Close Look: Marni X Uniqlo

A collaboration of colours and prints that Uniqlo would not normally put out on their own

It is possibly Uniqlo’s most anticipated collab since the return of +J two years ago. Marni—known for their charmingly naïve prints, off-beat colours, and the unexpected pairing of either of the two—had applied their sense of the peculiar and the playful to Uniqlo’s staples, such as their packable parkas, utility jackets, and open-collar shirts. The result is a happy hippie-fication with 21st-century hands that few other fast fashion labels, if any, would produce, and with such commendable quality. While +J was minimalism that was almost severe (not at all a negative), Marni X Uniqlo is quite the opposite: they are a mirthful mash-up of the spontaneous, sportif, and spirited.

We had expected the turn out at today’s launch of the collab to be big, but when we arrived slightly past noon at the Orchard Central flagship, there was no line to be seen or empty spaces between stanchions and ropes (these, too, were missing). We could go in as we pleased. Some pieces for both men and women were displayed at the entrance. Those familiar with the launches of Uniqlo’s special partnerships, walked straight to level two, where at the space next to the escalator landing on the right, the output of hyped pairings is usually sited. A young couple was drawn to the T-shirts placed on the circular display unit at the entrance. The guy picked up a red/white striped T-shirt with bolder contrasting red/khaki lines at the back. His female companion slapped it back to the pile, telling the puzzled fellow, “it’s too gay.”

At the dedicated space upstairs, the crowd made comfortable shopping a tad difficult. The enthusiasm was palpable as shoppers picked the items by the basketful or discarded the unwanted anywhere the clothes can be stuffed or dumped (and you thought Marni appreciators are better shoppers). Some items were sold out, we were told: the floral wide-fit pants visibly so (in both colours, and online too). Popular sizes of items such as the shorts were also gone. Uniqlo has, this time, made some of the pieces of the collab available in outlets other than the big stores (where the full collection is sold). It’s possible that what was no more at Orchard Central could be in abundance elsewhere (such as 51@AMK?). Unsurprisingly, the least popular item, we gathered, was the oversized ‘half coat’. Other than being a Blocktech item (read: heat trap), it was oddly available as a woman’s item, when it could easily be unisex, as the shirts and tees were.

While the collection was, at first glance, agreeable, closer inspection revealed some technical choices that Marni made that, to us, were not what might be considered commensurable to popular taste. The T-shirts came with oddly wide crew necks (and a little too skinny) that, when exposed to the tumble drying of the washing machine, may widen further. Shorts, although elasticised (and came with draw cords) at the waist had no belt loops (but the longs got them). The women’s open-collar and long-sleeved shirts came in a rather heavy 100% polyester while the men’s are in 100% cotton (which are, of course, available to women too, in sizes up to XS).

However, what to us were less-than-ideal choices may not be so for other shoppers. The opposite is true too: We thought the flattering balloon-shaped skirt with its clever patterning to keep the volume was really swell, but many women we saw who picked it up would return them to the rack just as quickly. One of them told her companion, “too heavy” and the other added, “too dressy.” Not far, a mother, accompanied by her teenaged daughter, picked up an oversized shirt with all-over flowers. “Cantik (beautiful)?” The older woman was seeking approval. “Too big, mom. You can hide two chickens in it.”

Marni X Uniqlo is now available at Uniqlo stores and online. There is a limit on purchases. According to Uniqlo, only “1 quantity per item per person” is allowed. Photos: Chin Boh Kay

The Only Way Is Up

Your favourite winter wear brand will be more expensive. Uniqlo has announced in Tokyo that prices for their popular fleece jackets will be raised this year

If any brand has the muscle to brave higher material and production costs, it would be Uniqlo. But, the Japanese label has announced in Tokyo last week that prices of some of their products will without doubt go up during the autumn/winter season (after August, as the speculation goes. Uniqlo has not announced specific dates). According to Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japanese brand has pointed to “rising raw material prices such as clothing materials and distribution cost” that led to Uniqlo’s decision to raise prices. Clothing, like food, cannot escape inflationary pressures, and so brands succumb. Uniqlo is reported to be generally increasing prices by ¥1,000 (about S$10.30). Their popular ‘Ultra Light Down Jacket’ will be adjusted to ¥6,900 from ¥5,900 and the ‘Cashmere Crew Neck Sweater’ will go from ¥8,990 to ¥9,990. Their best-selling Heattech line, similarly, would not be spared the price hike, with the long-sleeved, extra-warm version soon retailing at ¥1,990, or ¥490 more than last year’s price of ¥1,500.

For Singaporeans, the increase is likely to be considered small, even negligible. The present urge (some even call it desperation) to travel is unlikely to abate, come the cooler and colder months of Q3 and Q4. We do not have concrete figures (Uniqlo does not reveal sale figures of individual items), but it is not immoderate to say that Uniqlo has single-handedly conquered the market for winter wear in much of Southeast Asia. When a puffer is needed, for example, the first stop is likely the home of the ‘Ultra Light Down Jacket’. We have seen in Hokkaido entire families, whether from Bangkok or Bandung, completely bundled in Uniqlo warm-weather wear, including scarves and gloves. Price increase in protective clothing, just as in air fare, will unlikely deter those bent on experiencing significant temperature drop. The travel bug, as we know, is often more prevalent than any other.

