A Lifetime Less Ordinary

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.

Photos: Undercover

When Art Slips In

Undercover’s Jun Takahashi combines art and fashion so effortlessly

Fashion may not be art (we’re not initiating a debate), but art can sure work its way into fashion. Jun Takahashi has always been a designer with a strong graphic sense, which explains why Undercover T-shirts, with their offbeat illustrations, are massively popular at both the Madstores anywhere and the brands flagship in Aoyama, Tokyo. And, the collaboration with Valentino two fall seasons ago, seducing fans of both labels with a curious and compelling mix of flying saucers, alphabets, Beethoven, and Edgar Alan Poe in thoughtful collages that are really more arty than it is, as some KOLs thought, street. The subversive bent that Mr Takahashi is known for was ever present too.

But there has never really been art, as defined by the art world, until now. For his latest collection, Mr Takahashi collaborates with the Swedish painter, Markus Åkesson, known for his photorealistic portraits of persons completely wrapped, up to the head, in floral fabrics that would give Richard Quinn an orgiastic thrill. The anonymity of the subjects and the fashion-worthy cloths for both model and background makes for compositions that are odd and beautiful, or oddly beautiful, which may also describe Undercover’s unconventional application of graphics in clothes that are, well, oftentimes conventional. This is one of the most synergistic collaborations between artist and designer, something not always evident with those who have previously tried.

Art on clothes—that are often described as streetwear—in the hands of Mr Takahashi is beguiling. Most of the garments are Undercover on familiar territory: pullovers, hoodies, blousons, parkas, and such. But the application of the art, composed without loss of the visual impact of the original, elevates the pieces. as elevation is meant to transmit. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the everyday becomes occasion-worthy. While not many might wear a poster-size delineation of an unknown on their front or back, there would be those who has no qualms in striking portraiture as part of their sartorial expression. Mr Takahashi, like many of his compatriots, has also a weakness for workwear, for utilitarian details, and this season he does not disappoint. One standout detail: a bag attached to outerwear, which we suspect is used to also house the garment itself when folded for compact transportability.

Undercover is one of the most popular menswear labels in Japan. One of the reasons why they’re so esteemed and followed is the immediacy of everyday usability in their products, without sacrificing design. And all the while not losing the punk sensibility that still filters through from his early days as band member of The Tokyo Sex Pistols. Jun Takahashi may not consciously position himself as a streetwear designer (his underrated womenswear is proof), but fans won’t think otherwise. Accessibility has always been his strength. Even when there is the application of art, as is the case this season, the pieces do not distance themselves as objects so rarefied that they’re untouchable.

Photos: Undercover

PFW: The Japanese Brands Not Comme des Garçons Or Yohji Yamamoto, Or Issey Miyake

Designers decamping Tokyo for Paris are not just the ones from many moons ago. Here, we take a look at the few that we have been watching regularly and closely… even before their move to the fashion capital of the world 

 

PFW JapaneseCollage: Just So. Photo: Undercover

Paris has always been the ultimate destination for Japanese designers to show and to sell to the world. Not all who participate in Paris Fashion Week (PFW), however, enjoy the longevity of the Tokyo big three: Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, and Yohji Yamamoto. Or the hype that follows the newish names, such as Junya Watanabe and his one-time employee Chitose Abe of Sacai, who was just invited to be the first guest designer for the re-thought Jean Paul Gaultier haute couture collection. It requires no big-data analysis to understand how irresistible it still is to show in Paris. After all, their compatriots have successfully laid the path in the ’70s and ’80s, and wanting to emulate their ways for the attendant success and fame is totally expected, even rational.

Although Japanese designers have participated in PFW for more than four decades, not many show consistently. Some, such as Mihara Yasuhiro, Auralee’s Ryota Iwai, and Kolor’s Junichi Abe (Chitose Abe’s husband, but according to the Tokyo grapevine, “former”) continues only with the Men’s PFW although they design for both sexes. And there are those who have come and gone, such as Masaki Matsushita, Keita Maruyama, Akira Onozuka (or Zucca), and Issey Miyake alum Chisato Tsumori, and Yohji Yamamoto’s former rep in Paris Atsuro Tayama (both Ms Tsumori and Mr Tayama, to be sure, still operate showroom and studio respectively in the city). Paris may be welcoming but that does not mean it is conducive to recognition or propitious to international stardom. 

