FRESH TAKE

Uniqlo masters the no-fuss, no-muss ap­proach to fash­ion— with­out be­ing bor­ing

The Kit - - FRONT PAGE - —Jil­lian Vieira. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Hamin Lee

In a world brim­ming with chaos, clut­ter and over­stim­u­la­tion, there’s the Ja­panese way of life: that of rock gar­dens and steam baths; Marie Kondo’s sin­gu­lar method of at­ti­tude-al­ter­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion; and home-grown fash­ion re­tailer Uniqlo, the coun­try’s most fa­mous min­i­mal­ist ex­port. And with the brand’s ex­pan­sion into Canada last year (and a new Van­cou­ver lo­ca­tion set to open this fall), we’re about to get a big les­son in less is more.

En­ter any Uniqlo store, even the 12-storey colos­sus in Tokyo’s Ginza shop­ping dis­trict, and you’ll get much of the same: neat piles of light­weight, pullover sweaters, en­tire walls ded­i­cated to crisp white tees and cu­lottes in slightly off-kil­ter cuts. Seems straight­for­ward enough, but defin­ing the brand and its de­sign aes­thetic is sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult. Ac­cord­ing to cre­ative di­rec­tor Naoki Tak­izawa, who came to the brand in 2011 from long-term stints at Issey Miyake and Hel­mut Lang, Uniqlo isn’t sports­wear, ca­su­al­wear or even a fash­ion brand, de­spite its reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tions with big-name in­dus­try play­ers ( Jil San­der, Christophe Le­maire and soon-to-be part­ner, J.W. Anderson.) Tak­izawa be­lieves that the Uniqlo con­cept res­onates be­cause of a shift he sees in con­sumers around the world. “These days, peo­ple want to look more low-key,” he says. “That way they can ac­tu­ally ex­press their in­di­vid­u­al­ity.”

En­ter LifeWear, Uniqlo’s phi­los­o­phy of “sim­plic­ity, qual­ity and longevity,” which acts as guid­ing de­sign prin­ci­ple for ev­ery piece that lands on its floors. For the brand, ask­ing, “Why do we get dressed?” and “Is it es­sen­tial?” has meant for­go­ing trends as we know them and in­stead turn­ing its at­ten­tion to in­no­va­tion. Take, for ex­am­ple, the brand’s HeatTech tech­nol­ogy, a spe­cial fab­ric of­fer­ing heat-re­tain­ing prop­er­ties, which is wo­ven into a va­ri­ety of in­ner­wear pieces like leg­gings and tank tops. Or the Ul­tra Light Down col­lec­tion of pa­per-thin down jack­ets ex­pertly lay­ered on ev­ery man, woman and child on the streets of Tokyo.

Un­like other in­ter­na­tional trans­plants that strug­gle to un­der­stand their new sur­round­ings, Uniqlo’s land­ing on our home turf ac­tu­ally makes sense. As Cana­di­ans, we de­fine our­selves and our style in terms of prac­ti­cal­ity and re­straint be­cause at the end of the day, all we need to make a fash­ion state­ment is a pair of blue jeans and the per­fect tee. “I’m try­ing to de­sign for 1 mil­lion or 10 mil­lion peo­ple and at­ti­tudes are chang­ing,” says Tak­izawa. “Peo­ple want to use things ev­ery day.”

UNIQLO TOP, $50, JUMP­SUIT, $50, TOP, $30, UNIQLO

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