File photo: Zhao Xiangji for SOTD

Embracing The Offbeat

Uniqlo takes a road less travelled with Marni

Uniqlo announced on Instagram a short while ago that the brand they’ll be collaborating with next is Marni. That came as quite a bit of a surprise. The Italian label is not exactly considered conventional, and does not communicate in the vernacular of minimalism, such as Jil Sander (brand and designer) does—with the +J line, the German is Uniqlo’s longest collaborator. It appears to us that Uniqlo’s pairing with Marni could be minor shifts in their merchandising direction: go beyond the basics, while retaining the basic shapes that the Japanese brand is known for. The Marni X Uniqlo—reported to be “unisex”—could be a fashion-bent level-up of the multi-season, somewhat repetitive Marimekko collab that has appealed tremendously to both young and old.

Marni is known for their prints (sometimes Prada-like in terms of ‘ugliness’) and how they are not always used singly. Uniqlo is tapping into this. One fashion stylist told us that “it takes a special type to pull off these looks”. And he may not be wrong, as it would require those with appreciation of the off-beat to be able to wear pattern-mixing well. Although after Consuelo Castiglioni left the 28-year-old label she founded in 2016, the Marni kookiness is less intense, less immediate, present designer Francesco Risso has not toned down the brand’s art-school vibe and the home-spun charm. Sure, these days, Marni is geared towards the social media habitue and streatwear afficionado too, but it has not parted with fun or the odball. Perhaps this is why Uniqlo came a-calling.

Marni X Uniqlo will first launch in the US on 26 May 2022. Watch this space for release dates here. Product photos: Uniqlo. Illustration: Just So

Change Of Mind

In a stunning reversal, Fast Retailing announced in Japan that they have temporarily halted the operations of Uniqlo in Russia

Uniqlo at ION Orchard

In less than five working days, Fast Retailing’s CEO Tadashi Yanai has reviewed his position on keeping Uniqlo stores open in Russia. According to a Nikkei report published online just minutes ago, Uniqlo’s parent company has announced today that they have suspended trading in Russia. Uniqlo stores—50 of them across the country, according to Nikkei—operated until yesterday (9 March 2022). Mr Yanai was quoted to have said through a company statement: “We have decided to suspend the business due to changes in the current situation surrounding the dispute and various difficulties in continuing business.” The quick turnabout surprised many who believe that the Fast Retailing boss would stick to his contrarian stand.

Mr Yanai had said days earlier that he would not close any Uniqlo store in Russia as he believed “clothing is a necessity of life” and that “the people of Russia have the same right to live as we do”. Ukraine’s ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky responded via Twitter immediately: “Uniqlo has decided that (the) basic need of #Russian(s) to have pants and T-shirts are more important than the basic needs of Ukranians to live.” Mr Yanai made no further mention of clothing as the necessity of life. On social media, many have vehemently condemned Mr Yanai’s comments and decision. Trending was the hashtag #BoycottUNIQLO. It is not known what other pressures he faced before coming to this action that is in line, although belatedly, with those of other brands such as Levi’s, Zara, H&M, and Mango.

File photo: Chin Boh Kay for SOTD

In Russia They’ll Stay

Uniqlo has no intention of halting their operation in the land with a leader that would not cease the war he started against Ukraine

Uniqlo in Harajuku. File photo: Jiro Shiratori for SOTD

Unlike many fashion brands, including H&M, Zara, and Levi’s, Uniqlo won’t budge. The company will keep their stores open in Russia, as the country’s president continues to order military attacks and airstrikes on Ukraine (including civilian targets). Nikkei reported that the Japanese retailer won’t be quitting Russia, even temporarily. There, they operate 49 stores (the first opened in 2010), believed to be the most among countries of the European continent (but small, compared to the 800 in China). With unrelenting international pressure to isolate Russia and the attendant restrictions to trade and finance, many fashion companies have opted to halt their operations, at least for the time being. The Japanese government’s reaction is largely in tandem with the US and Europe: sanctions have been imposed, including the freezing of assets of oligarchs and officials, and the halting of dealings with financial institutions, including Russia’s central bank.

Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing, rather put his massive business on a different track, and sticking to his outlier reputation. Known to prefer staying politically neutral (even avoiding commenting on the company’s acquiring of cotton from China’s Xinjiang), he said, “clothing is a necessity of life. The people of Russia have the same right to live as we do.” And the people of Ukraine, many are now asking? Do they not have the right to live peacefully as we do? He did not say. Or, is Uniqlo succumbing to fashion’s preference for the default stance on not having a take-a-side view, even if politics is inherently divisive?

Mr Yanai, dubbed the “man who clothes Asia”, added that he is against the war in Ukraine and exhorted countries to oppose it (Fast Retailing announced that a donation of USD10 million and 200,000 items of clothing would be given to the UN refugee agency). Yet, his urging and staying put in Russia are disparate. Last year, Nikkei announced that Uniqlo “outstrips Zara as most valuable clothier at USD103 billion”. It is possible that Fast Retailing needs to remain in Russia to keep that position, even if it means embracing reputational risks. The man could clothe Europe next! It is not, however, clear if there would be repercussions to Mr Yanai’s questionable decision, even when #boycottuniqlo is beginning to trend on social media. But Russia must be told to get out of Ukraine, and one of the best ways is to hit it where it could be severe: the supply of clothing deemed a necessity.

