With over 20 years under its belt, Japanese streetwear legends A Bathing Ape have put their mark on two vintage icons: camouflage and the tigermouth (which we covered a few weeks back). BAPE’s spin on this classic pattern has solidified its place as a staple in streetwear, and as a go-to lyric for your favorite rappers.
But long before BAPE’s take on it, camouflage has been in a staple in many closets because of its bold and utilitarian design. Throwing a layer of camo into the fit isn’t a new thing. Since the late 1960’s, camouflage has been more or less on trend with civilians and non-hunters. Much of the crazy started after the Vietnam War, when the now coveted Tigerstripe camouflage pattern was designed for close-range utilization in the dense jungles in the Republic of Vietnam. This style was take on an even older pattern, the French tenue de leópard which was created in the 1950’s.
After the war, surplus tigerstripe jackets and boonie hats found their way out into the world on the backs of hippies, bikers, Vets, and for whatever reason, into the Japanese markets. As Americana and heritage style became a standard in Japanese streetwear, many Japanese brands put their spin on the classic tigerstripe pattern. Back in the pre-Internet days, (the 1990’s) designer Tetsu Nishiyama, aka TET started the brand WTAPS, which had a heavy Vietnam-era aesthetic to it.
Neighborhood, another legendary Japanese company, was started in 1994 by Shinsuke Takizawa. Among Takizawa’s influences was US counterculture and biker culture, which leaned heavily on the surplus Vietnam-era tigerstripe pieces.
During this same era, Nigo started A Bathing Ape in 1993. Part of their early offerings included the now infamous BAPE Camo design which features the Ape Head logo dotted throughout a brighter came pattern. While the BAPE design is indeed feature a military green, the origins are less Vietnam-inspired and more modified duck hunt camouflage.
Nigo’s pieces made their way overseas to end up on America’s OG streetwear heads—rappers. Believe it or not, Pharrell wasn’t the first to be caught out in an Ape Head camo design. While Pharrell has long been associated with BAPE, early coverage of the pattern was seen on Bedford-Stuyverson’s finest MC, and that is of course the Notorious B.I.G.
Back in 1997, Biggie was wearing Nigo’s brand a mere four years after he launched it, which shows both Nigo and Biggie were ahead of their time.
Now, the Ape Head pattern is synonymous with BAPE x [insert brand here]. A brand has definitely made it to the top when the pattern is put on their product, with sneakers being one of the biggest aspects. The first was the OG Bapesta:
More recent collaborators include Puma and Reebok.
Of course, you don’t have to wait around for the next BAPE x whoever drop. Like minded individualizes in the custom sneaker game have been putting out their own Ape Head x Angelus Direct paint collabs for a long time now.