Behind the HYPE: How BAPE® CAMO Became an Everlasting Fixture in Streetwear and Beyond

BAPE®’s imprint on mainstream fashion is deep-rooted in early ’90s and ’00s iconography.

Three years after its founding in 1993, BAPE® introduced a warped camouflage print that would skyrocket the brand to global notoriety. The iconic motif in question is BAPE® CAMO, a graphic design influencing the likes of contemporary streetwear, sports, decor and houseware. First worn by Pharrell Williams and Kanye West (Ye) in their respective In Search Of… (2001) and College Dropout (2004) eras, the design has enraptured today’s most notable stars and tastemakers.

In the latest episode of Behind the HYPE, Hypebeast explores the beginnings of BAPE® CAMO, its ever-present cult following and its legacy of redefining a utilitarian pattern to stand out from the pack.

Founded by Nigo (Tomoaki Nagao) in 1993, BAPE® (A Bathing Ape®) debuted its signature APE HEAD motif, inspired by the 1968 film Planet of the Apes and conceptualized by graphic designer Sk8thing (Shinichiro Nakamura), who ultimately shaped the design language of BAPE®’s early graphics. Other successful patterns followed, featuring BABY MILO®, BAPE® SHARK, and early ideations of the BAPE STA™️ sneakers. Even more synonymous with the ‘00s streetwear scene was BAPE®’s MANKEY-designed 1st CAMO pattern, spawning a series of collections from 1996 onward. It experimented with elements of militaria and utilitarian tactile gear, merging a traditional camouflage pattern with Japanese street aesthetics. The first-ever CAMO Shark Hoodie retailed at $500 USD, since evolving into a streetwear staple and coveted collectible on resale sites.

A year later, BAPE® unveiled a vibrantly colored, psychedelic iteration of 1st CAMO. Coined ABC CAMO, it incorporated a slightly distorted APE HEAD that eventually adorned future designs in various colorways and silhouettes. MANKEY’s BABY MILO®, released in 1999, ushered in an arsenal of pigmented T-shirts, hoodies and varsity jackets. Drawing inspiration from the “Flying Tigers” and the iconic shark face designs applied to their planes, BAPE® introduced its first full-zip CAMO SHARK hoodie in 2004, featuring an open-jawed shark graphic decorating its needle-like hood.

With an iron grip on youth culture and a hunger to expand, BAPE® established its commercial appeal in categories outside of fashion. Crossover collaborations with SUPREME, UNDERCOVER, adidas, Rimowa, mastermind Japan and Swarovski maximized the label’s visibility in the home and beyond. BAPE®’s eyewear and BAPEX® sub-labels also pay homage to the CAMO pattern as a ubiquitous symbol of streetwear. From the streets to the studio to highly stylized music videos, BAPE®’s CAMO is worn by leading names in music, such as Drake, Rihanna, Pusha T, Lil Uzi Vert, G-Dragon, Taeyang, Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Wiz Khalifa, Soulja Boy, Future and more.

In 2009, BAPE® commemorated its 15th anniversary with a CAMO-covered art book, documenting the history and cultural impact of the pattern across pop culture. Throughout music and fashion, BAPE® has shown an ability to revitalize and reinvent its signature motifs, challenging the bounds of contemporary streetwear with eye-catching designs that captivate new consumers and collectors alike. As new stars rise to the fore, the allure and zeitgeist of BAPE® seem like fashionable initiation into the realm of Japanese streetwear and its unbreakable ties to youth-centric collectives across the globe.

Check out the video above for a deeper dive into BAPE®’s CAMO pattern. Head over to BAPE.COM, US.BAPE.COM and UK.BAPE.COM to browse and shop BAPE®’s Fall/Winter 2023 Collection. To learn more about the biggest names in fashion, tech and more, explore other episodes of Hypebeast’s Behind the HYPE series.

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