Why BAPE London Is Now The Go To Destination For International Artists

Jesse Williams

By Jesse Williams

Jesse Williams

5 Dec 2023

For anyone getting into streetwear BAPE is very likely one of the first brands that piqued your interest. From it’s origins in the early 90s ura-Harajuku scene of Japan, iconic designs like their signature camo print, shark hoodie and the BABY MILO mascot have meant A BATHING APE has held a continued presence within the culture, even after 30 years.

But one of the most interesting and enduring parts of the BAPE story is the relationship the brand has established with artists globally with some of it’s biggest co-signs coming from Hip Hop artists like Biggie, Pharrell and the Teriyaki Boyz, Lil Wayne and Soulja Boy.

Back in 2021 A BATHING APE finally set up shop in London and the Mayfair location has become the go to destination for domestic and international artists alike seeing Polo G, Lil Tecca, Lola Brooke, Rae Sremmurd, Headie One, Unknown T and many more pass through the store.

We sat down with their EU director Adrien Kunz-Aubert to discuss how BAPE London achieved this bond, their 30th anniversary and what the future looks like!

Bape has a long and rich history of collaborating with artists, especially in hip hop. We’ve seen everyone from Biggie, the Teriyaki Boyz, Pharrell, Pusha T and Lil Wayne wear it. Then you have Soulja Boy, which was the big one for my generation. What do you think, has allowed BAPE to interest multiple generations of artists?

I think the generation part when you see people growing up like yourself. People saw Soulja Boy and ten years later became artists. And it keeps rolling like a snowball effect. The good thing is that we’re not doing the same thing as everyone else, which in a way allows us to be more free. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, when it comes down to a lot of things. We want people to interact and play with us. Where we’re going now basically, we still want to build this connection. Until now we only had big names. What we’re trying to build in Europe, is find the balance between the big names and the upcoming names. Always keep in mind that an artist that’s starting now, in five years time could be the next Biggie or could be nobody. But we still want to be like, hey, you know what, from the beginning, we’d like to try to support you and do things with you. A lot of artists are like, I’ll wear your product if you pay me. We don’t pay, because we want people to genuinely like the brand. And we’re not paying. We don’t have to pay anyone.

How would you say artist relationships with the brand have changed in recent years?

Bape in Europe we’re quite young. We first opened one store in London, very small store and people were gravitating but there was nothing special. And then we opened this store. My role is first, understand how people view the brand. So we did an event and actually, I was amazed to see all those up and coming artists, especially with the UK being so vibrant when it comes down to music for the past two years post pandemic, I mean the creativity in London blew. It’s proven. You had rappers that 10 years ago or 20 years ago, we’re not big in the US. Now you have Dave, Central Cee, Skepta. So a combination of that is to see what up and coming artists like M Huncho, Headie One who like the brand, why is that? When we bring them here, they’re always happy. As mentioned earlier Bape is all about energy, positive energy. If people come with an attitude and being rude to other people you’re not part of the family.

And as you mentioned, you know, it’s very hip hop. And actually, I want to extend to other genres. Not saying we’re gonna go to classical music, and I love that. But it’s a bit like, you know, there’s artists that were doing a bit of rock, hard rock, hip hop, mixing everything, jazz. You see a lot of artists in the hip hop industry that it’s not about rap, but it’s about all the other genres of hip hop. And that’s the thing I liked more to work more towards

One of the best albums is the Linkin Park Jay Z album. Music that had nothing to do with each other but the way they mix and it turns out to be so fucking amazing. And that’s the thing when people feel like maybe I was not thinking about that but actually, yeah, it makes sense because there’s so much differences happening.

I remember when I was younger, trying to get into streetwear, BAPE wasn’t really accessible in the UK. If you wanted to buy BAPE in London you basically only had Selfridges or End. What was the importance for the brand to become more accessible in the UK?

I think there’s a bit of education we have to do, you know, tell our brand story. Tell more about why BAPE exists. That’s something we haven’t done yet, not enough. Prior to my arrival, there was no GM in Europe. There’s no GM in the UK. There was nobody to drive what the brand can be in the UK and Europe. Now, when it comes down to where do you go to find the products at the end of the day, the magic happens here in the store, so of course, you can find it in Selfridges, you can find it in End clothing, Flannels, Browns in Ireland. But again, the magic happens here. So we’re always going to ensure that we have the product that people are looking after, in the store here. 

One thing that always stood out to me with BAPE was that you really curate and try to make shopping an experience. You have multiple floors catering to all types of audiences. Why do you place an importance on giving people an experience when they come into a store? 

Well first of all, we’re a Japanese brand. So when it comes down to services, the way we put out product is very different from any other Western brands. That’s one. The other thing is that and it’s still a lot of work that we have ahead of us is that we have A BATHING APE which is the main name and under a Bathing Ape, we have BABY MILO and APEE, which are targeted to women, BAPE Black, which is a much more mature audience. And then we have BAPE versus Mastermind. So actually, we don’t have one brand, we have different brands. And we have to be able to communicate on those brands.I think it is a bit more storytelling, education that we have to do. So as you can imagine, a lot of work, which is fine. 

Location is also an important factor in storytelling. This part of London is one of the cultural hubs of the city. 

