Uniqlo: Back to the future

Uniqlo's new Innovation Project sees the Japanese high-street giant returning to its roots, says Susannah Frankel

Uniqlo is not a brand that follows fashion trends," says Naoki Takizawa. He is talking in particular about the Innovation Project, a new concept in clothing that hits the Japanese-born high-street chain famed for its no-frills, rainbow-coloured cashmere and fleeces this autumn. "Instead it aims to produce the ultimate basic items."

This latest range – which will start life as a capsule collection of no more than around 15 pieces but is set to expand rapidly – might not unreasonably be described as a return to Uniqlo's roots. Following the departure of Jil Sander, whose final +J collection is on sale now, Uniqlo will henceforward be focusing more on experimental technology and fabric innovation than on the perfectly proportioned tailored jacket, say, just as it always used to.

Landing Takizawa for the top job is quite a coup. He was creative director at Issey Miyake men and then women for more than a decade, though he says that "even though the market is quite different, the underlying design process is the same". Given the more egalitarian – and utilitarian – nature of mass production, however, he adds that it might be helpful to see clothing that doesn't bear a designer tag as "closer to other products such as computer gadgets, cars, mobile phones".

If the Uniqlo Innovation Project aspires to have more in common with industrial design than anything more ephemeral, then the discreetly futuristic, sportswear-inspired appearance of its initial offering only adds grist to that mill. It is a mindset that Takizawa understands well: under his tenure, and long before that, the Issey Miyake name was synonymous with pioneering and even revolutionary fashion design, after all.

The Innovation Project is, in fact, a group effort – and it is a formidable team. Creative director Kashiwa Sato and fashion director Nicola Formichetti will both be working alongside Takizawa. "We need more than one eye, idea and perspective," Takizawa says, and such a democratic mindset is refreshing. Sato, already the brains behind the creative direction of Uniqlo stores worldwide, will be responsible for what Takizawa describes as "summing up, from details to the whole", while it is Formichetti's position to bring a hefty dose of fashion credibility to the range. Given that the latter is also creative director of Thierry Mugler and stylist to Lady Gaga, he is more than qualified to do so. And Formichetti's handwriting represents a certain upbeat irreverence – plus a finger firmly on the pulse – that is vital for any relevant brand.

"I've been working for the company for five years," Formichetti says, speaking from New York, where, in the throes of the international collections, he has just opened a pop-up store. "I love them, they love me and last year I became fashion director. Being half-Japanese [the other half is Italian], I feel that it is an honour to collaborate with them. Uniqlo is constantly evolving and reinventing itself. Their approach to fashion is very similar to mine."

In the first place, he continues, the Uniqlo Innovation Project springs from humanitarian concerns. "You know the horrible things that have happened in Japan, that's changed people," he says. "Young people used to be much more materialistic but now they've reacted to the situation, they're thinking more seriously about things, so we thought: what are we going to do in response to that?"

A Uniqlo collaboration with Condé Nast Japan to raise money to alleviate the impact of the earthquake, for which Formichetti persuaded the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Alber Elbaz, Charlize Theron, Blake Lively and, of course, Gaga to design T-shirts, was a direct, charitable response. The Uniqlo Innovation Project demonstrates similar sympathies, Formichetti argues, if more obliquely.

"It's about clothing for the future," he says, "and, in the first place, our attention is on innovative fabrics, not silly, but functional, good for the body and good to wear – like modern-day armour. We focused on a sports silhouette, a simple colour palette. Next season we'll develop the shapes but it will still be more street, more sporty than tailored, because that's what we wear."

The pairing of universal design – the type of simple and effective pieces that every modern wardrobe requires – with revolutionary functionality is at the heart of it all, then, as opposed to mimicking the latest skirt length/ trouser shape/decade ripe for revival. Garments may be water-resistant, windproof, retain heat, filter ultraviolet light, stretch to an unprecedented degree... the list continues. "It's about finding out who you are – going back to basics," Formichetti says.

Uniqlo – the name is a blend of "unique" and "clothing" – was founded by Tadashi Yanai, the CEO of parent company Fast Retailing, opening its first shop in Hiroshima in 1984. It came to London in 2001. By the end of the decade, Yanai had been named the richest man in Japan by Forbes magazine. His secret? An empire dedicated primarily to the crafting of colourful basic clothing most notable, in the first instance, for the fact that it trapped body heat. Formichetti loves to wear Uniqlo tank tops, he says. There's not a style-conscious man or woman who can go through the winter months without one of the company's puffa jackets, meanwhile, which rival those that cost 10 times as much.

"Uniqlo has never depended too much on trend analysis or existing theories," Takizawa confirms, going on to state that it was when the company first introduced "fleecewear as outerwear" that it came to his attention. "The majority of people should have the opportunity to enjoy technological innovation in clothing, not just athletes. To evolve everyday garments that enhance convenience and are functional is innovative. Once, Mr Yanai told me that the invention of 'pantyhose' totally changed the daily lives of women. I think that is a clue to this project's aim."

Uniqlo Innovation Project is available from 23 September

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering