Undercover has not gone Madstore bonkers. Their latest offerings are not as street-bent as the brand is known for. Are these clothes for some secret commune?
In troubled times, do people dream of a monastic life? Or something close to that? Undercover’s first set of photos from their pictures-only presentation of their spring/summer 2022 collection suggests a retreat to some place less manic, more bucolic. This is not the setting we imagine Jun Takahashi, stalwart of the Harajuku street scene of the early ’90s, would place his designs in. But there they are, shot against lush hillside greenery, with a foreground of wooden decking that looks like a verandah of someone’s country home. Or, some monastic hideaway. Perhaps it is the hat that each of the first ten models has on—something akin to what a Taoist priest might wear?
The collection is called Once a Lifetime. It is not immediately clear what Mr Takahashi is alluding to. Could it be the pandemic? The WFH? The difficulties in putting a collection together during such a time? Or that maybe, for once in a lifetime, we need clothes that are a reflection of assuring and positive realness? Like the output of so many of the Japanese menswear designers this season, there’s an outdoorsy vibe to the clothes (outside is safer than inside?). But these are not really trekking togs although they wouldn’t be out of place anywhere on a trail (you’d need the right shoes, though). What’s appealing is that they look ready for any rough-and-tumble, for any weather condition, for serious use, not just for leisure pursuits. They are are not challenging clothes, but they have a lure that says, with their addition, you don’t need to revamp your wardrobe.
“No more street style,” Mr Takahashi told Highsnobiety in 2019. He has largely kept to his word. Since his spring/summer 2020 show, Undercover has put out pieces that can add variety to one’s closet, to go beyond what many guys consider comfort clothes. For close to 30 years, Mr Takahashi’s streetwear (not entirely an accurate description since he has offered more than that), with its own conceptual heft and visual flair, was what many aspiring designers look to for some old-fashion inspiration. Mr Takahashi has an uncommon eye for graphic uniqueness that so impressed Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli that the latter initiated a collab with Undercover for spring/summer 2020, featuring Mr Takahashi’s somewhat otherworldly visuals (flying saucers!), placed in not-the-usual spots on the clothes (this collab, to us is the “pinnacle”, not the one with Off-White in 2019!). While there is now a moving away from those elements that make Undercover the brand among those who truly know and are cool at the same time: the beloved graphics remain: T-shirts, roomier than ever, come with colourful shapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Alexander Calder mobile.
As usual, the outers are alluring. Japanese designers simply have a way with them, and even the unassuming windbreakers show the Undercover predilection for the progressive, and in a sheer nylon the colour of amber. The blazers are beautifully relaxed in silhouette, quite the antithesis of the couture versions shown in Paris that men are now thought to lust after. There is also the hoodie/cargo jogger sets with bag label Eastpak to make the regular customers happy. But this post can’t be complete without mentioning those comforter-like robe-coats—two appearing at the start of the photo set. How these will find their place in a guy’s regular wardrobe is not immediately clear. There is something utterly relaxed about them, and protective. They defy the need to be paired with anything that says ‘fashion’, holding up on their own with positive elan. Perhaps this is the continual appeal of Undercover—they just make handsome, desirable clothes.