Updated: 8 March 2022, 9am

Recommended: For Him, For Her, For Them

More clothing brands are going gender-neutral, but most are really just saying a woman can buy a man’s shirt, even when many already have. Question is, are guys ready to shop in the woman’s department?

At Uniqlo, a tag offering men more options

By Raiment Young

Last year. What do we remember of it other than the arrival of Omicron? Or, the return of physical fashion shows? Or, the collaborations between luxury brands? One of the style issues trending into 2021 was the visible advent of non-binary styles. Men, especially, we were counselled, should be able to adopt traditionally-feminine fashion if they choose to. Gender-neutral and gender-inclusive brands were talked about alongside those that chose the sustainable and were aware of garment manufacture’s impact on the environment (other than using cottons from non-controversial regions). Leading the adoption of clothes that do not shout out their traditional masculinity are pop stars, such as Harry Styles and Troye Sivan. To them, wearing a dress is okay. Even lexicography is seeing a re-definition of dress by not ascribing it to gender. The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines the noun form of ‘dress’ as “a piece of clothing that is made in one piece and hangs down to cover the body as far as the legs, sometimes reaching to below the knees, or to the ankles”. That’s it.

At Uniqlo’s global flagship store during the festive season, two guys in until-recently-MIA office attire were looking at a long, loose, lapel-less knitted coat right in front of me. One of them, in a fitted and darted shirt, was holding up the hung garment to give it a proper look, as if to understand it better, rather than to consider buying it. The other then said, somewhat incredulously, “men can wear, meh?” This disbelief seemed to be a reaction to a little sign, clipped to the chest of the coat to draw attention. It read, in full caps, “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”—the exclamation not just to denote vehement enthusiasm, but also to seemingly say “believe you me”. The guys looked at the soft and drapey outerwear from top to hem. There was a moment of silence. Then, the one still holding the hanger asked—in comfortable Hokkien—disbelievingly, “汝知嗎 (li zai bo, do you know)?” As Uniqlo intended, now both do.

Women’s clothes outrightly recommended for men is really a recent occurrence. I was only seeing the guidance with some regularity last year. Sure, some guys are now wearing what would be indisputably designed for women, including accessories such as pearls, but these individuals are not traipsing the town in numbers large enough to be considered normality. Even with the seeming popularity of skirts for men—now also championed by Louis Vuitton, I doubt that for many (most?) guys, shopping would not still be a gendered experience. The fact that male shoppers needed to be told that specific styles merchandised for the women’s department are suitable for them indicate that they still draw the line between his and hers, bifurcated and not. Uniqlo, mostly seen as a traditional, even family-oriented, brand, is, admirably, taking the lead, suggesting that gender-neutral is going mainstream. But, are guys ready for stores that disrupt gender norms, even mildly?

Seen on a Urban Revivo hanger in the men’s department

Whether retail is welcoming more non-binary customers or not, women have never needed prompting to shop men’s clothing for themselves. They have, for a long time, not been constricted by gender confines. And that can be said to go back as far as Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking of 1966. One buyer-friend told me that he is seeing more women purchasing menswear—especially tops—as “many now prefer larger and looser cuts that they do not find in the women’s department“. The oversized T-shirt, adopted so that the wearer looks like she is pants-less, has been visible for many years now. That is just one example. Increasingly, oversized shirts and denim truckers are preferred over those cut specifically for women. At the Nike store in Jewel on Boxing Day, I saw a trio of girls—dressed like paddlers after a training session—choosing a fleece hoodie from the Jordan men’s collection. The one purchasing said, with palpable glee, “good, they have my size.“

Such satisfaction is not uncommon. It was, therefore, to my surprise when I saw, in the men’s department of Urban Revivo recently, a wood hanger which accommodated a washed denim happy coat, proudly tagged “RECOMMENDED FOR WOMEN TOO”. I was not sure if it was really a statement of the garment’s gender-neutrality or that the masculine-not style isn’t incorrectly situated. The similarly-worded tag has been deployed at Uniqlo’s men’s department too, even when many women already shop there. While such recommendations are laudable, it does, to me, arouse the question: are we only taking baby steps towards gender-fluid fashion retail? Despite the growing social awareness of non-binary inclusion, we are still led to believe that, as Asians, we are conservative by default. And as long as retailers still stick to the binary departmentalising of their stores—and their merchandise, non-binary clothing, by design or not, is still uncommon.

One of the truly few retailers that appear to be positively gender-inclusive is Muji Labo, a brand that especially appeals to those for whom binary classification (that includes “recommended for”) is a turn-off when deciding what to buy and what to wear. According to Muji, the Labo line “aims to get rid of the unnecessary ‘fashion waste’, riding on the principle of unisexuality, producing basic wear that overrides age, sex and body size, demonstrating the versatility of Muji’s garments at every occasion.” Describing their clothes by the somewhat retro-term “unisex” (circa mid-’60s), Muji is adopting the more moderate and less activism-tinged approach to retailing clothes that are suitable for any gender (in the current climate, ‘them’?”). But gender, however neutral, is not such a simple and straightforward construct. Clothing, in whatever shape and form, does not inherently relate to gender. What I see as truly groundbreaking would be when Uniqlo tags an Ines de La Fressange dress with “RECOMMENDED FOR MEN TOO!”

