“Makise Riho’s Boyfriend”

We can’t help but make some comments on A Bathing Ape (Bape)’s T-shirts for the annual Nihon Television telethon “24-Hour Television.” This collaboration was certainly the most effective tool for cementing Bape’s image as a mass market brand in Japan, and the charity work gave that iconic simian logo huge promotion among the grandpas and grandmas that make up the bulk of Japan’s viewing public. This unprecedented union of street fashion and variety TV seemed to bring immediate results: The telethon T-shirts have already raised ¥420 million for some lucky environmental concerns. (At ¥1400, the T’s may have been the cheapest BAPE shirts ever made outside of a creaky factory in godforsaken regions of mainland Asia.) Whether in support or mockery, everyone was talking about A Bathing Ape last week, reflected in fashion blog Elastic giving A Bathing Ape a spot on their “Mote Brand” list for late 2007.

Looking at Bape’s recent 2007 Spring/Summer Collection magazine, I realized that the label does not necessarily seek to shun the underground to make peace with the masses. Nigo really just wants to appeal to everyone everywhere with every possible kind of celebrity: models, American rappers, third-rate comedians, wrestlers, and indie musicians. Total inclusiveness, however, is quite literally the exact opposite of exclusivity, and selling 300,000 yellow Ape face T-shirts in a single week to anyone with a TV set and the internet and enough money for three beers probably doesn’t have a positive effect on the more premier pieces in the Bape line.

Ironically, Nigo’s greatest achievement with the Japanese public may still have more to do with his love life than his fashion empire. In this Yahoo! News article on the success of the “24 Hour TV” shirts, Nigo is introduced first and foremost as boyfriend to idol Makise Riho and the second as a fashion designer. As much as his critics paint him as a part of the establishment, he clearly has some ways to go before being a real mass market icon who needs no introduction through his belle.

This article originally appeared on the Diamond Agency blog clast.

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8 Responses to ““Makise Riho’s Boyfriend””

  1. Adamu Says:

    I want one of those shirts! Does that make me “among the grandpas and grandmas that make up the bulk of Japan’s viewing public”??

    Wild theory: The only people I have seen wearing this shirt in public were 20 somethings in the Harajuku area. Could it be that this move is simply part of Nigo’s charitable spirit that will not effect his street cred? I mean, does being “underground” in Japan have to mean being “counterculture” as well? Or is association with Kin-chan and that smiling softball girl as poisonous as it seems?

    I say this because these shirts look almost exactly the same as the yellow “We love the king” shirts worn by just about every single Thai person last year upon the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol’s accession. I mean *everyone* wore these things, including the hip kids in Siam Square (Thailand’s Harajuku) and the proceeds from that were also donated to charity. The statement made by wearing those shirts was basically one of patriotism and solidarity, so I wonder if theres something similar (if much less powerful) being attempted here.

  2. Joseph K Says:

    Out in Tokorozawa the evening it began, there were quite a few people wearing it – including a large number of old folks.

    Haven’t seen it since!

    I was a bit amused that when I made an attempt to watch a bit of it, I got the channel confused with another, where all the shows had yellow shirts, but they’d changed the bape to various other pictures. I figured the bape must have been purely a promo item for the ads and kept watching. Switched cgannels later, and it was the bape logo that clued me in that I was watching the real thing now…

  3. W. David Marx Says:

    “The only people I have seen wearing this shirt in public were 20 somethings in the Harajuku area. ”

    In the 90s when Bape was still on the exclusivity tip, the brand was consumed by the same people as it is now. But I think the myth of the brand was much different than now because of the marketing style. Would a brand that started out its public life as a telethon collaborator find such favor overseas, for example?

  4. Adamu Says:

    I guess not – you dont see pirated PBS totebags everywhere (though they are pretty exclusive)

    But one more point – I have to say I was literally shocked to see BAPE logos plastered over what is essentially similar to Good Morning America. When I first came to Japan (and even now I guess) you could just catch fleeting glimpses of the logo on cool people and the stores they shop at. It was real confusion – something did not belong

  5. Antonin Says:

    I’m sooo going to get this T shirt.

  6. Leonard Chin Says:

    Actually, the top spot on Elastic’s “Mote Brand” prediction list is effectively meaningless. Look a little closer, and you’ll realise that it is actually in approximately kana order. Look closer again, and dale actually mentions how it is 競馬風 – he’s just lining up brands like race horses. dale’s real predictions are below marked with the typical circle-triangle-cross.

    Not to say that BAPE isn’t attracting attention, of course.

  7. Brad Says:

    When I was watching the 24 Hour Television telethon, there was a segment that took Kuroki Hitomi out into the wilds of Fukuoka. She was wearing one of the shirts and encountered some middle school/high school girls. They saw her shirt and said “What is that, a gorilla?” They had no idea what it was. I thought that was funny.

  8. pete Says:

    The only person I’ve seen with one is my wife’s mom. She is in her 60s and snagged one when the crew stopped by to do a couple minutes of the telethon live from Shiga ken. Of course mom had no idea why there was a gorilla on the shirt, but we assured her that it was a hip name brand logo.