A Bathing Ape is the most iconic brand in streetwear. Though fans of Supreme may argue this fact, it is just that: a fact. The “House That Nigo Built” has been influencing street culture, and a long line of imitators and off-shoots like Billionaire Boys Club, for over 21 years. A whole book could be written about the brand’s history: how it grew from a single storefront named Nowhere in the Harajuku area of Shibuya, into a global powerhouse in the mid-’00s when Pharrell and Kanye brought the brand into the US market – and how a Hong Kong-based fashion group named I.T snapped it up in 2011 for the embarrassingly tiny sum of $2.8 million.
Another book could be written about the arc of BAPE’s popularity and why the label blew up in Japan, took American hip hop by storm, then fought a third wind of popularity in China at the close of the 2000’s. But if you follow streetwear at all, you already know much of this story. What we’re interested in here is what, we would argue, is one of the main reasons behind BAPE’s success: the proliferation of its characters Ape and Milo and all the places the characters have gone through collaborations through the brand’s history.
If you need a refresher on the history of BAPE, however, watch the video that the label did to celebrate its 20th anniversary:
A Bathing Ape 20th History Movie
The BAPE Collaborative Process
We talk a lot about collaborations here at SlamXHype, it’s kind of thing, and what we see from most brand when they collaborate is that they take each of their brand’s aesthetic and put it together to create a new, unique product that appeals to both of their fan bases. But for BAPE this process is different. Yes, they do the good, old fashioned collab thing where the BAPE camo design gets plastered on a partner’s product. A search through Hypebeast‘s BAPE archives will show you about a million examples of this and the BAPE camo really has been plastered on just about anything and everything from jackets, hoodies and iPhone cases to canvases, RBRICK bears and end chairs.
But what BAPE does with its characters is far more interesting.
Ape and Milo
A Bathing Ape’s flagship character, Ape, is born of the 1968 film Planet of the Apes and is a pseudo-sillouette of a muscular monkey done in low resolution. Milo is Ape’s playful cartoon counterpart (sort of like a little brother). Since their creation, both characters have bounced around the world of streetwear, appearing as guests on more labels’ clothing than any other characters in the space. They’ve been on the face of G-Shock watches, the front of Pepsi cans, on the chest of charitable tees … the list goes on.
But there is a difference between their respective travels: where Ape finds himself simply transposed onto various products, Milo (and his apparently even younger brother Baby Milo) has a far more varied and interactive personality. Basically he makes friends with everyone. SpongeBob SquarePants, Hello Kitty, Street Fighter, even the heroes of Marvel’s universe and Nintendo have all appeared with him on t-shirts. He appeared as a baby jesus in the arms of A$AP Ferg for Bape’s Trap Lord collaboration. He got a dissection treatment thanks to KAWS, who’s vinyl depictions of Milo probably deserve their own article. Milo has worn every type of hat, costume and color-skin imaginable, and his cartoon design itself has inspired countless artists. Pharrell appeared as a Milo-esque cartoon on the cover of his 2006 solo album In My Mind. Kid Cudi, Snoop Lion and even Kreayshawn have been Milo-ized.
Streetwear continues to be obsessed with these characters, even after Nigo’s departure from A Bathing Ape. And that’s why they’ve appeared on almost every important label’s clothing at one point or another; everyone wants a piece of the Ape and Milo action.