Nigo with a highly-anticipated lot, the KAWS’s Untitled (Painting and Doll)(2001). Used as the cover of Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction brochure, it was sold for USD 2.2 million. Photo by Siobhan Bent for ArtAsiaPacific

Oct 17 2014

NIGO® Only Lives Twice

by Siobhan Bent

What do an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Can, a diamond-encrusted Rolls-Royce hood ornament, a Jean Prouvé bench and Mark Newport’s hand-knit Spiderman costume have in common?

All were among the 107 lots of contemporary art and items from the eccentric collection of Japanese designer and hip-hop cult icon Nigo, which hit the auction block at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on October 7.

Titled “NIGO® Only Lives Twice,” the event—part of Sotheby’s autumn sales series—presented pieces acquired by Nigo (born Tomoaki Nagao), who is founder of the clothing brand A Bathing Ape. A street-wear deity, he is a deep-pocketed collector, who is also involved in such ventures as the Billionaire Boys Club clothing line collaboration with singer and record producer Pharrell Williams.

In April, Nigo sold his business and took on a new role as creative director of Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo’s UT line, the company’s T-shirt division. Changing gears, Nigo felt the timing was right to part ways with a portion of his prized possessions.

“I wanted to have an estate sale of my own but obviously I couldn’t get any enjoyment from it myself if I was dead,” the collector said of the Sotheby’s auction, “So I decided to do it now.”

At the time of the sale, ArtAsiaPacific spoke with the designer about his collecting journey, his newfound fascination with kimonos and the possibility of a Nigo collection exhibition space in the future.

You’ve said that your first encounter with collecting came at the age of five, with a puppet set. How have you changed as a collector over the past four decades?

The way I focus on collecting has not changed, but what I collect does. I started with toys. Then watches and wine. What I want to collect has increased, but my point of view hasn’t change.


Does your approach to collecting change with different objects? For instance, what qualities do you look for in art versus furniture or pop culture collectibles?

Throughout [“NIGO® Only Lives Twice”], you will find a similar atmosphere and angle of quality. It’s expected—my originality and my point of view. I bring this quality through my life and point of view—just in different categories.


How would you describe your point of view?

I can’t describe it myself. A friend of mine says the word “pop” describes it.


NIGO® Only Lives Twice” is comprised predominantly of objects from Europe and the United States. What do you appreciate about the Western aesthetic?

The reason I started collecting Western objects [has to do with] living in Tokyo. The city is a mix of cultures, where I can find a lot of items from all over the world—including Western things.


You have collaborated closely with artists and creators such as KAWS and Pharrell Williams. Williams has said you inspire him as a collector. Do you ever shop together?

We text each other, and when I visit the US we meet up to shop. In New York, we’ve . . . gone to [the jeweler] Jacob and Company. [Williams] has said he is inspired by me, but I am also inspired by him. When we first met, he invited me to his house in Virginia. When he showed me his closet, I was surprised to see how many of the same items we both had. I felt like we could really share a sense of collecting.


There’s been a long debate over what separates art and design. What are your thoughts on this issue?

I think it’s up to the person to value that. My hope is that this auction will change the [opinions from] “no” to “yes.” Maybe my auction will give something [to create] a little change [in] the valuation.


Are there any pieces in the sale that are particularly special to you?

The Star Wars characters and the artworks by KAWS. But, I can’t really value it. For me, it’s all [equally special]. Sotheby’s came to my warehouse to help pick out the selection. I couldn’t define which [pieces] should be put up for auction. Everything is equal.


After you sell this part of your collection, do you intend to fill that gap with more objects? What do you have your eye on now?

I haven’t gotten into a new collection recently. I am quite interested in kimonos right now. I’m a huge vintage fashion collector. The texture of kimono, how it feels, is really similar to vintage clothing, even though kimonos are still being made new. Over a hundred years, the way they actually make kimonos hasn’t really changed. Maybe that’s why kimonos have a similarity to vintage clothing.


Where do you look for kimonos?

Tokyo. There aren’t that many stores but I find the kimonos at a couple of places I really like. I wear them quite often; I’ll wear one tonight. 


Do you display them alongside your collection?

The humidity is too intense to display them. I store them in a wooden box with dehumidifiers. Kimonos are really sensitive.


M+ is creating a museum that embraces all visual culture—from traditional genres of art to comics to furniture. If you could offer M+ one piece of curatorial advice, what would that be?

I would tell them that they should hire me as a curator!


After the auction is over, what’s next for you as a collector?

When I decided to share my collection, I really liked that feeling. Maybe after this auction, I might consider finding a place to display [my collection]. Maybe.