By  on April 25, 2008

LOS ANGELES — A fresh touch of cult streetwear has arrived on Melrose Avenue.

Japanese designer Nigo on Wednesday night opened his second U.S. store for A Bathing Ape, the estimated $70 million label he founded in 1993, joining Melrose neighbors such as Paul Frank, Agent Provocateur, G-Star and Tarina Tarantino.

Takashi Murakami, Nicole Richie and Pete Wentz, Kanye West, Serena Williams, Mike Tyson and Pharrell Williams, Nigo's business partner in the Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream high-end skateboard-inspired brands, were among the guests at the launch party in the store.

"In Japan, everybody knows already how popular this line is," Murakami said. "Here, they are just finding out how cool it is to wear."

The 2,400-square-foot space, which previously housed Costume National, has been at least three years in the making, including six months of renovations as well as design and permit delays.

"At first I thought maybe I would have to tailor the line to match the Los Angeles climate, but then I realized with only two stores in the U.S., I needed to carry the full line at the new store," Nigo said through a translator. "I am usually incredibly nervous and have not much confidence when I open a new store, but it's impossible to tell how many fans you have until you open."

Revealing teeth adorned with jewels and metal, Nigo noted that Melrose Avenue "was quite different three years ago than it is now," referring to new retail development.

The centerpiece of the single-level store is a circular, glass-enclosed shoe area that features a futuristic stainless steel conveyer belt that displays the patent leather merchandise as it rotates around the carpeted footwear area.

The Melrose Avenue store will have an exclusive T-shirt — an ape wearing Wayfarer sunglasses flanked by two palm trees. There are also the brand's signature $73 T-shirts, hoodies for about $90, leather jackets that will retail for $4,000 and accessories such as watches and sunglasses.

The designer said the store also will carry a coffee-table fashion-art-themed book to be published in the fall by Rizzoli that he has been working on for three years.Nigo is a fan of neon, so there is neon detailing inside and outside the store: Five large neon stars in pink, red, blue, green and yellow are on an interior wall, and the front window has extensive neon lighting in what appear to be random shapes.

A Bathing Ape (abbreviated as Bape) has 24 stores. Although typically uniform in design concept, the stores don't stay static — the concept changes at least every five years.

The brand's first U.S. store opened in Manhattan's SoHo in December 2004. Cities with other units include Tokyo and Osaka in Japan, London, Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan.

Los Angeles appears to agree with Nigo, who cites Karl Lagerfeld, Marc Jacobs and Giorgio Armani as among the designers he most respects. He said he's even considering living in the city because he enjoys the climate and lifestyle.

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