The Last Days Of Disco
It's all happening at Wonderwall's new Tokyo shop for the street-wear label A Bathing Ape
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 4/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
A Bathing Ape, the cult street-wear label based in Tokyo, has gone through more permutations than a hip-hop mix. For starters, call it BAPE for short—the contraction you'll find not only on minimally cool boutiques in places from Hong Kong and Taiwan to London and New York but also on a café and two record labels. Then there's the BAPE Kids line.
Amid all the high-end hoodies, rarefied sneakers, and hipster haircuts—a frenzy of urban gear and brand extensions—Wonderwall principal Masamichi Katayama has remained a master of attention-deficit control. He's completed over 50 projects for BAPE alone, bringing clarity to interiors while injecting a dose of edgy humor. At his latest BAPE location, in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district, a high-low blend of restraint and irony conspire to bolster the brand. "It's a compilation of BAPE history," Katayama says of the 4,200-square-foot space. "It embodies a pop sensibility as well as a luxurious feel."
With Katayama, contemporary luxury means spare gestures, refined materials, and rectilinear lines. Consider the flawless expanse of the Carrara marble floor. Or the precise grid of aluminum panels cladding the facade. Still, cold geometry this is not. Emblazoned on those panels, an enormous iteration of BAPE's familiar ape graphic, a logo borrowed from Planet of the Apes, screams "Go! Ape" in a neon-outlined cartoon-style bubble. "I associate going shopping with going to an amusement park," Katayama says. "You don't just shop. You have fun."
Shibuya is something of an amusement park itself, with its bright lights and high-energy vibe. "I was very much inspired by the district," Katayama says. Bringing the dazzle inside—in a characteristically ordered way—his entry pulses like a disco floor. The broad steps down and the walls on either side are a giant grid of tempered-glass squares that, together, flash multicolored LED patterns. Sometimes they mimic the video game Tetris. Other times it's that BAPE name again. Needless to say, it's all in the service of selling more product. Beneath the clear glass panels at the top of the stairs, conveyer belts shuttle the latest must-have sneakers under customers' feet.
Katayama has used conveyer belts for BAPE before—witty tropes for the endless loop of consumerism. Other ironic devices have become signatures as well. As in earlier locations, the Shibuya store features custom "deli" cases that contain T-shirts instead of T-bone steaks. A common fixture is transformed into an immaculate vitrine, lending the merchandise a sheen of tongue-in-cheek preciousness, while Katayama ensures continuity across his BAPE oeuvre.
The Shibuya store, which is roughly rectangular in plan, gains subtlety from what Katayama calls "behind the scenes" lighting. Both fluorescent and incandescent fixtures, installed in and near display niches, bathe bags and still more sneakers in near-religious aureoles, and strip lighting runs around the base of the glass partitions that wall off the two menswear sections. Applied to the glass, white film mimics a squiggly BAPE camouflage pattern, one of Katayama's "references to the brand's visual language," he says. Meanwhile, BAPE plaids in brown and red colorways cover accent walls and run along the ceilings of corridors, which both define the periphery of the store and bisect it.
Certainly no Zen temple, the BAPE store is a temple to the brand. To get the full impact, just walk into one of the two glass-box men's sections, sit down on the round white bench in the center, and look up. Directly overhead floats a huge backlit capital letter R. It's the common symbol for registered trademarks, albeit on a celestial scale. "We intentionally made it big to be funny," Katayama says. A little monkey business goes a long way.