Transcendent fashion collaboration requires more than brands slapping their logos on a piece of limited-run product and cashing in on their cachet. At its best, collaboration brings powerful industry players together to flex their creative muscles and raise the design bar for the future. When Undefeated, A Bathing Ape, and adidas link up, as they have for a second time, transcendence is expected.
The three brands are streetwear royalty. Adidas has given the world classic silhouettes and was the first sneaker company to give a hip-hop artist an endorsement when it signed Run-DMC for $1 million in 1986. Undefeated, which launched in 2002, has grown from a small boutique in Los Angeles to a global symbol of sneaker culture; it was the first brand to collaborate on an Air Jordan and is now a complete clothing brand that’s available at malls. A Bathing Ape, under the leadership of its founder Nigo, helped spread camouflage and bright colors across streetwear with full-zip hoodies, Air Force 1-like sneakers, and everything from fishing gear to Pepsi cans and toilet paper.
The trio first collaborated on two pairs of the adidas Campus and a ZX 5000 in 2013, but their relationship goes back to the turn of millennium. Undefeated co-founders James Bond and Eddie Cruz joined forces with adidas and BAPE long before collaborative product was the standard for successful sneaker boutiques or streetwear brands. “I used to work on the line that David Beckham did [at adidas],” says Bond, “and we were the first friends-and-family account in the U.S.” Cruz has worked with BAPE since his days at Union, a shop that he co-founded in 1989 that carried many now-popular streetwear brands before other retailers. That previously built trust facilitated their coming together in 2013.
If 2014 was the year of the adidas Stan Smith, 2015 is poised to be the year of the adidas Superstar. Last year was the 45th anniversary of the Superstar, and the brand is pushing the sneaker heavily this year. In late March, adidas released the Pharrell-designed “Supercolor” pack, which features 50 pairs of monochromatic Superstars. A handful of collaborations—most notably with Nigo, London’s Footpatrol, and Japan’s Neighborhood—increased anticipation for what adidas would do next with its shell-toed sneaker. That’s where BAPE and Undefeated came into play. Adidas trusted both brands’ prestige would further the celebration of the Superstar. Combining the back stories of three distinct brands to make something cohesive was the challenge. The Superstar silhouette was set in stone, but the question of how to best represent BAPE and Undefeated remained.
Although it has spread to multiple locations across California, as well as Las Vegas and Japan, Undefeated’s roots remain firmly planted in Los Angeles. To communicate an L.A. theme, Bond and Cruz commissioned artists Mister Cartoon and Nathan Cabrera to design a collection of clothes and photographer Estevan Oriol to shoot the lookbook. All three are known for capturing the city’s Mexican-American street culture. Cabrera designed paisley-print bandanas that incorporated the Ape head and Undefeated’s five-strike logo. Additionally, he and Cartoon created a graphic for the clothing line, including an 8-ball reference, praying hands, spider webs, and Undefeated’s logo in Old English font. Shot in Oriol’s signature black-and-white style, the lookbook hearkens back to the city’s gang culture, connecting the street culture graphics with the streetwear energy that prefers a hardened aesthetic.
With the clothes and overall vibe of the collection solidified, Undefeated needed to figure out how to incorporate BAPE’s signature camo print, which is still associated with the brand almost two years after Nigo left the company, into the Superstar silhouette so it didn’t feel passé. “Everyone is kind of over camo, even though it’s synonymous with BAPE,” says Bond. “But you can get away with it in a subtle way when there’s a quick pop. The small details are what make the sneaker world special.”
The result was a white Superstar with hits of a specially designed blue camo print on the tongue, sockliner, heel tab, and the Three Stripes on the sneaker’s instep, and a black pair featuring black-and-gray camo. To push the co-branded message further, each sneaker has Undefeated’s logo embossed in gold on the exterior left heel and BAPE’s logo on the right. There’s no mistaking that these are Undefeated x BAPE Superstars.
People have criticized such three-way collabs in the past, claiming they’re strictly about garnering hype and creating a product that’s going to easily swirl around the Internet. To his credit, Bond admits that uniting three brands helps with sales: “Multiple relationships work well because you get three different fans. You’ll get the Undefeated fan, the adidas fan, and the Ape fan.” But from their extensive experience in streetwear, and with adidas and BAPE in particular, both Bond and Cruz knew that these projects are about balancing each brand’s identity and representation so they complement each other well and feel more like a marriage than a marketing ploy.
Undefeated ended up doing more than just putting a popular pattern on a 51-year-old silhouette. It linked itself and the two other brands in a manner that was able to unearth a pocket of L.A.’s culture and relay it to the rest of the world. The collection’s clothing conveys this message, and the sneakers were built as the perfect complement and centerpiece to it. It was then Oriol’s job to give this a human element and bring the collaboration to life in the lookbook. “He got kids from the neighborhood,” says Bond. “He was able to make it look super authentic, grainy, and historic. He understands the whole Los Angeles cholo lifestyle. He’s the OG of that, and that’s why we wanted him to shoot it for us.”
Bond’s perfectionism and obsession with details ensured that Undefeated, BAPE, and adidas were telling a cohesive story. “We look at these collaborations to be our playoffs, our championship games,” he says. “You’re losing sleep pushing through the concept of the story. We wanted to make sense, top to bottom, of the story that we were telling.”
As Bond’s metaphorical game day approaches on April 11, when the collection releases at Undefeated chapter stores, BAPE shops, and online, he’ll see if the collaborative triple threat will actually put numbers on the board.
UNDFTD x BAPE x adidas Consortium Superstar 80s, available April 11 at Undefeated and BAPE boutiques, $130