By the mid-’90s, a Japanese in Paris is no longer novel or necessarily a draw, but the few who stayed and those who continued to come do keep PFW nicely varied, just as their critical acclaim were too. Although the big names are still attracting media attention with their headline-ready collections, as well as massive fan turn-up, the smaller brands are, to us, doing just as challenging (if not more) work that continue to put Japanese design thinking and aesthetical uniqueness in the spotlight. In view of the COVID-19 outbreak, most Chinese designers have dropped out of PFW this season. Conversely, the Japanese have largely stuck to their original schedules. Here, six Japanese names or brands to note and, perhaps, to enjoy.

Anrealage

Anrealage AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Even in Tokyo, Anrealage is a relatively quiet brand, despite its own compelling flagship, opened in 2016 in the luxury shopping district of Aoyama, off the famed Omotesando, not far away from Sacai’s own. Perhaps things will change for the brand founded by Kunihiko Morinaga. In Paris, Anrealage is increasingly drawing critical acclaim and back home in Tokyo, a new corner within the refurbished Shibuya Parco is drawing more shoppers to this 17-year-old brand. Often described as “strong” and “directional”, Anrealage is especially appealing among fashion folks with a yen for the Japanese avant-garde—in particular among those who are less drawn to the labels under the Comme des Garçons kasa (傘 or umbrella). 

Anrealage debuted in Paris in 2014 with the spring/summer 2015 collection. Yet, only last year was the brand getting the attention it deserves when Mr Morinaga was one of eight finalists for the 2019 LVMH Prize. Although he did not win it (South Africa’s Thebe Magugu clinched the award), he continues to show that Anrealage is not only a label to follow, but to covet as well. In Japan, he was named Best New Designer for the Shiseido Sponsorship Award at the 29th Mainichi (national daily newspaper) Fashion Grand Prix held in Tokyo, cementing his reputation as the one to rise, not merely to watch. Collaborations with Onitsuka Tiger, Dickies, and Bearbrick will only yard-up the brand’s popularity.

Mr Morinaga told Japan House last year: “I’m not interested in making something overly offbeat. My aim is to design clothes that inject a little bit of intrigue in the everyday.” Perhaps a bit of an understatement when one considers that the striking collection of the autumn/winter 2020 season, which continues to see Mr Morinaga bringing together, as in the past, what he calls “the real and the unreal”. Wearability is paired with the seemingly anti-body. The coats, for instance, appear almost two-dimensional, as if animating a paper pattern, which bear a resemblance to the giant clothes that front the Parco store. Unreal, but delightfully so.

Beautiful People

Beautiful People AW 2020Photos: Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Like many Japanese designer gaining an increasingly audible bleep on the PFW radar, Hidenori Kumakiri of Beautiful People can call the veritable launching pad of careers, Comme des Garçons, alma mater. And like other alums, such as Chitose Abe, Mr Kumajiri was a pattern maker, in his case, for CDG Homme. After six years in their employ, he started his own label. And the preciseness that came with the previous tenure stuck along. A Japanese precision. As he once told Tank magazine, “When you train as a pattern cutter at Comme des Garçons, you always want to make everything perfect.”

Beautiful People may sound like a spin-off of Rachel Ashwell’s Shabby Chic, but the former has way more bite than the latter’s teeth-less chew. His designs underscore Mr Kimakiri’s technical skills—no shape too unmanageable, no seam too unplaceable. The designer describes his kooky elegance “French chic–meets–Japanese pop”. But that is, to us, a little misleading as Beautiful People is more than the coming together of divergent West and East, soigné and Shibuya. From the start, there has been poles apart meeting in the middle. Male and female don’t blur, but happily co-exist, so too are top and bottom, front and back, and even, oddly, child and adult. In fact, Mr Kimakiri’s initial impact was in what he called “Kid Series”—“children’s clothes for grown-ups”. So popular they have been, the Kid’s Series is a permanent sub-collection.

But make no mistake, this is not hybridising as the Japanese are known for and wont to do. As seen in Beautiful People’s autumn/winter 2020 show, the coming together of different components aims for a certain harmony rather than discord. In excess was not military-coat-meets-sundress, jumper-conjoined-to-shirt, trousers-couple-skirts. Or, Y-Project-style amalgamation of individual garments. Rather, Beautiful People, shown in Paris since the spring/summer 2017 season, cleverly pulls opposing forces together in a way that one barely notices until the trench coat, for instance, reveals the appealing rather than disagreeable other side of its Two-Face. In a word, beautiful.