Photos: Chin Boh Kay

The Digital Shift: Livestream Retailing

Brands selling through platforms such as Facebook Live are on the rise, but must each session be such a by-the-way and pasar affair?

Uniqlo on Facebook Live on 11.11, with hosts Fauzi Aziz (left), Felicia Poh (right), and model (centre). Screen grab Uniqlo/Facebook

As shoppers are spending more time online and staying away from physical stores, more brands are bringing the store to the shoppers via social media. Digital consumerism is truly becoming the heart of civic life. Livestream retail, while not a new way of selling, is fast gaining traction on our island. This primarily involves a host or more—brand owner(s), staff, or their friends—introducing or recommending products in a live video through platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, presently the two most popular. The shows are often productions with budgets so low, they’re probably zero, shot in a corner of an office or a store, even a warehouse with what, in many cases, appears to be a smartphone. As they are streamed live, editing is virtually absent and what you see is what you get. And, what you often do see and get are not exactly examples of polished videography or even compelling selling, nor funny jokes. In the age of TikTok videos, we are constantly told, no one cares about finish or finesse.

These endeavours are not the moving of mountains, but perhaps they should be, given live commerce’s increasing importance as a sales channel. Most of the selling via livestreams that we have viewed in the interest of this post are not even an uphill hike; they are no better than the majority of the crappy posts seen on TikTok, which is now so influential in its visual aesthetics that even television commercials are mimicking them. One TVC producer told us, “these days, anyone with a smartphone can be the host and the director. Who bothers with script and pre-pro?” Which explains why many retail livestreams appear to be conducted extempore, with hosts often asking each other what to do or show next, or struggling to describe what they are wearing or have in their hands. Is this really the appeal: as if you have just met the sales persons in Zoom, and they are—lucky you—willing to do a lame song and dance just to sell you a dress.

One of the latest brands to join the preferred platform, Facebook Live, to sell their wares is Uniqlo. Two nights ago, they streamed a 24-minute session to “celebrate” 11.11, but it bore little celebratory oopmh. The show was video-recorded on a selling floor of their Global Flagship Store at Orchard Central, but looked like it could have been at any of their smaller suburban outlets. The host, Felicia Poh, “who handles public relations” appears, but it was after a palpable one-and-half minute wait before we could be acquainted with her yoo-hoo exuberance. She was then joined by Fauzi Aziz, marketing lead of The Smart Local, who gushed about how much he loves the brand. Both were so bubbly, they practically frothed. But nothing they announced was especially new or appealing, despite the promise of sharing “a lot of exciting stuff”, not even the news that the +J collection, already trending, will launch next week. What worked in their favour was that they did not have to go off-screen to change into what they wanted to sell. Rather, they had the best-looking members of the Uniqlo staff to model the looks, which, admittedly, were well styled, even when a binder clip could be seen clasped to the ribbed hem of a sweatshirt one of them wore, to tighten it over his waist. This model was put in an uncomfortable position when he was subject of ill-considered humour. Mr Aziz had said about the outfit: “I saw him from afar and I was like saying, ‘I could work this.’” Before he was able to complete what he wanted to say, his co-host outed him with “like your new crush“!

The indefatigable three of Mdada: (from letf) Pornsak Prajakwit, Addy Lee, and Michele Chia. Screen grab: Mdada/Facebook

Not all brands have the advantage of attractive-looking staffers to strut during a livestream or to excite the hosts. So for most, the girl/boy-next-door presenters, usually a pair, slip in and out of outfits between inane banter, and not always with the finesse of professional models or hosts who know what to do before a camera. But these livestreams are not television broadcasts. Anything goes, and it usually does. Typically, the videos appear and nothing really happens until minutes later. It is not clear why they can’t start at the scheduled time. As with most livestreams, the hosts would move about, pretending they are not videoed yet. And when the show does begin, peppy is often the way to start. The best example of this is Mdada (达达开播), the e-commerce company of former TV comperes Michele Chia and Pornsak Prajakwit, and hairstylist Addy Lee that generated S$15 million in “unaudited revenue”, according to The Straits Times. Mdada’s success is largely based on grassroots vibes and the rawness of hold-the-smartphone-in-front productions, from which viewers are pulled into their loud and goofy, but artless charm.

Started in September last year, Mdada illustrates that selling online the way they do is best conducted as if a bunch of friends got together for some boisterous fun. Gentility and grace are not part of the company. Typically, the hosts kick off with mindless banter so that you would get used to their raucous presence. A necessity as each livestream can go on for hours, up to a staggering twelve, according to the trio. This is sustained via what Mr Lee, also the CEO of Mdada and the godfather of Quan Yifeng’s daughter Eleanor Lee, described to the media as “engaging hosts” (he is one of them—about seven, including Shane Pow), delivering “engaging product demos, exclusive deals, and limited-time auction”. To engage, they seem to, crucially, grate: each of them need only be themselves, Bengness and Lianness to the hilt, with a body of words—Mandarin (primarily), English, and Hokkien—in a din that could be used to lelong anything from massages to Moschino. And the livestreams must also contain, what Mr Prajakwit told CNBC, “info-taintment”. It is not known if their audience—close to 35,000 followers on FB—are truly informed or entertained, or both, while the peddlers often perform in the presence of a sloppy pile.

