Since it was announced last October, it’s the chic we’ve been waiting for. Inès de la Fressange’s collaboration with Uniqlo is as intriguing as the Karl Lagerfeld-H&M pairing was ten years ago. That union in 2004 would change the standing of fast fashion forever, redefining the ‘fast’ for operators by creating record-breaking sell-throughs. Ms Fressange is not expected to change the course of fast fashion similarly, but it is believed she will bring some of the elegance she is associated with to a brand that has plotted to be, by the end of the decade, the biggest specialty clothing chain in the world.
Uniqlo can be many things, but chic?
Ms Fressange is known to say, “It’s not the clothes but it’s how you wear them.” The adage seems to have guided this Franco-Nippon affair. In the publicity photographs released by Uniqlo, Ms Fressange looks every bit her stylish self, augmented by the Parisian setting, and, in one photo, a wristwatch that looks suspiciously Hermès. The chic is discernible since she wears the clothes with such élan. On the racks, however, everything looks, well, Uniqlo.
Launched today at select Uniqlo stores, the ordinariness of the collection is not really surprising. In the early Nineties, Ms Fressange once owned an eponymous boutique in Avenue Montaigne, Paris. This came about shortly after her modelling contract with Chanel ended. Just prior to her departure, there was a reported tiff with Karl Lagerfeld, who had strongly objected to his muse lending her likeness to a bust of Marianne (the symbol of the French Republic). It was an honour she felt obliged to accept, and she was in good company as previous Mariannes included Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot. Mr Lagerfeld was opposed to this designation, publicly declaring that he wasn’t interested in dressing “historic monuments”.
The falling-out did not end her career in fashion. The Inès de la Fressange boutique eventually opened in the same vicinity as Dior, Valentino and Nina Ricci. Once inside, however, the glamour of her neighbours didn’t follow suit. Her little shop, evocative of her country home, sold what she called, “her favourite things”. These could be anything from sunglasses to navy blazers, even bed linens, but they weren’t necessarily fashionable. In fact, some of those “favourite things” that her customers gravitated towards were white cotton shirts. She was, at that time, creating her own Uniqlo.
The same sensibility that guided her in those years appeared to be repeated with the current collaboration, even when she was assisted by Naoki Takizawa, Uniqlo’s design director who was once behind the Issey Miyake label. These are what we currently call ‘normcore’ clothes, everyday pieces for everyday. Looking at each one closely, less than a handful enticed. There is the polyester/rayon/spandex slip-dress with the cowl neck ($29.90), the rayon wrap dress ($59.90), the cotton/cashmere round-neck cardigan ($49.90), the mixed-print cotton shirts ($29.90), and the white cotton Oxford shirt-dress with Eton collar ($49.90). A floral dress (left) was sold out by three in the afternoon.
Others are somewhat puzzling inclusions, since Uniqlo already makes and sells them: Dockers-looking chinos ($49.90), black cotton/linen draw string pants with red braided cotton tape ($49.90), plain silk shirts ($79.90), and cotton pin-striped blazer (99.90). You would need to refer to those photographs of Ms Fressange to see how stylish you could be with these clothes.
Whatever chic the collection may have emanated, it was drowned out by sales staff enticing piercingly: “Welcome to Uniqlo, new collection, limited stocks only, come have a look”, in the same sing-song manner as those donut sellers at Chewy Junior clearing unsold pastries after 9pm.
Inès de la Fressange X Uniqlo is now available at Uniqlo stores in Suntec City, Bugis+, 313@Sommerset, Ion Orchard, and Parkway Parade