Mame

mame AW 2020Photos: Mame

Mame (pronounced mah may, as in ‘bean’ in Japanese) is the brainchild of Maiko Kurogouchi, alum of Bunka Fashion College and, professionally, Issey Miyake. Dubbed “the next Sacai” by Western media, Ms Kurogouchi’s aesthetic is, conversely, unlike the former’s, although at times, they share a certain enhanced femininity—between a wayward schoolgirl and bored housewife—that is uniquely and identifiably Japanese. More significantly, Ms Kurogouchi is not the chronic hybridiser that Chitose Abe is. In fact, among all the designers in this brief list, she offers clothes closest to what many consider conventional and not a fright or challenge to a potential mate. Or, as she calls it—by a rather archaic-sounding descriptor, “timeless”.

The ten-year-old Mame showed in Paris since the fall season of 2019, which makes the label a PFW baby. In fact, at 35, the brand’s Nagano-born founder is the youngest too. Her age, however, belies her experience, especially in incorporating Japanese craft, textile, and age-old techniques in her designs, without going into national-dress territory, or costume-y nostalgia. While those who find pleasure in the alt may consider her designs too straight for expressing their far-out side, many of the label’s fans adore Mame’s familiar silhouettes, within which traditional Japanese elements are judiciously applied, not to pander to Western sense of Eastern exotica (even when she’s showing in Paris), but to extend the longevity of homeland craftsmanship and skill.

This season, Mame’s womanly silhouette and sense of femininity are enhanced with draping, asymmetry, and a strong use of open-work fabrics. Ms Kurogouchi, more than any of her compatriots, seems determined to contradict the belief that Japanese fashion is, by default, outré, never mind that she cut her teeth with one of the most way-out-inventive designers that emerged from Japan: Issey Miyake. In addition, a collaboration with the Italian shoe brand Tods that features clothing and accessories (dropping this month in stores) will likely see Mame as champion of the sanely swish.

Noir Kei Ninomiya

Noir KN AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

As it’s often said about design that is above the ken of the average fashion consumer, Kei Ninomiya’s Noir line, produced by the Comme des Garçons group, is not for the faint of heart. Of all the names linked to CDG, where quite a few of today’s successful Japanese designers with an international reputation graduate professionally, Kei Ninomiya takes to the CDG spirit most closely and ardently. In fact, oftentimes, his designs are more complex and the assembling more intricate than his famous employer’s museum-ready pieces. Mr Ninomiya had admitted to i-D magazine last year that “it is all very tough, to be honest. Even if you have an image in your head, there are cases where it is hard to actually make it.”.

One of three CDG brands that shows in PFW, Noir (as it is mostly known) was born in 2012, when Mr Ninomiya was only 28. The brand made its Paris debut in the spring/summer season of 2016. A graduate of Antwerp’s famed Royal Academy, he was reported to be unable to sew at the time he joined CDG. Mr Ninomiya corrected that perception by telling the media that he did eventually learn to sew as it was taught at CDG. Even with the skill, he conceived Noir to involve little sewing. The clothes in body-obscuring forms are often knitted (not necessarily with yarn), strung together by means of polygonal links, or held together by press studs. With Noir, one never thinks of how the clothes would be stored, washed, or ironed.

Despite naming his brand after the French word for ‘black’, the collections do sport some colour, such as this season’s reds, including their metallic cousins. Or, its opposite, white. Black, however, is still core to the collections. As Mr Ninomiya told i-D, black “is the absence of colour, and without colour you can emphasise the form and technique and create simple and strong designs.” While irrefutably strong rather than simple, these forms and techniques are best appreciated by confronting the clothes upfront (easily in CDG-owned Dover Street Market). One then senses that Kei Ninomiya is really more a proponent of crafting than mere sewing.

Toga

Toga AW 2020Photos: Alessandro Lucioni/gorunway.com

A brand’s success could perhaps be assessed by the demands of pieces done in the past. At Toga’s new space in Shibuya Parco, substantial rack space is dedicated to pieces from the Archive, and the interest in them is no less than anything grouped under New Arrivals. Toga may be relatively unknown in the west, even here in the east, but in Japan, Toga is not only covetable, they’re collectable. A sales staff in Tokyo’s most popular vintage clothier Rag Tag told us in December last year, “very hard to see Toga. Every time we put something out, it’s gone.” Such is the response to the brand among the cognoscenti that the rapidly growing awareness and popularity of Toga in Paris is really a matter of time than the influence of social media.