Nor are we told of the demographics of their shoppers. It could be companionable to watch the Mdada hosts go about their business of silly-talk selling, but it is amazing that one does not feel the effects of the tight space in which the sales are conducted and, especially, when the hairdresser’s face frequently fills the screen. Who, we wonder, are inspired or aroused to shop when they see, for example, Mr Lee and his co-host hold up crumpled Prada paper bags in a dim hotel room, as seen on a recent teaser of their livestream from Italy? It is also not known if the selling that takes place on the opposite side of sophistication (merchandise in a mess before them, for example) is endorsed by the brands they so enthusiastically hawk. Mdada (or MLux, as the platform for selling luxury goods is called) certainly provides an experience contrary to what a shopper is likely to meet in an actual designer boutique (their livestreams from Italy appeared to be conducted in stores of an outlet mall). The days of experiential purchases are over? A former fashion buyer told us, “It is possible that most of the shoppers on Mdada are intimidated by the thought of walking into a luxury store. Buying on livestreams is less daunting and less likely to cause anxiety.”

Two is the company: Fayth Live. Screen grab: Fayth/Facebook

It is understandable that there are those who would not have the confidence to enter a Prada store, but would anyone be too anxious to walk into, say, Fayth, the SG brand with an unmistakable blogshop aesthetic? Founded by Ryan Ng and Janis Gan in 2012, Fayth’s physical shops are happy friendships between pastel shades and accessible prettiness. Still, their livestreams on FB can be a draw. In their last, posted in July, hosts Sarah and Yvonne attracted 284 viewers to their 42-minute show. Nothing really happened and the selling did not attempt to whip things up. As they bantered and giggled, and giggled, someone unseen (presumably the videographer) would ask them questions that viewers had presumably posted. The bespectacled duo tried their best to answer, as well as to offer personal opinions. They would move nearer the camera to show the details on their outfits (a particular favourite is the “concealed zip”—“can’t really see, that’s why it’s called concealed zip”) or bring a dress on a hanger closer to fill the screen so that those watching them would know “there’s also elastic band inside” or what shade ivory is: “so it’s a bit like creamy colour”.

As the one-take production did not benefit from the input of a sound engineer, their giggly voices tended to echo through the relatively empty and surprisingly neat space. Sarah had the habit of dragging her feet, so the cluck-cluck of her short block-heels would interject her selling, even when she went off-screen or as she came back on. This continued even when she was in a pair of slides and, later, sneakers (since Fayth does not sell footwear, it is possible the hosts wore their own. The effort looked like an afterthought). Everything they tried was perfect: not too long, not too short; and all the dresses kept to one silhouette: tented. The girls changed and showed off the clothes with palpable delight, sometimes shaking their bodies, as if to prove that what they wore were truly hanging loosely. And if that was not enough, they encouraged each other to twirl. In fact, any dress that was not form-fitting was described with one word—“flowy”.

In most of the livestreams we have watched, the lack of fashion literacy is startling. You’d think that individuals hosting shows to sell clothes would know at least the basic terms relating to what they would be putting out for sale, but that is frequently not the case. For Uniqlo, Felicia Poh described a notch (similar to a fishtail parka’s) at the hem of the centre-back of the dress she wore as a “flap”, while Fauzi Aziz, who told the viewers he was “decked out” in +J, went rather blank over a grossgrain tape that covered the rear seam of the yoke of a sweatshirt, referring to it as a “thick woven fabric on the back detail”. To Mdada’s Addy Lee, who hawks with the resonance of a Hungry Ghost Festival auctioneer, every pair of footwear was a xie (鞋) or shoe, whether sneakers or Wallabees, and every bag a baobao (包包) until it became enough to kaishi baobao (开始包包) or “start bags” when the selling commenced. Sarah from Fayth was more informative, so much so that she pointed to you that a dress was made of “polyester material”, in case you’d think polyester is a vegetable or that the dress came with “inner lining” so that you’ll not mistake it for outer lining. And to help you further, a skirt over built-in shorts was called a “skort”, even when it’s not shorts pretending to be a skirt. And just as delightful, the invisible bearer of viewers’ questions asked earnestly, “what is the material of this fabric?”

In Good Company Live offers the company of five hosts (three seen here). Screen grabs: In Good Company/Facebook

The need to use relatable rojak language is understandable. As one marketing head said to us with a hint of regret in his voice, “we are not exactly sophisticated consumers.” It’s not just our irrational love of “actually”, “never” or “got”, used indiscriminately, but the disregard of words conveying information crucial to the appreciation of what we consume, in this case, fashion. That these hosts would inaccurately describe the clothes and the details that set the pieces apart from the competitor’s (there are, after all, so many tiered sundresses out there) or employ strange expressions with conviction is really rather curious communication. Their ebullience concealed nothing. When more retailers—even mass labels such as Uniqlo—are providing the right terminology on hang tags and sign holders on racks, it is regrettable that there are brands, even the really respected ones, that are not bothered by hosts of their livestreams using peculiar or made-up words.

