Japanese fashion designer and record producer Nigo has come a long way since he created streetwear label A Bathing Ape in Tokyo 30 years ago, selling clothes out of a shop in Harajuku called Nowhere.
He has his global fashion brand Human Made and is artistic director of LVMH-owned fashion house Kenzo.
Along the way, he’s become a mainstay in music, too, with a who’s who of hip-hop on speed dial.
His 2022 album I Know Nigo features appearances from A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Lil Uzi Vert and Tyler The Creator.
Perhaps his highest-profile friendship is with Pharrell Williams, the producer and designer whose cultural influence spans so many genres and categories it’s become hard to classify him.
The pair now work for Europe’s richest man, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA’s Bernard Arnault, since Williams took over for the late Virgil Abloh as creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear in February.
Earlier this month, to celebrate a collection curated by Nigo for Williams' Joopiter auction house, the two hosted a dinner party that attracted guests such as Justin Timberlake and Cara Delevingne.
For someone with connections of such magnitude, that means Nigo often works with his friends.
His latest collaboration for Human Made was with another friend, the artist Brian Donnelly, better known as Kaws.
It’s dubbed "Kaws Made”, with items like an animal-patterned jacket, graphic tees and hoodies, along with accessories including bandanas, pins and totes.
We sat down with Nigo for an interview, conducted in Japanese through a translator, in New York to talk about Human Made, collaborating with artists such as Kaws and what it’s like to work for the biggest luxury goods conglomerate in the world.
This interview has been edited and clarity and length.
What’s it like working with friends on Human Made?
Brian has been my friend since 1995. We came up together, and we’ve known each other since that time.
He did a collaboration for my old brand, so when I started Human Made, I said, "Let’s do something together.”
He’s also now an official adviser to Human Made.
I think about the base idea, then I throw it over to Brian, and it comes back. I say, do this or do that, then it goes back again. It’s like playing catch.
Even if I’m friends with him, I have a kind of nervousness, because everyone wants to make something really great.
What’s it like working at LVMH? How do they do business differently than other companies you’ve dealt with?
Their way of making clothing and their way of selling clothing is completely different from what I’d done in the past.
I’d never done a fashion show before. I think about it like being a sumo wrestler and suddenly having to be in a boxing ring. It was that different, but now I’m used to it.
What are your ambitions at the Kenzo brand, and what do you hope it will become?
My job is to keep the essence of Kenzo, that original essence, but then make it my own.
I had really paid attention to Kenzo when I was young. Now obviously the times have changed, and so it was quite difficult.
I want to leave a really great result but also one that is for our time now.
When you started in this industry, there were not a lot of people who look like you allowed to run European fashion houses. What’s changed?
Virgil. Virgil at Louis Vuitton was a big deal. Now it’s just natural that people from Asia and elsewhere are in the industry.
Generations are changing, and that includes management. It’s a really good outcome and fitting for the times.
Human Made is about 13 years old now, and you’ve done Bape and Billionaire Boys Club and more. Do you have a sense of what kind of design legacy you’re going to end up leaving behind?
I don’t really look back at the past. I made Bape when I was young. I’m doing Human Made now, and that’s me at the moment. They all have a piece of me, but my experiences have changed, so they’ve also changed.
I really don’t like being called a legend or GOAT (greatest of all time), because it refers to the past, and I think that me now is the best me that I can be. – Bloomberg