Interestingly, Toga founder Yasuko Furuta had her start in the retailing of vintage fashion, which may explain the existence of Archive—good designs need not be forgotten when the season is over. A graduate of the esteemed fashion school Esmod Paris, Ms Furuta returned to Tokyo and worked as a stylist before starting Toga in 1997. She presented the brand’s first runway show in Paris in 2006, with an autumn/winter collection called Monastic. But if that is suggestion of bleak and spare designs, then the name is a misnomer. Toga, till today, is a technical powerhouse of mixing vintage clothes, couture styles, and what may be considered Shibuya street, and then deconstructed to yield clothes that are different yet unquestionably wearable.

For autumn/winter 2020, Ms Furuta offers pieces, such as shirting and blazers, rooted in men’s wear, but given her unmistakably feminine twist. The sum reveals Ms Furuta’s flair for taking what women already wear or are familiar with and giving them unexpected design elements within those ready confines. Her clothes are not weird for the purpose of standing out strange. Rather, she challenges the notion that appealing, feminine fashion must not differ between those for mother and daughter, boss and co-worker, even just the usual she and her. And the past can certainly join the present in an easy, fascinating alliance.

Undercover

Undercover AW 2020Photos: Undercover

To be sure, Undercover is not new. Against the rest here, designer Jun Takahashi’s an old hat. Yet, until his stupendous collaboration with Valentino last fall, only streetwear fans seem to relate to what he does, which, for some of us, is a little annoying. We feel that he should be included in this list because his Undercover has been, in our opinion, unfairly considered and labelled as a bona fide streetwear brand, even in his native Japan, just because he has found considerable success with Madstore, the candy shop for casual clothes, bags, and toys; and earlier, in the 1993, the truly streetwear venture Nowhere that he started with T-shirt king Nigo.

Mr Takahashi’s trajectory in the streetwear sphere is a little unexpected, considering that he had received the blessings of none other than the high priestess of the Japanese avant-garde herself, Rei Kawakubo. According to popular telling, Ms Kawakubo had been impressed with Undercover as early as the mid-’90s, and had invited him to Paris, where the now-closed multi-label store Colette was so taken by Undercover that they invited Mr Takahashi to present the 1998 collection ‘Exchange’ in their Rue Saint-Honoré store. Just four years later, Undercover presented their first PFW collection for spring/summer 2003.

Despite his streetwear leaning, Mr Takahashi has shown tremendous design mastery, coupled with astounding imagination that sees his work recall fairy-tale-like characters in what could be tableaux akin to old masters’ paintings. The two-time Mainichi Fashion Grand Prize winner has a way with taking the unconventional garment construction that the Japanese before him were known for, and giving it the streetwear currency that he is able to communicate.

That he can draw from both the popular and the more cerebral, such as Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film, Throne of Blood—which re-imagined Shakespeare’s Macbeth—for the autumn/winter 2020 collection (surprisingly not shown on a catwalk), is both amazing and admirable. The Renaissance seen through the eyes of, say, street artist Shepard Fairey—underpinnings and ruffles go with khakis, and here and there, prints of roses and razor blades! The Pirates of Penzance for the stomping grounds of PFW! Is it any wonder that The New York Times called him “The Sorcerer of Fashion”?

Mad And Good

Go crazy! The first in Southeast Asia, Undercover’s Madstore is a provision shop that happens to be a hipster hub

 

Madstore P1

By Gambier Tan

Way before yesterday’s published opening time of Undercover’s debut Madstore in SG, a pop-up in the main atrium of ION Orchard, fans of Jun Takahashi’s label were milling in front of the un-walled and un-glassed-up space, eyeing what to cop. It is not known that any merch stocked here would be in limited quantities, but it looked to me that many of the impatient shoppers weren’t taking any chances.

Their palpable enthusiam is understandable and was to be expected. This is Mr Takahashi doing what compatriot Nigo had done so well with A Bathing Ape many years ago: creating cool fashion products with a streetwear bent that are priced attractively—not too cheap and not too expensive; the sweet spot of S$120 on average for a T-shirt. Although A Bathing Ape was sold to Hong Kong’s IT Group in 2011, its merchandising approach and sharp pricing continue to influence later Tokyo streetwear brands and retailers such as Ground Y and Atmos.