What took us by surprise was In Good Company’s sales session, livestreamed from their Jewel store just four days ago. In a forty-one-minute broadcast, triteness was really the main show. Hosted by four women and a guy, Suwen, Maggi, Azrin, Jean, and Ning, it was as much a mutual admiration club as it was a selling opportunity. Less than three minutes into the livestream, Suwen described a cowl neck as a “boat neck… that’s not your normal (as it turned out, her favourite expression) boat neck neckline”. It was not difficult to see where they were taking the viewers. “It has very interesting sleeves,” she progressed to talk about a top with multiple diagonal panels, but did not explain why they were interesting, only that they were “slightly different”. Her hosting partner Ning would not be outdone. Of a pullover, he informed the viewers that “it’s made up of three different fabric pieces… stitched together”, possibly out of fear that potential shoppers might think that the panels were glued together. The two loved to suggest that tops could be worn “both tucked out or tucked in”. It would be more helpful if either of them showed the audience how he or she would “tuck out”. We like to believe that both meant untucked! But, “tuck out” was a clear favourite.

It is understandable if they struggled to talk fashion, but they strived to talk clothes too. They were not able to provide sufficient occasions or places the separates could be worn to, so they kept repeating how the ensembles could be “worn on a plane”, happily oblivious that travelling is still somewhat limited, even when Vaccinated Travel Lanes have been introduced between our island and some nations. But what truly made the broadcast for us was when Suwen called a romper a “shorter-length jumpsuit” and Ning specified seersucker as “corrugated cotton” (puckered cotton, yes, but corrugated?), possibly thinking of zinc roofs! To be certain, we do not expect these part-time hosts to be fluent in the language of fashion or textiles. Even a professional such as DJ Rosalyn Lee struggled while she presented on IG, the live preview of the autumn/winter 2020 collection of Comme des Garçons. Still, it was really surprising and disappointing that In Good Company’s marketing department did not provide the hosts with the knowledge necessary to make their presentation credible. And, in turn, more watchable.

Close Look: Uniqlo X White Mountaineering

Can an outer-only capsule arouse shoppers’ appetite, especially when many are not likely to be travelling?

Under normal circumstances and weather, many of us do not buy outerwear. Sure, hoodies or windbreaker for the cinema and lecture theatres are still flying off the shelves, but a padded coat is unlikely to arouse our urge to aquire protection against the cold for our bodies. Layering to keep warm is unlikely on anyone’s mind right now, not when even night-time temperatures these days are around 30 degrees celsius. So when we checked out Uniqlo’s latest tie-up with compatriot brand White Mountaineering, we were disappointed that there was nothing we could justifiably buy (who is spending indescrimately these days?). Sure, we already knew it would be for-winter collection, but we couldn’t help being let down.

The ten-piece capsule for men, women, and kids comprises mostly of outers, designed clearly for weather conditions nowhere near ours. Even the pullovers are in fleece, which for a freezing movie hall is still too warm. At the launch of the collection last Thursday, it was not as busy as it was for other such debuts. We saw a few self-declared White Mountaineering fans (we asked!), but many walked away without buying. One young fellow told us, disappointment thick in his voice, “Although the prices are not really high, it still doesn’t make sense for me to buy something I won’t be wearing any time soon”.

Uniqlo, we suspect, hopes that some of us in this part of the world would buy the pieces to keep. But winter wear takes up space and another coat to be stored is additional capacity, assuming we have, used up. Still, if you need to pick one standout buy, we’d say go for the WPJ Fleece Oversized Jacket. Unfortunately, this is for guys only. At a quick look, it could pass off as a varsity jacket. But look closely, the combination of fleece body and a poly-sherpa (fleece) panel on the bodice, with two rows of piping that are parallel to the zipper closure and frames the neckline, creates a fetching twofer effect.

What could against WM’s favour is the availability of other lines within the Uniqlo store, namely the Christophe Lemaire-led U sub-brand and the return of +J (possibly the last collection), both with more fetching coats and such, but more importantly, with items that can be worn here, such as shirts and blouses. And those ubiquitous U oversized tees. That is not even counting the women’s lines with Theory and Ines de la Fressange. If you really want something truly wearable and, perhaps more importantly, with unabashed WM branding, just hop next door and consider their second collaboration with Fila.

What is also puzzling, in terms of timing, perhaps, is that the White Mountaineering pairing with Uniqlo appears at the same time as Fast Retailing’s other brand GU’s more compelling romance—with the hot label Undercover. This tie-up’s first offerings were launched in March for the spring/summer season and were quickly sold out wherever there is a GU store. Perhaps, here, the consolation is that GU is not available. That is clearly one competitor less.

