Close Look: Ines De La Fressange Designs Men’s Wear

The embodiment of Parisian chic Ines de la Fressange, together with Uniqlo, is trying to grab the sartorial attention of guys. Are you thrilled?

Ines X Uniqlo AW 2017

By Ray Zhang

There’s always the first time, as the saying goes, but was it as good for her as it was not for me? Ines de la Fressange’s debut men’s pieces for Uniqlo did not get my pulse racing the way the Undercover and (first) Lemaire collaborations did. To make matters less appealing, Uniqlo has to include pieces from their house line into the merchandise mix as the Ines de la Fressange collection was not large enough to fill the space dedicated to its somewhat quiet launch. If there is an essence—Parisian-ness, for example—to be discerned, it is, sadly diluted.

This is Ines de la Fressange’s 8th collection with the Japanese fast fashion giant. To be fair, she’s become quite an old hand at it. The woman’s wear is a confident mélange of the familiar and the ‘elevated’. It is nice to see that she’s not stuck to those tiny floral prints that seemed to suggest far, far from Paris (Alsatian wine country?) and have offered, instead, rather charming prints of small double blooms spaced apart on polka-dots. Nothing terribly sérieuse, you see. Oh, and those shirt-dresses; they make Diane Von Furstenberg’s look positively inspired by thrift-stores and ready to go back there.

Ines X Uniqlo Mens 1

But the men’s! Ines de la Fressange, were you picking up the clothes for your man’s wardrobe? I sense that Ms de la Fressange is like some women: they would look impossibly chic—they have to, but they prefer their male companions to be just about right—conventional, not too branché. How else do you explain the pattern of Fair Isle knitting on sweaters for men while the women get far more modern colour blocking? Or, with the same fabric, the men get a plain shirt and the women a Western shirt?

With Uniqlo’s collaborative efforts, people seek out pieces that are a little different from what the brand normally does. I know I do. The involvement of another entity seems futile if the output does not visibly distance itself from the exceedingly plentiful already seen on the same floor. Do we need yet another black or navy blazer? Do we need yet another check flannel shirt? Do we need yet another slim-fit Chinos (when less than 100 metres away, there’s a roomy, single-pleat-front pair that’s a tad more outre)? I know I don’t.

Ines X Uniqlo Mens 2Clockwise from top left: wool blend blazer, S$149.90; striped cotton shirt, S$49.90; check flannel shirt, S$49.90; cashmere sweater, S$149.90

Lest, I am mistaken, I do take into consideration that with Uniqlo, collaborators have to respect their successful concept of LifeWear, which means clothes have to be user-friendly—fashion, I assume, being secondary. Perhaps Uniqlo thinks that enough of us buy into proper nouns associated with glamour and that alone may be sufficient. Ines de la Fressange’s name may move fashion for women, but it may not do the same for men. Or maybe there are really those who are easily seduced by the Euro-association and its attendant romance, such as ST’s former music reviewer and current director of the Singapore Writers Festival Yeow Kai Chai, who was seen going through the pieces like an eager beaver.

Maybe I am just nostalgic for the good old days of +J. Conceptually, that pairing was the strongest ever for Uniqlo, and successful enough for a greatest-hits drop after the collab ended. There was the discernible LifeWear sensibility, plus Jil Sander’s masterful and subtle twist on things, which years later still communicates a certain sophistication not since repeated. And, dare I add, usable dash.

Ines de la Fressange X Uniqlo AW 2017 collection is available at Uniqlo, Orchard Central. Photos: Uniqlo

The Elusive French Chic

Ines & Uniqlo 1Since 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.

Ines & Uniqlo 2Launched 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.

Ines & Uniqlo 3The 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