Browse all

The Swatch x BAPE experience in Tokyo

We had the chance to interview Billy Choi, BAPE CEO, and Gonzalo De Cevallos, Swatch VP and COO

The Swatch x BAPE experience in Tokyo We had the chance to interview Billy Choi, BAPE CEO, and Gonzalo De Cevallos, Swatch VP and COO

In a city like Tokyo the inspiration comes directly from the streets: full of colors and scents, where everyone can affirm their identity through their style more or less consciously, there's someone wearing a kimono, kids in their school uniforms and the hypebeasts in Harajuku. 

Exactly in the Harajuku district in the mid-90s, the street culture was born. Inspired by the Western subcultures - especially punk and hip-hop, two kids - Jun "Jonio" Takahashi and Tomoaki Nagao - known back then and today as NIGO - opened their store named NOWHERE. It wasn't in a easy position to reach, hard to notice at the time, right before the blooming of the Internet, shopping worked essentially though word of mouth. The space of the store was divided into two parts, and NIGO's side was mainly dedicated to the production of graphic tees: it was 1993 and A Bathing Ape was emerging, one of the most popular brand of Japanese streetwear. 

Since the '90s the neighborhood has become the reference point for the entire streetwear community, and today sees the presence of brands like SupremePalace Skateboards and BAPE, followed by NeighborhoodUndercover and many others. 



Inspired by the history and the aesthetic of the city, last May 31 the Swatch x BAPE collection was presented, part of the new BIG BOLD collection which includes a series of five different watches dedicated to five different cities and one extra model called The World

If A Bathing Bape is one of the most important brands of the street scene, Swatch - founded only 10 years before by Nicolas Hayek - represents an icon in the casual watch brands world. Pop, original and with a rich heritage rooting back to Switzerland, Swatch has been the protagonist of a revolution in the watch market, managing to manufacture affordable items with an iconic taste. 

The collaborations have always been part of the DNA of the Swiss brand, from artists with the likes of Keith Haring and Damien Hirst to the special editions created for the Olympic Games, Swatch has always taken the opportunity to enrich its collections. In 2019 Swatch takes the first step towards the streetwear world, collaborating with one of the pioneering brands of the movement. 

The Swatch x BAPE presentation was the arrival point of an extensive experience organized by the brand, that took us in some of the most evocative locations of the city, from the teamLab Planets, a museum based on the concept of Body Immersive with different exhibitions curated by its artistic collective, to Meiji- Jingu, the heart of the shintō cult in Tokyo. 

In the afternoon of May 31, the event moved to Roppongi Hills, where the two watches dedicated to the hometowns of the brands, Bern for Swatch and Tokyo for BAPE. This was the first of a series of five locations, each with a different theme connected with the city represented by the watch. For the London model, it was recreated a sophisticated and retro atmosphere, in NYC we were catapulted at Pizza Slice, in a fast food serving real New York pepperoni pizza, while in Paris we found ourselves in a club of burlesque. The last location gathered all the models and unveiled moreover the model number six, The World, and here took place the closing party of the experience. 

Between a journey and the other on the camo Swatch x BAPE vans, we had the chance to sit down and catch up with Billy Choi, BAPE CEO, and Gonzalo De Cevallos, Swatch VP and COO. 

#1 The story of BAPE begins in the streets of Harajuku and continues to this day, during the global expansion of the streetwear world: how hard is it to remain true to your origins? What is your opinion on the global growth of streetwear?

Recently many brands tried to follow the trends when people do something others tried to make it similar and that's normal. But in BAPE we try to make things our own, do what we want. Sometimes people tell us "you repeat the something, you do always the camo" and yes, we do that, but apart using the same or similar graphics we create something behind the clothes and graphics. For someone, it's just about buying clothes, but with BAPE it's not just about buying clothes, you are buying the story behind BAPE. 

#2 How did this collaboration with Swatch come about? 

Why Swatch? Swatch is one one of the biggest watches company in the world when I was young me and my peers used to like Swatch. Why does it happen? It's has been about good timing, we collaborate with many brands. We met each other by chance and I also feel it was the right time for Swatch to collab with a street brand. Indeed if you trace the history of the brand you see they collaborated with many artists but not from the street.

#3 What kind of stimulus has worked with a brand like this produced? And how did you manage to balance your aesthetic with the one of Swatch?

Of course, Swatch has their regulations, rules and persistence, so sometimes we gave in, sometimes we insisted. It has been a long process to match to each other but we understand both our cultures, the result it's the proof of it. My favourite is The World model, but I like also the London one, its colours are very shocked!

4 Can we expect the Italian's one in the future?

Laughing - if they make for us someday!

#1 How did this collaboration with BAPE come about?

We met each other by chance one year ago and with Billy, I had a very good feeling, so we decided to make something together. We worked during the last twelve months with our creative people and the result is here and it's fantastic. It's the result of a creative process with two different teams with different approaches, but we have been both flexible enough to understand each other.
We are super proud of the result and I love all the six models, but let's say, we are here in Tokyo and it's my favourite. 

#2 What do you find appealing of the streetwear world? In your opinion, what are the strong points of this movement?

When we talk about young people, we can't talk about streetwear: the important things happen in the streets. We are a global company but we have to be linked to all the big cities around the world and the only way to do that to be connected with the street culture that's a part of the mentality of millennials and young people in general. We can't be out of this world otherwise we wouldn't be Swatch.

#3 Swatch can boast a deep bond with Japan and its innovative aesthetic: how does this relationship reflect on this collection?

If you go to Harajuku, that's my favourite place in Tokyo, you can feel that's where cultural things are happening and you can see many creative brands which are in a dimension really close to design. Here in Tokyo, you can really see the mentality of Japanese people, their spirit is very advanced. I think that spirit it's reflected in these watches. 

It's good to be inspired from what it's happening here, that doesn't mean we are going to make collections only for Japan since we are a global brand, but there are certain countries in the world that are so advanced in design that we need to be there. In our design lab, we have people from all over the world in order to have different creative minds and this is the key to Swatch's success, communication among all the countries. 

#4 Long before brands like BAPE and Supreme, Swatch has collaborated with artists on limited edition collections. In a way, streetwear has copied your method. Among all the past collections, is there one that’s particularly important for you?

It's a very difficult question because I consider all of them as part me and of my family, but if I have to choose one I would choose the collection on 1998, that's the year I entered in the company. For me, it's a love story I made it happen! All collaborations with artists are fantastic, but I believe that the one of last year with Damien Hirst was really a top level's one. It was sold out in a few minutes in some countries!

#5 This collaboration marks a turning point for Swatch. What can we expect for the future?

We have a very creative product team which create more than 400 watches per year always with a different concept one to the others. 
We have a love story with Italy and we know the feeling is mutual. There's a very big project in the next months linked to the city of Milan and to the art world, we believe it will be a fantastic opportunity to connect with the most creative communities in Milan. I'm sure that many good things will come out! For now, I don't want to reveal more, but let's stay that it couldn't be in another place than Milano.