Madstore P2Madstore P3

To enhance the ‘Mad’ experience, Mr Takahashi takes it further by vending not only the clothes with the off-centre graphics that he is known for, but also zany products that enhance the crazy-cool illustrations that are often applied on the clothes, so alluringly that they enticed Pierpaolo Piccioli to commission Mr Takahashi to design beguiling collages for Valentino this season. Whether happy coincidence or deliberate strategy, I couldn’t tell, but the Madstore pop-up sat directly opposite the temporary Valentino shoe and handbag store.

I mention Nigo on purpose. Back in 1993, he opened his first store Nowhere with Jun Takahashi—then also the vocalist of the the cover band Tokyo Sex Pistols—in the yet-to-be-trendy part of Harajuku known locally as Ura-Harajuku (or urahara for short, the ‘back’ of Harajuku, now punctuated with many too-hip sneaker stores). Undercover was born earlier—in 1990, but I suspect Nowhere allowed Mr Takahashi to plant the seed that would eventually sprout as the precursor to the Mad Store, the Mad Market.

Madstore P4.jpg

I remember the Mad Market well. It was initially sited in Undercover’s flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo, next to what had been the 10 Corso Como Comme des Garçons store. Unlike the unmistakable look of the Madstore, with the red (or green) utilitarian display units, the Mad Market, as the name suggests, was more ichiba in its approach and was an organised jumble of ‘vintage’ (past season, including samples), current, and pre-loved Undercover clothes, collab merchandise, other brands (such as the Spanish head wear label Buff) and assorted knick-knacks, as well as furniture. Somehow, it reminded me of the now-defunct Comme des Garçons Guerrilla store.

Fast forward to 2015, the Mad Market morphed into the Madstore and it debuted in the old Parco Shibuya Part 1, in a space opposite the maze-like Comme des Garçons. This Madstore was curated to weaken even the most controlled shopper into opening up his wallet. The space was a veritable provision shop! You just sensed that there was something to be bought. And it was filled with many products priced at what retail analysts would call entry level.

Madstore P5Madstore P6

But affordable did not mean aesthetically lame. In fact, Undercover merchandise—from T-shirts sporting the iconic teddy bears with blocked-out eyes to purses in the shape of edibles such as celery sticks to home wares such as the fanged burger lamp—communicate a visual language that has its roots in punk, but draws one in with the immediacy of those of Supreme, oftentimes with a dose of irreverence and provocative humour—photo prints of supposed Biblical images with ‘Mad’ printed conspicuously in a corner!

I have always found Undercover’s high-toned casual wear appealing, whether in its own outlets, in an Isetan corner, or in the Madstore. It is in the latter that perhaps one might find browsing—a ritual overtaken by online scrolling—the merch fun. Undercover may be a fashion label, but Madstore lives up to the brand’s motto: We Make Noise Not Clothes. However, this is no clamour; rather, the merchandise mix is a chatter that one might find in a delicatessen, a hum of admiration by those in the know.

Madstore P7bMadstore in Laforet, Harajuku, Tokyo

My observation showed me that the visitors to the Madstore pop-up are well aware of what it offered and the appeal within. I saw shoppers eyeing not only the large selection of tees (the one with the underscored U appeared popular) and the logo-ed windbreakers, but also the sub-brands of JohnUndercover and SueUndercover, as well as the small accessories, such as Medicom Toy danglies, which, at S$30 a pop for the Undercover teddy bear mascot, is the cheapest product to purchase.

According to the staff, this is “the first (free-standing) Madstore in Southeast Asia” (opened in partnership with Club 21, but Isetan in Kuala Lumpur, too, has recently erected a mini-me version) and the largest outside Japan (it looks to me to be about the same size as the one in Laforet, Harajuku). But this is not the first time Madstore appeared on our shores. It was first introduced to us as a small, against-a-single-wall unit in Dover Street Market Singapore, adjacent to the now closed stretch of Good Design Store. Later, some of the Madstore merch was (and still is) available in Undercover’s dedicated space. Wherever it appears, I’d say retail here could really do with going ‘Mad’.

