f you like to think of yourself as a fashionista when it comes to the hottest street style and pop culture, you probably already know of Nigo. As a designer with his finger on the pulse, Nigo brings the freshest looks to fashion-conscious shoppers from all four corners of the globe. So naturally, we want to get to know him a little better.
Often dubbed a visionary, a tastemaker or the god of culture, Nigo has carved a legacy for himself through decades of hard work, revolutionary designs and becoming the go-to designer for the most prominent hip-hop artists of the time. Before streetwear was even considered luxury, he was already doing it.
So, where did the inspiration to create brands that became synonymous with streetwear and the culture come from? As a devout hip-hop addict, much of his inspiration came from music. At 16, Nigo would venture into Tokyo to shop for the latest records at a shop called Cisco before saving up enough to buy his first set of turntables. Taking inspiration from the icons on the record sleeves, the aspiring DJ started dressing like his icons, including LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy.
Nigo, born Tomoaki Nagao began his fashion career at Tokyo’s seminal Bunka Fashion College. While studying at Bunka Fashion College, he swapped his sleepy hometown of Gunma for the neon lights, late-night bars and streets of Tokyo – here he found his real education. As he made connections and formed friendships, he met Jun Takahashi and the so-called “Godfather of Harajuku” Hiroshi Fujiwara.
Nigo later remarked that he learned “zero” from Bunka, crediting meeting Jun as the most important thing he took from his time at the college. With the help of Hiroshi, Nigo and Jun later went on to form NOWHERE.
How it all began
Adopting a tactic of rarity propelled the brand into success, with production runs only ever fulfilling 10 per cent of demand. A decision that would turn out to be an incredibly shrewd move. Fast forward a couple of years and the likes of Biggie and Mo.Wax’s James Lavelle were repping the brand; it became increasingly popular and rightly so. Thanks to revolutionary designs, exclusivity and the support of hip-hop legends, Nigo had truly earned his stripes in the fashion world.
The creation of the BAPE STA sneaker
With BAPE growing year on year, Nigo turned his attention to creating the BAPE STA, which would become a must-have for sneakerheads all over the world. While the word iconic is flung around too often in the fashion industry, there’s no denying BAPE influenced streetwear products for years to come.
Of course, any sneakerhead will be able to see several similarities between Nigo’s BAPE STA and Nike’s Air Force 1. The difference? The BAPE STA was ahead of its time in the early ’00s. While the Air Force 1 was originally a basketball shoe, Nigo had the foresight to pair the athletic silhouette with vivid colourways and features – something Nike had never done. As a result, Nigo had successfully created a streetwear must-have. So, while some may argue that the BAPE STA was a rip off of the classic Nike sneakers, many believe it was more of a nod of respect.
The end of an era
With the BAPE STA and the entire brand growing in popularity, Nigo would go on to collaborate with the likes of Pepsi and MAC.
In the early ’00s, a significant ally was Pharrell Williams. As Pharrell began to shape the face of hip-hop, his love of BAPE helped to grow the brand. As the pair became closer, they went on to launch two new brands, Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream. While these were official partnerships, Pharrell also became an unofficial brand ambassador for BAPE, as a slew of other rappers including Lil Wayne, A$AP Rocky and Kayne West followed suit.
As the years went on, despite the interest in the brand, it began to lose money. After selling 90% of the brand to Hong Kong’s I.T. in 2011 following nearly 20 years of success in the business, Nigo eventually exited the label in 2014.
Despite Nigo stepping away from BAPE in 2014, fans of his creative eye could still rock his ultra-cool designs. In 2010, not long before he sold BAPE to I.T., Nigo started up a brand he still owns today, Human Made. The new label allowed him to take his designs in a different direction, creating things he wasn’t able to do with the revolutionary streetwear brand that was BAPE.
With the help of his long-time collaborator and graphic designer, SK8THING, Human Made ventured into creating quality and authentic designs that reflected the pre-1960’s era. Much like BAPE, Human Made has blossomed into a brand that is much loved by fashion icons, including Nigo’s long-time supporter, Pharrell Williams.
How 2020 looks for Nigo
Throughout the past decade, Nigo continued to pave the way, with no signs of slowing down in 2020. After rounding out 2019 with a Human Race x Human Made collection with Pharrell and adidas, a limited-edition t-shirt drop with Futura and the announcement of a Louis Vuitton Fall 2020 capsule collection, Nigo has kept up the work rate in 2020.
January saw the year get off to a good start with a Human Made x adidas Stan Smith drop and a new adidas Originals campaign with Stormzy before Virgil Abloh revealed the LV collab with Nigo in March. Fast forward to today, and Nigo and Virgil have unveiled a second collection, which is of course, painlessly fresh.
2020 was also the year that saw Nigo team up with Victor Victor (ran by Pop’s former manager, Steven Victor) to release a Pop Smoke Capsule collection as well as joining forces with over 20 Japanese brands in a show of solidarity to support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
With decades of success under his belt, there’s no denying Nigo is one of the most influential streetwear designers of our time. We can’t wait to see what he does next.