In the last few years, international “fast fashion” giant Uniqlo has seriously bolstered its image and reputation by collaborating with dozens of high-profile names. The “URBAN SWEATS” line designed by Alexandre Plokhov lent some darker, avant-garde credibility to the brand while the “+J” collections in collaboration with Jil Sander delivered fabrics of impressive quality at hard-to-beat prices. This season, too, does not disappoint with its joint offerings.
Fall 2016 sees the return, for the third straight season, of the extremely popular collaboration between Uniqlo and Christophe Lemaire. The Parisian designer first lent Uniqlo his talents for a Fall 2015 collection which was so well-received that the line released a second collection the next season, which was also a hit. This season, though, Lemaire is not just a collaborator. He has been appointed artistic director of the new Uniqlo U line, which aims to stock more experimental clothing than the Uniqlo mainline does.
Judging from early pictures of the collection, it looks like Lemaire has accomplished that goal. There are a host of safe, conventional garments, such as standard overcoats and crewneck sweaters, that appear to be cut quite well and will appeal to many. In other pieces, though, Lemaire’s creativity and artistic trademarks are clearly on display. For years, the designer has used pockets in playful and unconventional ways to make shirts, sweaters, and jackets more eye-catching and intriguing, and the first Uniqlo U collection is no exception. From a crew neck sweatshirt with a breast pocket placed low to a work jacket with four excessive pockets adorning its front face (two on either side of the placket), Lemaire continues to use an easily overlooked detail of his garments to tactfully draw attention to sections of the piece that are often unadorned or to multiple spots at once.
Uniqlo U Fall 2016, though, is much more than just an intriguing new collection for Uniqlo. The introduction of the line represents growth in an entirely new direction for the brand, which has often been characterized by critics as unimaginative. Though Uniqlo’s past collaborations introduced some very clear creative departures, an outside source, like Plokhov or former Jil Sander director Raf Simons. With Uniqlo U, the innovators are the company’s employees, albeit those of a branch located in Paris. The retailer is beginning to move away, at least in part, from its walls of color-coordinated basics towards a more dramatic, sophisticated, and serious image. Though that image might stand on its own, isolated from Uniqlo mainline, the point stands that the subtle attitude of Uniqlo U is now a long-term fixture of the brand as a whole.
Have you checked out Lemaire’s previous collections for Uniqlo? Leave a comment here or on Twitter @BillChangNY