In which a wo­man finds the per­fect white tee (fi­nally!).

Uniqlo’s uni­form utopia comes to Canada.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - ByLisaGui­mond

i’ve been rid­ing the same set of es­ca­la­tors up and down 12 floors for the past 15 min­utes. I’m in a Uniqlo store in Tokyo, search­ing for a plain boxy, cropped white T-shirt that I spot­ted at one point dur­ing my shop­ping spree among wall af­ter wall of rain­bowhued of­fer­ings. Shelves of sweaters and po­los loom over­head as I loop around ta­bles stacked with denim and racks packed tightly with but­ton-up shirts. I feel a lit­tle dizzy, but it could just be the jet lag. The store con­cept, with its maze­like lay­out, is ac­tu­ally kind of ge­nius: Every­thing feels like a new dis­cov­ery.

Since open­ing its first shop in Hiroshima in 1984, the Toky­obased mega re­tailer has grown to 1,700 stores world­wide by con­vinc­ing peo­ple that a ba­sic item of cloth­ing is as much a want as it is a need. The brand has be­come fa­mous for sell­ing wardrobe sta­ples that have cult-level ap­peal and for in­tro­duc­ing new prod­ucts, like its fleece pieces, which sold out when they were first in­tro­duced in 1998. It’s also known

for its high-tech AIRism line, a col­lec­tion of un­der­gar­ments (think su­perthin tanks and T-shirts) made from ex­tremely light fab­ric that’s quick-dry and mois­ture wick­ing. But Yuk­i­hiro Kat­suta, Uniqlo’s head of re­search and de­sign, warns against us­ing the word “ba­sic” too freely. “Ba­sic sounds bor­ing,” he says. While the col­lec­tions are af­ford­able—cash­mere sweaters start at $39.90 and jeans at $49.90—there is al­ways an el­e­ment of new­ness, he in­sists, that in­forms the un­com­pli­cated de­sign. It’s a trend-in­formed, not trend-driven, ap­proach that can be seen in this sea­son’s col­lec­tion, from the ul­tra-light­weight down jack­ets and el­e­gantly pleated midiskirts to the slick ribbed turtle­neck dresses.

Col­lab­o­ra­tions also help set Uniqlo’s ba­sics apart. De­sign­ers like Jil San­der and Alexan­der Wang were not brought on for star power, says Kat­suta, but as a way to add ex­per­tise and a dif­fer­ent point of view. Now, Christophe Lemaire, who founded his epony­mous la­bel af­ter leav­ing Her­mès in 2014, is the newly ap­pointed artis­tic di­rec­tor of the brand’s Paris-based re­search and de­vel­op­ment cen­tre as well as Uniqlo U, a line of ul­tra- re­fined ba­sics that are launch­ing this fall. But un­like other high-low de­signer col­labs, which can sell out in the first few hours, Uniqlo of­ten stocks more prod­uct and en­gages in on­go­ing part­ner­ships, so you don’t have to line up to snag a piece. This is in keep­ing with the brand’s slo­gan, “Made for All,” which em­pha­sizes in­clu­siv­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity. “We are never sat­is­fied,” ad­mits Kat­suta. “We are al­ways ask­ing ‘How can we make it bet­ter?’”

Later, I sit down with founder and CEO Tadashi Yanai, who tells me more about the Uniqlo phi­los­o­phy—which seems to be work­ing: His cloth­ing em­pire, which also in­cludes brands like The­ory and J. Brand, has made him the wealth­i­est man in Ja­pan, with a net worth of $24.4 bil­lion. Through a trans­la­tor, he ex­plains that his vi­sion for the fu­ture is uni­form based. He looks the part, wear­ing a tai­lored navy suit over a sim­ple white shirt. “Rather than hav­ing very unique cloth­ing, we will achieve unique­ness from the dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions made pos­si­ble by of­fer­ing such a va­ri­ety of pieces,” he says. He wants to cre­ate a “tool box,” a com­mon dress code, that can be styled ac­cord­ing to one’s per­sonal pref­er­ences. It’s not about same­ness as much as it is about re­fine­ment. “We are not chas­ing the trend,” he in­sists.

Back in Toronto, I un­pack that elu­sive white tee that I even­tu­ally did lo­cate and won­der how I’ve ever lived without it. While it doesn’t boast any fu­tur­is­tic technology, it is pre­cisely what the la­bel has been cham­pi­oning for the past 32 years: a bet­ter ba­sic. The rea­son I don’t wear it ev­ery day is be­cause, re­gret­fully, I only bought one. It cost me less than $20 and, as far as ba­sic ba­sics go, has earned me more com­pli­ments than a fur-adorned wool coat I splurged on a few years ago. In Tokyo, Yanai told me that “in or­der to evolve the fu­ture, you need to in­vent some­thing.” If in­vent­ing a new uni­form—one that re­lies on in­no­va­tion, not uni­for­mity—is what it takes to shape the fu­ture of fash­ion, then my white T-shirt and I are 100-per­cent in. n

VINTAGEVINTAGE RO­MANCE NORDSTROM cel­e­brates la­dy­like cel­e­brates la­dy­like de­tails with up­dated com­bi­na­tions de­tails with up­dated com­bi­na­tions of lace and del­i­cate trims jux­ta­posed of lace and del­i­cate trims jux­ta­posed with dra­matic mil­i­tary-in­spired with dra­matic mil­i­tary-in­spired tai­lor­ing. Vic­to­rian el­e­ments are tai­lor­ing. Vic­to­rian el­e­ments are made mod­ern with a moody fall made mod­ern with a moody fall pal­ette, and a lace-up an­kle bootie pal­ette, and a lace-up an­kle bootie pro­vides a fin­ish that’s any­thing pro­vides a fin­ish that’s any­thing but prim. but prim. Vince Ca­muto Vince Ca­muto Mal­bec red coat Mal­bec red coat ($349); Re­becca ($349); Re­becca Tay­lor black lace Tay­lor black lace dress ($998); dress ($998); March­esa sil­ver/ March­esa sil­ver/ pearl crawler pearl crawler ($105); Jimmy ($105); Jimmy Choo Mavy an­kle Choo Mavy an­kle boot ($1,050) boot ($1,050)

Uniqlo U ul­tra­lightweight down jacket ($129.90)

From above left: Ny­lon and down jacket ($99.90); wool and polyester skirt ($39.90); wool and polyester turtle­neck ($29.90)

Uniqlo’s Ginzo flag­ship in Tokyo is one of its big­gest, with 5,000 square me­tres of shop space.

Wool hat ($29.90); silk blouse ($29.90); merino-wool and polyester skirt ($59.90)

Trouve (Nordstrom Ex­clu­sive) Asym­met­ri­cal Tex­tured Pullover Sweater ($179); Trouve (Nordstrom Ex­clu­sive) Pants ($179); Ar­gento Vivo Small Cir­cle -Stick Ear­rings ($33); Louise et Cie Dahlian Kilty Loafer ($199.95).

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