The Follow-Up Comeback Collection

Is the next season of +J as compelling and as crowd-pulling as the first?

Static display outside the Uniqlo store at Orchard Central yesterday

Uniqlo knew that they had a winner when long queues were seen outside their flagship store in Orchard Central on the day of the launch of the resuscitated +J collection last November and the demand for the pieces were still high even a month after. This was generally seen throughout much of Asia (in Hong Kong, it was, as observers noted, “overwhelming”). Initially, no news was released if there would be a second season, although sources told us at the time that Uniqlo was “ready for a follow-up” and, presumably, the designer Jil Sander herself. Official word came on 3 March when the retailer announced that the launch today “continues last season’s popular return of Uniqlo’s collaboration”. Two days after that, it was reported that Jil Sander the label, presently designed by Luke and Lucie Meier, was sold by Japanese conglomerate Onward Holdings to the Italian luxury group Only the Brave, parent company of Diesel and Margiela.

A second season of +J is, perhaps, inevitable—it was launched this morning. That the Jil Sander name still enjoys high visibility even without any connection to its founder perhaps attests to the appeal of well-established labels, continually putting out clothes that resonate with those who appreciate designs that are not bombastic. In the case of +J fans, for whom moniker and associations are added value to the clothes they buy, even if not priced in the same level as designer labels. As one fashion stylist told us, “+J does not look cheap”. It helps that, unlike collaborations with, for example, JW Anderson, +J is marketed as covetable, so much so that people are willing to queue to get their hands on the pieces.

There was surprisingly a very short line this morning. In fact, prior to the opening of the store at 11am, the few present within the cordoned space would not constitute a queue. Could the craze have waned, we wondered. About 30 minutes later, a possibly daunting line could be seen. Staff controlling the crowd estimated the number to be around 90 as the space was marked out to hold that number of shoppers. As before, this was a line for +J customers only. They had to wait for typically 30 mins (the duration, as seen up to noon). A ticket was issued and a staff guided the six or so to the women’s department, in front of the escalator on the second floor. But you have no immediate access.

The +J selling space on the day before the launch

The same space today, at noon

Like during the day of the launch last year, a holding area was set up on the connector-bridge that, pre-pandemic, would have led to Orchard Gateway. But unlike the previous occasion, black stools that looked like Ikea’s Marius were now available for the waiting to be more comfortable. And those in this space need not while away the time on their smartphone for long. Shoppers in the +J retail zone were given only half an hour to pick up what they desired (which recalled similar time limits at the launch of H&M’s designer collabs). To help them make the most of the 30 minutes, the +J catalogue was distributed prior to entry, but not many wanted it (later, it could be seen disposed in the bins throughout OC, and even further away at Takashimaya Shopping Centre). Once inside, there was a maximum of 20 shoppers allowed, which made for reasonably comfortable browsing and selecting. Staff manning the line had served the reminder that no more than five pieces for purchase per person was permissible, and no more than one per style (but another colour was allowed).

Wearers of +J might project themselves as knowing sophisticates, but as shoppers, they could be anyone of them visitors to the Chinatown wet market, in the days leading to Chinese New Year. Or, if a better comparison is preferred, like those at the Club 21 Bazaar. For some reason, the clothes, once examined or slipped on, did not deserve hangers or their neat places on shelves. This shopping behaviour seemed to be consistent with the general lack of respect for clothes, no matter what price is indicated on the price tag. The desire to own the quiet, intelligent designs of Ms Sander is no indication that there is the accompanying capacity to interface with the clothes—and the environment in which they’re sold—in an appreciative manner.

It is regrettable to see garments that have clearly enjoyed the rigorous process of design, as well as the careful thought of what works in the present be given affection that is, at best, cursory, for there is much to love about +J. Once again, Uniqlo illustrates that clothes, regardless of what we wear them for or when, can always be better designed, and be more refined, even when so many consumers are blasé about fashion, or opting for garments that don’t need ‘personality’ to thrive among the denizens. Ms Sander has created “classics”, but not in the sense of what we might want that is trend-neutral and can stand the test of time. The +J pieces are totally driven by the smallest of details, even those that bring only pleasure to the wearer. Subtly is not so indistinct when they are this pronounced.

Some repeated items from last season are now available to general public on the first floor of the OC store

This is a collection that will continue to hold Uniqlo in good stead among a certain faction of the fashion community: those who value design and will continue to buy +J’s embodiment of the practical in the creative. Ms Sander has built the collection on shirts, incorporating graphic touches, as in one cropped dolman-sleeved chemise, horizontal pleats in the rear that have the quiet assured by closed blinds. Even the shirts for guys—this season with open collars—now come in a highly desirable version that can be worn as an outer, like a blouson. One skirt, too, stood out, a two-tone polyester-silk taffeta piece with side hems positioned diagonally forward and centre-back panels cut to provide a little flirtatious kick at the hem. Those in search of a parka would be well served to pick one short, A-line version with a hood that sits under a wide band collar, with draw-string-attached. When pulled to tighten, the effect could be a ruff, or even a flower! It seems Ms Sander has had some fun with this collection.

Although shoppers joining the queue were of the impression that the second +J season would not be repeated and are available in limited quantities to buy (at least on launch day), many, too, were surprised that some popular pieces from last November are available once more. Most unmistakable are the men’s Supima cotton shirts that were really sought after last year. Even women preferred the guys’ versions. Now, one of the styles with striped and plain-weave fabrics, is repeated—its restock clearly tethered to high demand. They take pride of space, right in the middle of the store entrance, confident of their second-round success. A young woman—in a slip top and denim cut-offs—and her mother was earlier standing outside the second-floor +J sales zone, looking at the buying buzz inside that she was not privy to. She told her mom, “Why nice? Not sexy at all.” Outside, back on the first floor, a longer line had formed. Many here obviously didn’t care if +J is sexy. Only if it’s here to stay, or not.

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

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