The Undercover Madstore is opened till 12 November 2019 at level 1 atrium, ION Orchard. Photos: Galerie Gombak and Jiro Shiratori

Close Up: Another Elusive One

Even with a second drop, this well-hyped Nike X Undercover shoe is nearly impossible to cop. Some sneaker-seekers wonder if it actually exits. It does and it’s totally desirable

 

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P1

Nike and Undercover are playing hide and seek with us again. The second drop of their latest collab, like the hitherto nearly-impossible-to-find Element React 87 (including and especially the Undercover versions), is seen all over the Net, on every social media account you bother to follow, but in stores, both Nike and indie retailers, you’ll be convinced that, unlike the Gyakusou imprint produced by Nike and Jun Takahashi, all releases by the Swoosh and the brand that “makes noise, not clothes” are more holy grail than hot cakes.

The latest is a remake of the 1979 Daybreak, a sneaker Nike proudly calls “old-school”. But Jun Takahashi is never so obvious. Old-school in his hands can be retro-futuristic. And it is his not-quite-running-shoe-looking take that is clearly the draw. Crossing into “luxury streetwear” territory (but nothing as bland and repetitive as Yeezies), the new Daybreak—also known as Dbreak in some reports and e-shops—has all the elements that knowing sneakerheads call cool: a recognisable form factor, daring colour combinations (such as the second drop’s ‘bright citron’ or lemon yellow), and a defining feature—here an exaggerated “heel clip”.

 

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P2

It is really this heel clip (which looks inserted and can be removed, but not at all) in molded and speckled plastic extending upwards and outwards from the natural curve of the heel that really allows the shoe to stand out, if not stick out. And, win so many fans. While this detail in the rear is more decorative (a frame for Undercover’s underscored-U logo) than functional, it does give the shoe an edge that no other recent Nike release—even the Nike X Sacai LD Waffle Daybreak, with the superfluous double Swooshes—can top.

What is especially appealing to us is the Daybreak’s opposite of the dad silhouette that has belatedly gripped the imagination of the sneaker-buying public here. In your hands, the shoe may appear a tad too early Nike running shoes, but when worn there’s a slim-line sleekness that has been missing in sneakers since the return of the Stan Smith in 2014 or post-Balenciaga Triple S—the kick that really kicked aside all shoes not as ungainly. Who’d thought that crowded-train-unfriendly hippopotamus of a sneaker was going to thrill the trainer fan?

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P3

In fact, Undercover’s Jun Takahashi is not a hypebeast you’d call a trend follower. Just look at everything he has done with Nike for his Gyakusou spin-off brand. Except perhaps the collab with Valentino, there is almost nothing in his arsenal that suggests he is swayed by the most-liked post in Sneaker Freaker. That is, ironically, his burgeoning appeal and possibly why all the Nike X Underground releases are maddeningly limited. Sometimes, brands just don’t love you back.


Second Time Lucky

By Ray Zhang

I have written about my frustration with copping the Nike X Undercover Daybreak. So, truth be told, I gave up. I convinced myself that I do not need another over-hyped sneaker and had, in fact, eyed the Daybreak SP in Ocean Fog/Mountain Blue/Metalic Gold. Then on a Saturday morning, I received a call from a friend. He was in the Nikelab store in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, and the “luxury” Daybreak was just released. No one in the store, it seemed, was concerned with the raging protest at the city’s international airport. It was a buying frenzy. Did I want a pair? Should he be scolded for the redundant question?

Nike X Undercover Daybreak P4

When I finally was able to unbox them shoes, they did live up to the rave so madly generated. These are rather special kicks. Even in the tissue that they were nestled in, I could immediately discern that one day in the future, the Nike X Undercover Daybreak will be considered one of the most important releases of the present decade alongside the partnership’s React Element 87. Once in my hands, I was overwhelmed by an elation I have never experienced before. Can a mere pair of sneakers basically hauled back from the past do this to me?

The shoe deserves admiration before the feet are placed in them. The heel clip, as it’s called, is really quite something: who would have thought of drawing attention to the sneaker’s otherwise nondescript back side? Apparently Jun Takahashi had. In fact, it appears that he left most of the shoe in its original form, save the rear. When worn, I thought I was looking down at the Tailwind 79. Walking in them, I felt the steadiness and comfort of the Internationalist. These are kicks I’d be wearing often. Only thing is, as of now, they’re too dear for unthinking wear and tear.

The second drop of Nike X Undercover Daybreak, SGD239, is sold out at the Nikelab corner of DSMS, the only known stockist in Singapore. Nike.com is reportedly re-stocking. Photos: Chin Boh Kay