If there's one thing that Millenials all have in common, it's their burning lust for nostalgia. With the rapid evolution of technology and information through the 90s, the world fundamentally changed multiple times throughout their childhood, teenage years, and now early adulthood. Combined with multiple recessions, housing crashes, a decrease in available jobs, and a harsh political and social climate, Millenials are hit hard by memories of their naive youth, when now-obsolete technology was new and exciting, and the world seemed to be budding more and more each new season.
Vaporwave is an entire art movement meant to encapsulate and ship little bytes of nostalgia, sending its audience memories of their youth. Vapor95 Creative Director, Japhy, describes the general theme as "a kind of sad-happy nostalgia. For us 90s kids whose earliest memories are filled with this old technology, it kind of rings a bell. We juxtapose it with some Ancient Greek and Roman themes, and that combines together to give this feeling of obsolescence. The stuff with you grew up with now has its place in the past, but we’re still celebrating it."
As a music form, vaporwave is heavily synthesized, with heavy reverb, autotune, and wavy beats. It almost puts listeners in a trance, eliciting a cloud nine type feeling. The visual and physical art is bright and colorful, mixed with pixellated figures and early techno renderings, often borrowing from old original Windows and Macintosh symbols and styles. It's sometimes flavored with Japanese letterings or these Greco-Roman sculptures that Japhy is talking about to further distinguish its nuance.
"Even if you’re completely ignorant about vaporwave, if you grew up in our generation, the motifs and imagery are going to register and strike a chord with you," Japhy says. "A lot of [the culture] is inspired by early internet art because it was an interesting, new way of creating art for the first time in the 90s. Think of the art in our school textbooks and the weird stuff like that. It’s all supposed to tickle that same spot in your brain, where you can remember seeing this style of artwork, this barbarian form of digital art."
Along with any movement comes retail. Multiple brands have popped up over the years, capitalizing on the craze for nostalgia and creating various subgenres and spinoffs and more ways for the vaporwave subculture to get involved and grow into something bigger. Of course, one of those brands is Vapor95, which very specifically combines bright colors with original 'modern' technologies - and more specifically - Windows 95.
People's thirst for art and culture never subsides; the entire vaporwave movement is a testament to that. "Vaporwave kind of started out as a meme, but it was just something that people could identify and connect with. It became this lifestyle and movement that people love. That’s what is exciting about it," explains Vapor95 designer, Madison Applegate.
Because of that continuing hunger, in the midst of COVID-19 and an ever-increasing desire to experience emotion and some return to that naivete of youth, Vapor95 recently launched the first-ever physical retail store for the vaporwave community in Los Angeles. Despite the pandemic, they created a home for their merchandise that perfectly accounts for many of the various influences on the cultural movement right in the heart of DTLA.
While it is in fact a store, it's more than just that. It's a place to feel the movement more closely and directly. Not only are there countless products to buy that feature various vaporwave aspects, but the layout itself prompts all those same responses of the art movement itself.
Japhy explains to us that their decision to create a physical space "was really interesting because vaporwave has exclusively been an internet art form for a long time. This is the first-ever permanent, physical vaporwave space to come into the world. So we just really tried to gather inspiration from all the different motifs and art styles from within vaporwave and have a little bit of everything in here."
More specifically, he went into detail about the direction he took with his design," I just wanted it to represent that feeling; it was really important to us that it be interactive. We want it to be a good place for photo opportunities and a place to just really immerse yourself. So all the computer stations are functional - you can go on them - and we’ll soon be putting more games and programs on them as well.
Madison further explained the uniqueness of their new space. "Vaporwave is such a strictly digital thing right now, so for fans to be able to come to a place where they feel like they can step into that digital world, that’s the goal for sure."
And though the brand could be considered mainstream or relevant right now, it's not necessarily by design or intention. When street culture and fashion move forward, vaporwave and Vapor95 will remain. "The integrity of the brand is consistent. At the end of the day, we are representing an art movement and music movement and the people who are shopping here are passionate about the brand and just love it no matter what." Madison explains.
Japhy further illustrates that mentality. "We’ve always considered ourselves as a niche brand. So we’re always going to cater to that and the vaporwave community - the people who love this and don’t care if it’s trendy or not. We’re just going to keep serving them. If the mainstream thinks it’s cool, then nice, but we’re focused on our community first."
But that doesn't mean this is it for the company. They may not overhaul their style, but they'll continue to evolve within the realm of the vaporwave movement, as well as find new ways to grow and interact with their own, niche community. Japhy reassures us. "This is definitely going to keep evolving. We want our fans to come back and feel like they’re able to experience new things here. Additionally, we’re opening up a store in Brooklyn as soon as we can. We’ll probably wait a bit for COVID, but we want to keep opening stores. We’ve been an internet brand for four years, and we have communities all over the world asking for a store, so we will make that happen."
Find more images of the Vapor95 flagship store below.