White Mountaineering X Uniqlo is available in Uniqlo Global Flagship Store, Orchard Central. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

Strictly For Winter

Images of the Uniqlo X White Mountaineering are released. There is nothing we can buy to wear on our gloriously sunny island

Just as we suspected, the collaboration that we have been looking forward to will give us very little reason to buy. And just as designer Yosuke Aizawa of White Mountaineering earlier revealed about his collab with Uniqlo, it’s really about outerwear, and just that. In fact, it’s a surprisingly small capsule—tiny. Just two items for women, four for men, and three for kids. Every piece is designed to protect from the wearer from the cold, i.e. winter, not cinema hall air-conditioning. The one jacket, for example, a parka, (available for women, men, and kids) is padded with “absorbent bio-warming” material. The thought of it in this mid-September heat is enough to make people sweat. There are six pockets on the jacket and two of them serve as hand warmers. Unless you work in an ice plant or even the meatpacking department of Cold Storage, you very probably wouldn’t need the jacket here.

It is surprising that Uniqlo did not consider expanding the product offerings. Or, to include tops such as shirts and T-shirts (we do not consider fleece pullovers the equivalent). This is more so considering that the brand has a huge presence in Southeast Asia, where, for the most part, winter clothing is not required. Although White Mountaineering is the go-to brand in Japan for outerwear or, in the case with Uniqlo, those “created with a common language (easy to understand?)”, Mr Aizawa does design compelling items that are not outers. Sure, Uniqlo produces all the U tees, as well as the UT tops that will feed the world’s appetite for those items of clothing, but if they had allowed White Mountaineering to express their own ideas of what, to them, are truly basic, the result might be irresistible and crowd-pullers too.

Rather, we can only look at the items that do not have a real place in our daily wardrobe. Fleece and down, for most people here, are those kept aside in unemployed language until the time arrives for their use: travel! And there is usually inadequate reasons to buy more. It is therefore curious that Uniqlo bothers to avail the collab here when their own winter outerwear would suffice for the few people who’d be travelling. Perhaps representation is necessary for Uniqlo’s merchandising, but as one sportswear buyer told us, “It’d really be a bummer not to be able to buy so that we can wear the items soon. It is doubtful that many people will be holidaying soon enough or that 95% of Singaporeans will travel abroad for leisure (2013 and 2014)”. It appears that, for those whose resistance is low, buy now, wear much later would be the order. That sole jacket we mentioned is S$149.90 for women, S$199.90 for men, and S$99.90 for kids. It may be good to invest in, considering that a similar piece from White Mountaineering would set you back ¥60,500 or approximately S$742.

Although the nine-piece collection (different colours for all styles) look rather similar to some of Uniqlo’s own winter wear, it is in the unexpected details that set them apart (even when only the wearer knows), such as the vertical pocket opening along the placket of the men’s oversized quilted down jacket. As Yosuke Aizawa said in a promotional interview, “Sport and outdoor details can be used effectively in our daily life, such as going to a park or taking a walk. These are not just cool as a fashion, but also by combining various elements of functionality for movements, outdoor details, texture and heat retention effect, I presume I was able to feed back the technology and knowledge that I had gained through outdoor wear into Uniqlo.” Let’s see if resistance would be futile.

Uniqlo X White Mountaineering will launch in mid-October. Exact date not revealed. Photos: Uniqlo

Mountain High

Uniqlo X White Mountaineering could be the most exciting collab for both Japanese brands this year

White Mountaineering (WM) has just announced on social media that they will be collaborating with compatriot brand Uniqlo for an autumn/winter 2021 capsule. Fans of Japanese ‘Gorpcore’ would be thrilled (to us, it was in the Land of the Rising Sun that it all began). For us here at SOTD, this would probably be the most exciting Uniqlo collaboration since Undercover in 2012, six years after WM was born. These days, more and more fashion consumers appreciate outdoor styles that can be copped for a trendy and distinctive expression of self. WM’s designer and founder Yosuke Aizawa—a Junya Watanabe alum—will be the first to tell you that his clothes are not entirely suitable for serious mountain climbing. But his love for the outdoors and sports that brings one to higher altitudes is overwhelming, so much so that he saw the possibility of melding the functional and the utilitarian with the fashionable. And he did not see incorrectly. White Mountaineering predated the Gorpcore trend by more than a decade, way before Gucci’s pairing with The North Face.

Nothing very much is revealed (not even a photo) about the collab yet. Nor, date of release. But White Mountaineering did post on Instagram: “Announcing a new collaboration for Fall/Winter 2021. Outerwear created as a common language for everyone—LifeWear simplicity and White Mountaineering style.” To note is the deliberate mention of “outerwear”. Given that the collection is for the fall season and WM is known for their covetable parkas and such, it could be pieces we are unlikely to buy, especially when travel to colder climes this year seems unlikely. If WM’s own autumn/winter collection (or their collaborative output, such as last year’s pairing with Fila) is any indication, expect practical styling with silhouettes that are decidedly contemporary and cool. And yes, utility pockets, unusually placed too. You may not need these clothes this year (or here), but you can always purchase a couple to keep, especially when they would be priced at a fraction of what you’d have to pay for, if considering WM’s main line. Watch this space for more details.

Update (7 October 2021, 11:15): the Uniqlo X White Mountaineering collaboration will be available at Uniqlo’s Orchard Central Global Flagship store on 15 October

Photo illustration: Just So

Will These KAWS Another Mad Rush?

