in fashion led to Nigo graduating from Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. Sure, Nigo got a design education here on paper, but he has stated in later interviews that his real education took place at the nightclubs where he DJed. An occupation he drove next to the studios. Nigo's interest in music and his abilities as a DJ led him to become a member of the group Teriyaki Boyz - they are the ones who made the soundtrack to "Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift".
In connection with some of his DJ gigs, Nigo met Jun Takahashi, who also DJed (Jun also turns out to know something about clothes, and he later founded the brand Undercover). And here it's starting to get a little convoluted, so keep your tongue straight in your mouth. Before we continue with the adventure Nigo and Jun are embarking on, we just need to introduce another significant person - Hiroshi Fujiwara.
Hiroshi Fujiwara is the man behind the iconic Japanese brand Fragment (who recently made the design by Nike Dunk High x Fragment Design Beijing). Fujiwara recognizes Nigo's distinct talent shortly after graduating from Bunka Fashion College, and Nigo becomes Fujiwara's assistant.
The two are therefore often seen together, and they are said to have resembled each other so much that this is where Tomoaki Nagao's nickname originated - Nigo simply means "number 2". So Nigo because people thought Nagao looked like Fujiwara's double.
The reason why Hujiwara is relevant to mention, in addition to being the reason for Nigo's nickname, is that in his role as Nigo's teacher, he helps Nigo and Jun establish the store "Nowhere" in 1993. "Nowhere" was quite groundbreaking for his time . The store was a niche store that sold a curated and carefully selected range of internationally recognized streetwear and sneakers from Adidas and Nike. In 1993, streetwear was a thing of the past in the United States, but it was a very new phenomenon in Japan - not to mention sneaker culture. It may be hard to imagine today, but there was not at all an interest- and fashion-based consumerism around what at the time was simply perceived as sports and rubber shoes.
Something that makes "Nowhere" even more interesting is that clothes of their own design were also sold in the store. It was in connection with the store "Nowhere" that the brand A Bathing Ape also known as BAPE first saw the light of day.
The iconic camouflage pattern that became a good deal
A Bathing Ape was originally called "A Bathing Ape in Luke Warm Water". The name is reminiscent of the Japanese macaques that live in the Japanese mountains and that stay warm and survive by overwintering in hot springs. But as you may have also thought when you read it, the name became a bit too long and a bit convoluted to pronounce, so it was abbreviated to A Bathing Ape, which can then once again be abbreviated to BAPE.
The first product BAPE launched was the shoe model Bapesta, which today has become an icon. Bapesta is very similar in its visual identity to the Nike Air Force, but instead of Nike's swoosh, Bapesta has a star that ends in a lightning bolt in the direction of the heel.
Many of A Bathing Ape's designs carry a special camouflage pattern. The pattern consists of a camouflage developed by Nigo. The camouflage pattern incorporates the monkey head, which is A Bathing Ape's logo. The colors may vary by style and collection, but they are combined in everything from classic green tones, red and purple colors to navy and light blue shades.
Recently, BAPE collaborated with Adidas on a Superstar in the classic green camouflage.
If you sit and think, "Have I not seen that camo pattern?", Then you have actually seen it before. Stars like Kanye West, Lil Wayne and Pharrell have all loved BAPE and worn it on many occasions. This has helped to position BAPE within the rap and hip hop culture, and with such prominent figures as users of the clothing, its popularity exploded.
Before the above-mentioned stars became interested in the brand BAPE, Nigo made a strategic maneuver that might have just helped to open the stars' eyes to the brand.
Now to that with business acumen.
BAPE started by implementing a sales strategy that has later been seen in major reputable brands such as Supreme. The strategy is to offer a smaller percentage of goods than the market actually demands, and thereby you can create a hype. In the "Nowhere" days, BAPE started out by offering the market only a paltry 10% of what it knew the demand was. So it was extremely difficult to get your fingers in the coveted products.
Over time, however, the number of distributors increased, but in 1998 Nigo again made an ingenious strategic decision when he once again made it difficult to procure the clothes. At that time, BAPE was sold in 40 different stores in Japan, and Nigo decided to drop the collaboration with all of them to sell the clothes exclusively in BAPE's own concept store in Tokyo. Just so rare and thus exclusive designs later made it interesting for internationally recognized stars.
But everything has an end. After some years of financial disability, Nigo sold 90% of BAPE to the Hong Kong company IT. They now sat on the majority of the company, and could make decisions. IT did not have the same approach to things as Nigo - they did not see the identity of the brand and the cultural aspects - they only wanted to make money. IT sold BAPE to many stores, still very reputable stores, but over time a significantly larger number than before. BAPE became a brand for the masses, more than it was for the few dedicated. As a result, over time, Nigo could no longer see himself in the business, and in 2013, he completely withdrew from BAPE and sold the last 10% off.
The many interests
In addition to his interest in music and his interest in fashion, both of which were to prove to be Nigo's way of life, he also developed a great interest in art.
In 1996, Nigo met the artist KAWS (who you can also read an article about in this issue of qUINT Mag), and became one of the first to support his art.
His close connection with KAWS was seriously expressed in connection with Nigo's final departure from BAPE in 2013. When Nigo announced the final termination, he did so with a work by KAWS. The work depicts Bart Simpson, portrayed in classic KAWS aesthetics, placing Nigo in a tomb dug in the garden in front of the Simpson family's house.
But Nigo's adventures in the fashion industry did not stop at the departure of BAPE. Since 2005, in collaboration with his friend, Pharrell Williams (yes, that Pharrell), he has designed and sold clothing under the BBC brand, Billionaire Boys Club. They also have the IceCream shoe brand together.
Most recently in 2014, Nigo founded the clothing brand HUMAN MADE, which he still runs today.
The interest in fashion has thus hung on and is still a way of life for Nigo. And quite generally, one can say that Nigo has managed to turn his interests into a livelihood. There was the interest in music, the interest in fashion, the interest in art - it has all led to a collection of various things associated with the different cultures in each interest - overall, it can well be considered an extremely well-developed popular culture.
Today, Nigo has a kind of "laboratory" from which he works. Moreover, this is where he keeps his collections; old Levi’s jeans and denim jackets, vintage clothing, jewelry and KAWS figures. In addition, he has a collection of Star Wars merchandise, which in 2016 was valued by auction house Sotheby’s at a staggering $ 250,000.
Nigo is a man of many facets, and one can spend a long time nerding his skill and work. If you have not had enough in this article, there are many exciting and informative videos with and around Nigo on YouTube, especially Complex has made several exciting interviews with him. It's just getting started, maybe you could learn a trick or two from him if you yourself go with a little design dream in your stomach?