Uniqlo launched its much-anticipated U collection today at its Orchard Central store. The ready-to-grab shoppers at five minutes past opening time was surprisingly large in number. You wouldn’t think that a collection that isn’t a limited edition or collaboration will attract those who live by pseudo exclusivity, but there they were, early as PG card holders on Monday morning at Fairprice.
Christophe Lemaire did so well with his two collaborations with Uniqlo that it was with high hopes that we’ve approached the new U line. Even an autumn/winter collection was no deterrent. For it is in the outerwear that a collection can sometimes show its strength. Sadly, it is in this usually more expensive category that we felt most let down. Does Uniqlo need more bubble coats, for example, that look like those they have always been doing?
Uniqlo informs shoppers on the selling floor that their “global design team” is “led by Christophe Lemaire”. A line-up of international designers may, perhaps, absolve its head of complete responsibility should the result come up short. A close look at the clothes confirmed our suspicion that they do not need a designer of Mr Lemaire’s standing to materialise. Or, conversely, clothes like these don’t require luxury designers’ hands.
It can be argued that design is not only about the obvious. The width of the waistband of a skirt or the size of a shirt pocket, for example, could be the result of design judgment. It is possible that the design elements in the U collection are so subtle that those not trained to discern with the naked eye will find them absent. The problem, for a lack a better phrase, is not in what is missing, but in what is also evident in other parts of the store.
U is supposed to be an exercise in “reinventing basics to be anything but basic.” It is a strange mission for Uniqlo considering that it takes pride in its basics, euphemistically called “life wear”. Without doubt, their basics are basically what drive the business. The merchandising of U can’t escape this reality, which, perhaps, explains why a U crew-neck pullover in a waffle sweater-knit bears little dissimilarity with Uniqlo’s own, interestingly just across the aisle. Does Uniqlo really need a separate, Paris-based design team to produce what is already in the bag?
Interestingly, what appear to be noticeably designed are the labels on some of the jackets. The square U label sits alongside the size tag, both slipped under a top-stitched slot, above which a grosgrain tab sits. On some products, the perception that they are special is indeed carefully controlled. If only they could extend this not-immediately-visible touch across the entire line.
As expected, the women’s collection is invariably larger than the men’s and better conceived too. Likely to attract the discerning are the two-tone, ankle-length wool cardigan; the denim T-dress with left-shoulder opening; the extra-long, cotton ‘stand collar’ shirt with an oddly-shaped left-breast pocket, and the sensuously relaxed double-faced wrap coat. These recall the masculine-feminine tension in Mr Lemaire’s own line.
Most surprising is the popularity of the accessories, particularly the down scarf—a lightweight triangular piece with quilting of rectangles and squares irregularly placed. By evening, the black was completely sold out. The last you expect to sell is the first to go. Such is the way of fashion retail, whether blessed with a “global design team” or not.
Uniqlo U is available at Uniqlo, Orchard Central and online. Photos: Galerie Gombak