Uniqlo has announced another KAWS collaboration even when the last was supposed to be the final

The Uniqlo UT X KAWS collaboration was supposed to have ended two years ago, but it’ll soon be bouncing back. Looks like the crashing of Uniqlo store shutters will happen all over again as the young (mostly) rush and trip over themselves to get a piece of the merchandise for either personal consumption or—very likely—to resell online for a ridiculously inflated price. The craze for anything KAWS has not died down since its association with Dior at the start of Kim Jones’s stewardship of the brand’s menswear. KAWS—aka Brian Donnelly— isn’t just known for his own caricatured characters such as the beloved loner Companion, but also cartoon characters such as those from Sesame Street, as seen in another Uniqlo collab. There is no denying the cross-market lure of KAWS, especially in the form of illustrations on fashion items.

We understand that the latest Uniqlo X Kaws pieces will be available only in Japan for the moment. This will be released two weeks from now to commemorate the first major KAWS exhibition in Tokyo (at the capital’s Mori Arts Center Gallery), titled KAWS Tokyo First. The T-shirt (three styles) and tote bag (one) collection, featuring Companion, will be made available as exhibition merchandise at the show venue first, followed by a country-wide Uniqlo store release later. There is no news yet from Uniqlo’s local office if the commemorative merchandise will be available here. Reach out to a kind friend in Tokyo!

Uniqlo X Kaws will be available in Japan from 20 July. Product photos: Uniqlo

Who’s That Goddess?

The Winged Victory of Samothrace has such high-low appeal

Left: Louis Vuitton show that ended with the last model in front of the statue. Screen grab: Louis Vuitton. Right: The image on a Uniqlo T-shirt. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

When the final model of last month’s Louis Vuitton show came to the end of the runway (set in the Louvre Museum), she came face to face with one of the biggest treasures of the musée: the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She paused and looked at the imposing figure as if in silent worship. What stood before her was the Hellenistic sculpture of Nike—the Greek goddess, not the sneaker brand. Nearly 11,000 kilometres to the east of Paris, the image of the same headless and armless deity was seen on the front of a black, S$19.90 Uniqlo crew-neck T-shirt. The illustration, in a patina of pastels, is conceived by the British graphic designer Peter Saville, in conjunction with the Louvre. It also includes the location of the statue and two letters and four numerals that form the inventory number. Back in Paris, you can buy a good 18-cm reproduction of the goddess that’s patinated by hand for €119. An immeasurable distance away, at the online portal Lazada, you, too, can obtain a similar figurine, cast in resin, for S$35.74. The Winged Victory (the shorter name), it seems, is almost everywhere.

Discovered in 1863 on the Greek island of Samothrace, in the northern Aegean sea, this sculptured likeness of Nike (circa 200 B.C.) is considered one of the finest in the world for its realistic depiction of a body in motion as well as its attractive female proportions. Ironically, the sculptor is unknown. By most accounts, Nike is a winged goddess who flies around as the bestower of victory to those who win wars, as well as peaceful competition, such as athletic games. Although not shown in the statue, she is known to carry laurel wreaths to hand out to, naturally, victors, and bestowing on them the rewards that come with winning. Other than her ability to take to flight, she is also reputed to be a fast runner (the connection to that shoe company again!) and a talented charioteer (which makes her standing atop the prow of a boat in the Louvre rather odd), so good, in fact, she commanded Zeus’s cavalry as the chief charioteer.

Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors

No goddess of repute wasn’t connected to Zeus, the god of gods, the all-father, whose throne was in Olympus and whose personal logo is the thunder bolt. Nike was born to the Titan Pallas and the nymph Styx. In the ten-year Titanomachy, a war of egos that saw the Olympians battle the Titans, Styx sided with Zeus and was the first to dash to his aid. She presented him with Nike and her siblings to serve as allies. So pleased was Zeus with this unconditional readiness that he allowed them to use Mount Olympus as their permanent residence. Nike was allowed to remain by his side and receive his eternal protection. Despite her abundant talents, Nike did not seem attractive to possible suitors (she remained unmarried). In fact, there is no mention of her looks unlike, say, Aphrodite, who, although a warrior goddess, was celebrated for her beauty, among many other attributes. Stephen Fry in Mythos, described her as “a face far more beautiful than creation has yet seen or will ever see again”. Nike did not enjoy such a tribute to her physical attributes, although the ancients did describe her as “trim-ankled”.

In the Winged Victory, the goddess is often admired for the draped dress on her forward-thrusting body, both captured with remarkable mastery. This version of Nike wears a chiton, a unisex garment of either linen or wool. Given the lightness in the depiction, linen is likely the fabric represented there. The chiton was mostly rectangular, and held in place and gathered at the shoulders by either stitches or pins. Since its length for women was usually longer than the wearer, the chiton was worn with a belt so that when the top part was pulled up to fall over the cinched waist, like a blouse, the length could be shortened. On the Winged Victory, an additional belt is secured under the bust to further secure the dress. The fabric, possibly because of the wind, gathered between the legs to expose unscandalously the left hip and leg. Around the waist, another garment could be discerned: a himation or a cloak, draped around the right hip and swept open, with a swathe of it caught in the wind behind. Unlike mortals of today, the gods of yore clearly didn’t need a stylist to work their fashion.