Close Look: Still A Plus

Jil Sander is back with Uniqlo. Launched today, the crowd that turned out was impressive for a Uniqlo launch. Together with the clothes, they proved that the designer, who no longer owns the label that bears her name, still has the touch

Uniqlo has stopped issuing shopping bags to shoppers, but for +J it offers specially designed paper carriers to house your buys

Friends and readers of SOTD have been messaging us these past days to tell of the manic scenes in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo during the much anticipated launch of Uniqlo +J. We read in the media that it was no less enthusiastic in many cities in Europe despite the pandemic restrictions and, in some cities, lockdowns. One particular video showing an unbelievably crazy scene in one purported Nagoya store had would-be shoppers worried. Here, however, things were a lot calmer, so much so that it would be tempting to assume that the comeback of the critically-lauded collaboration may come and go without a stir. At 8.25 this morning, only four persons were spotted within the cordoned holding area for the queuing. We spoke to a couple at the start of the line and was told that they had “just arrived”. Clearly, no one had camped out overnight, as initially expected.

By about ten, the queue had become what might be considered long. It filled the two holding areas designated in the main concourse of Orchard Central (OC). By noon, guesstimates placed the figure at about 200. This queue was only for shoppers buying the +J line, which had a dedicated space on the 2nd floor in the women’s department. Other shoppers to the store were allowed to use the regular entryway inside OC, next to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. We were told by one traffic controller that the total number allowed inside at any one time for both groups of shoppers is 970. Crowd controllers outside the +J selling area told us that only 20 people are allowed. We did notice a staff at the entry point for the +J crowd with a counter and another issuing a numbered ticket. Could this be from the playbook of the time when the Uniqlo mask was first launched?

The snaking line through the thankfully spacious concourse of Orchard Central

The queue, for many, did not end the minute one enters the store. Another short line is seen at the foot of the escalator going up to the second level, where a staff would summon the next customer(s) to ascend when shoppers have left the designated +J space. Once up here, there is still another line to join before one is actually allowed to be in the company of the merchandise. From here—the short bridge that connects OC to Orchard Gateway—the well-adhered-to-social-distancing crowd looked thin. A shopper told us she was in line for “about 140 mins”. Earlier when we asked a gatekeeper how long she thought the waiting time was and she told us, “100 people (were) allowed in within 2 hours”.

If you thought online shoppers had an easier time, that was not necessarily so. Past midnight, our two attempts failed—clicks on the photos of the products did not immediately bring us to the page for that very item that could be added to the cart. For some reason, the +J banner does not appear at the top of the page so that we could easily go the desired link. And clicking on the back button of our Huawei phone did not bring us back to the previous page. Instead, we were returned to the home page, where we needed to scroll down to the +J banner to click on it to return to the shopping page. Unwilling to sacrifice sleep, we thought we’d try again in the morning.

A message on Uniqlo’s website when some shoppers tried to access the +J merchandise in the morning

At thirty past six, the light from the Uniqlo website emanated from our phone, casting a soft glow in our still-dark bedroom. Further awaken by coffee, we thought we would be ready for what Uniqlo would offer us this morning. Fifteen minutes to seven, out attempts mirrored six hours earlier’s. But this time, we were digitally ushered to a “Virtual Waiting Room” (VWR). The reason: “due to overwhelming traffic”. Six minutes in here, nothing flashed or flickered. We refreshed the page and was again showed that VWR (do these ever get full?). While getting ready to go to the OC store, we tried again. At some point we could access the product pages, but we could not add anything to the still-empty cart. On the MRT train, many pages of individual items started showing a red “Not Available” across the colour choices of items, which we took to really mean sold out.

As less than two dozen shoppers were within the designated area, it made for a pleasant shopping experience, in that there was no jostling. But, customers, typical of those manic for collaborations perceived to be “cheap”, did leave a rather messy space, with shirts—for both men and women (the most popular items)—thrown on racks, without their accompanying hangers. It was easy to see and understand why these would be the first items to go. Staff in attendance told us that, in order for every shopper to have a fair chance at the merchandise, products were released “in batches”. But when we asked for a particular striped shirt in a size we wanted, we were told there was “no more.”

