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Q&A: Undercover’s Jun Takahashi

The designer spoke to WWD ahead of the launch of his family-oriented apparel line, called UU, for fast-fashion giant Uniqlo.

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TOKYO — Since establishing his label Undercover nearly two decades ago, Jun Takahashi has been at the forefront of Japanese street fashion, expanding its unique aesthetic to the U.S. and Europe.

This story first appeared in the March 13, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Now he has taken on an entirely new — and some might say unexpected — challenge: He has teamed up with fast-fashion giant Uniqlo to design a line of family-oriented apparel called UU. The line will go on sale Friday to coincide with the opening of Uniqlo’s latest and largest store yet, in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

At first glance, the inaugural UU collection seems to have little in common with the deconstructed streetwear for which Takahashi is known. UU’s key pieces include casual cotton dresses, patterned shorts, chino-type pants and cardigans for men, women, children and babies. Prices range from about 790 yen, or $9.65, to 7,990 yen, or $97.60.

Takahashi spoke to WWD ahead of the line’s launch.

WWD: Why did you decide to collaborate with Uniqlo on this new clothing line?
Jun Takahashi:
Uniqlo contacted me regarding a possible collaboration around two years ago. We mutually thought it would be interesting to work together, and we were able to find an area that we were both interested to collaborate on. And that area was the theme of “family.” I thought that if it’s this theme, and if it would have a focus and direction on affordable pricing, then I could achieve it. In the past we at Undercover had not been able to offer children’s clothing at affordable prices, and I believe that children’s clothing must be affordable, so I was happy to have been approached by Uniqlo about such a possible collaboration.

WWD: What was it like working with the team at Uniqlo? How was this similar to or different from other collaborations you have done, such as with Nike?
J.T.:
Cost always poses a variety of limitations. It was challenging to work within such limitations as costs, but at the same time, making the cost cheaper and offering clothes at a lower retail price was one of the main purposes of our collaborative project.

WWD: What are a few of your favorite pieces from this collection?
J.T.:
I really like the biker’s jacket made from a fabric that resembles leather. I designed this item to be worn by a father and son, as a pair. I think the overall concept and the design of this piece is very “Undercover-like.”

WWD: How significant is this collaboration to the strategic development of your brand? Do you think it will help you broaden your customer base?
J.T.:
I hope people who do not know Undercover will get to know me better and to learn more about my vision and creativity through this new line. The UU line will launch at the time of the new Uniqlo Ginza store opening, so even though I cannot comment yet on its sales success, I am aware that the reaction to the announcement has been positive worldwide.

WWD: You have taken a few seasons off from the Paris show calendar. Do you think you will return to the runway anytime soon? Why or why not?
J.T.:
The main reason why I am not present is because I do not feel that announcing new designs, or a new collection, by way of runway shows is the approach that matches my creativity. My character and personality is such that the things I want to do, or the way I choose of showing my designs constantly changes, so I may return one day in the future….you never know.

WWD: What is your view of the Japanese fashion scene these days? Are you impressed by the young designers coming up through the ranks?
J.T.:
Oh, I’m not really in a position to comment.…[laughs]. Please ask your question to one of the fashion critics.

WWD: What about Japanese consumers and their attitudes and habits? How have they changed since you got your start in 1993?
J.T.:
I think today the overall situation, both economically and politically, is not good. It’s not at all comparable to the overall situation when I first started out in the industry. But there are many people here in Japan who wish to express themselves via fashion, so I believe there are still plenty of opportunities for designers.

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