So you have in Tokyo a neighbourhood called Harajuku, which is where you have all the pink, candy, cool fashion people. People go there take pictures. But it varies from what we call ura-Harajuku which is like the backside. It’s mostly on the side streets. So we’re never on the main street, we’re always on the side or the backstreet in a way. And so we’ve been like okay with this in mind, that’s what we want to do. If you look at the store, we’re between Bond Street and Regent Street so we’re not on the main street. We’re never going to on a main street but always going to be on the side street. Because we know that people will be looking for us.

It’s funny you say that because over there you’ve got Patta, Supreme, Palace etc and on the other side you’ve got LV and all those kinds of stores. But you guys are like almost in the middle of them.

Yeah, because we don’t want to be categorised as oh you’re a skater brand or you’re streetwear or that luxury, we’re not luxury, but we are in between. And I think that’s something that not many brands can’t say, in terms of brand position, and product position. If you look historically speaking, we were among the first ones to do Medicom Bearbricks, right? To mix artists, like contemporary artists, or graffiti artists with fashion, we’re among the first one to build a streetwear collaboration streetwear brand with a high power house like Rimowa and Fendi in the past. And we’re from Japan. So everything that comes from Japan is different. So we have to keep that. 

You had your first runway show for the 30th anniversary. Lil Baby walked. Do you feel like that was a natural evolution for the brand to enter the runway scene?

So the one we did in New York was part of our big picture. So it was about showing that streetwear as we know it is still from the US in New York, and Tokyo, we did the more traditional show. Because yeah, we wanted to, you know, to show to people everything that we have. And we’re going to have potentially another one. We’re not going to do all fashion shows, all fashion weeks but we feel that we want to show to people that you have your eye on a BAPE, this is what BAPE is doing. The feedback has been very positive. Even though we have work to do to polish the show, I think they also allowed us to show that, you know, these are the things this is the direction we’re going.

You guys had Headie One and K Trap down here for a meet and greet . How did that go?

It was good. We had this also with Lil Tecca. We have a lot of artists coming. We work with NOBO, we work with other people. It’s part of interacting with them and them interacting with us and the best way to do that is in our store. If you’re able to see your artists, the one that you want to buy their album or anything and they do a signature in our store. Great because it makes sense. 

One of the last campaigns you guys did was with Sainte. You guys are now placing a real importance on capturing these kinds of artists rather than just the mega superstars.

I’ll tell you something that is super simple. Sainte is nice. Not only is he super talented, but he’s nice. Creatively speaking, you know, his music is not a copy paste of what had been done. He’s original. And whether you’re big or not, again, if you bring the good energy, and the shooting we did with him was super good, super easy. And with all the artists up and coming we want to build. So that’s on the music side. But as I mentioned, we also want to work with more and more contemporary artists. From the London scene, from the Paris scene, from the Milan scene, from the Berlin scene, from the Amsterdam scene, from any scene in Europe, because I think that’s where the energy we never really tap in to. 

A slight pivot from music and more towards the world of sport. You dropped the kit with Inter Miami and you guys were also in the basement cup. Why would you say you guys have decided to move more into the world of football?

Well, football, sports in general, I think we’re going to do more and more. I’ll tell you what, there’s one thing that people understand but we as a brand, we never really tap into, is community. Inter Miami was a great opportunity. It was very fortunate for us to have Messi and winning the cup. We didn’t plan on that. Otherwise, it would have been very good. But the thing is we want to create product that you really enjoy, whether it’s for football, American football, baseball, ice hockey. 

And we were late to the game to be honest. We were supposed to do the Basement last year. But it was too much for the last minute. This year we had more time. The way the Basement works, they’re super good. And whether we can do a collaboration with them in the future, is something that we’ll be discussing with, and also with other brands because again, it’s London. If you have a store somewhere you have to be part of the community to become a destination, if you go to your favourite coffee place, if you go to this restaurant that just opened in you go that was your friend, or what Slawn did with Beau Beau’s. You know, it’s a destination, people go there, because there’s something happening. I think that’s where I want to take the brand and the store, like, if something happened, it has to happen here. 

You guys have had massive moments in the 90s, 2000s and 2010s. But like other iconic brands you guys have to deal with the nostalgia label. In 2023 and looking forward, how do you guys see the future for Bape?

So the good thing is that our customer goes from 12-year-old to 45 years old, more than 45. There’s one thing that has been missing, we’ve been doing a lot of collaborations and we’ve been reducing in Europe the number of collaborations. In my ideal world people look at BAPE doing something with this brand or this designer and are like ‘yeah, that makes sense, I’ve never thought about that before’. So in that regard that’s why we want to tap into as many people from different genres. 

I think the reason why people will have their eye on the brand is because they’ll say I was looking for, hoping for something like this takes time. We’re not as fast as some of the young brands. But local brands like Corteiz, Broken Planet, Daily Paper Their team is here so they can decide whatever. Our creative team is in Asia. Our job is to inform them about why Corteiz is so amazing. The last two years the UK has been booming with a lot of artists and that’s why we’re so happy to be here instead of many other cities. The young energy that you have here is incredible. 

Lastly, what do you guys have in store for the rest of the year?

We have a few products coming with brands very well implemented in the UK. We are celebrating our second anniversary of the store, so we’re gonna have a special collection coming. Also a new store in the UK and we’re trying to get some artists in to do a full collection, not just two or three pieces, a full collection.