A dedicated space for the +J collection within the women’s department

The beauty of Jil Sander is, as it’s often said and exemplified by the current designers of the house she founded, is in the details. And for this collection, Ms Sander showed that minimalism need not be that bare tunic that so many millennials seem to associate with a design sensibility that had its beginnings in the ’90s. Sure, her designs could be, to the untrained eye, plain, but these were not in anyway whatevercore. We like how she has reworked the stricter silhouette of former collections for something more relaxed, reflecting the (even) more casual attitude towards dress that many have adopted these days. She has, for instance, dropped the shoulders of shirts (for both men’s and women’s), but not to the point where they hang unpurposefully on the body. She makes pockets special by using details on blunted edge of flaps, by making the pockets themselves capacious (on the coats, they’re roomy enough for winter gloves). These are practical considerations and welcome necessities.

The outers are really appealing too, especially the puffers. The women’s versions are sensible and given shapes—even in the sleeves—that are flattering and not linear. Understandably, the shirts (and shirt-dresses) in Supima cotton will do well here since we are able to actually wear them, as opposed to the coats. What is perhaps a little of a let down are the pants. These could have come from Uniqlo’s own collections, and are far more basic looking—neither wide-legged nor slim—than any of the kindred tops and knit dresses that are so seductive. But the pants’ lack of excitement may just be just the perfect underscoring of the beguilingly shaped shirts and outers. That’s the beautiful balance. And Jil Sander nailed it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Update (21 November 2020, 12.12): As shoppers throng the OC store to cop the +J collection, the new, opened-on-the-same-day Plaza Singapura store is stocked with some of the +J merchandise, such as the much coveted shirts and a few of the outers

Uniqlo +J is available at Uniqlo Global Flagship, Ochard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

In Bold Strides

Japan’s White Mountaineering collaborates with Fila. The result is more for track and field than pitch and trail

These days, every designer label worth its salt—or stripes—collaborates with at least one sports label. The Italian brand Fila is rather productive in this respect, and has been able to attract Japanese names to its stable, such as Mihara Yasuhiro. Hot on the heels of that release is the collaboration with White Mountaineering under the line Fila Fusion, which, according to a Fila Facebook post, “targets (the) youth market, incorporating vintage and on trend elements to bringing streetwear into a new level.”

White Moutaineering’s been quite a prolific brand collaborator, having paired with Adidas for quite a few seasons, and more recently, with the Italian outdoor wear label Colmar, the American athletic brand Saucony, as well as Australian footwear Ugg. Designer Yosuke Aizawa would be the guy to bring Fila’s Euro-vintagey sportif style to quite a height, never mind “new”. While WM fans might be hoping for a more up-the-hill aesthetic, Mr Aizawa and his team have remained close to Fila’s athletic roots, including the latter’s colour scheme for its logotype.

White Mountaineering X Fila. From left: (women’s), T-shirt, SGD136, and skirt, SGD208; (men’s) pullover, SGD208, and track pants, SGD 288. Products photo: Fila. Collage: Just So

To the uninitiated (or Fila novices), the blue/red/white combination could be mistaken as those worn by the North American team bound for the Olympics. Truth be told, there’s nothing quite mountaineering about these cheery, potentially nationalistic colours. They are more track than trail, and would really not be out of place on a path of any urban centre or the walkway of a mall. But WM devotees would want something to identify the brand with, and Mr Aizawa offers a hint of WM detailing, such as the brand’s logo bordered by ethnic-looking repeated patterns. In fact, the collection is mostly based on Fila staples, but with WM’s love of details gleaned from military and work wear.

The women’s pieces are quite the standout that many sportswear collaboration are not (except possibly Sacai and Nike). We like the boxier tops and the layered/pleated skirts—rather tennis wear charmingly gone a little off-tangent. As with WM collections, the Fila outers are smashing. Lightweight jackets, some with that ethnic pattern, but mostly with massive pockets (and flaps) are totally consistent with the outdoor look, but city-centric enough to go over any dress that you might be wearing now. If only our climate here isn’t one we wish we didn’t have.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

White Mountaineering X Fila autumn/winter 2020 is available at Fila, Orchard Central. Photo (top): Zhao Xiangji