In conversation with Naoki Takizawa and Yukihiro Katsuta on Uniqlo AW16
Ever wondered what goes behind the creative development of Uniqlo's contemporary and timeless range of clothing that cover a wide range of occasions? During a trip to Tokyo for the brand's LifeWear Autumn/Winter 2016-17 press preview, we were introduced to the latest pieces from all the lines under the brand, including collaborations with Ines de la Fressange, Carine Roitfeld and Hana Tajima. We also had the opportunity to speak to Naoki Takizawa, Uniqlo's Design Director, and Yukihiro Katsuta, Senior VP of Research and Design at Uniqlo regarding the fine line between fashion and functionality that the brand straddles well, alongside what they've learned from collaborating with Roitfeld and De la Fressange respectively.
On Uniqlo's collaborations with big names and personalities:
Naoki Takizawa: "Collaborations with designers have always been something that Uniqlo puts effort in. Ines and Carine aren't necessarily 'designers'—Carine is an editor, and Ines is a former model, but both women have aspirational lifestyles that most women from across the world are inspired by. Collaborations with such women teach us what Uniqlo customers are looking for in clothes. Mr. Yanai once read a book that Ines wrote, and he said that she is a wonderful person with a great perspective that's living a truly enriched life that isn't merely related to luxury. She wears T-shirts she bought in India, and vintage clothes she bought from thrift stores, and she mixes and matches clothes to her own style. Mr. Yanai wanted an opportunity to work with Ines so that's how it started."
On Carine Roitfeld for Uniqlo AW16:
Naoki Takazawa: "Clean-looking tailored clothes were something that's missing from the Uniqlo, although we had a really strong range of casualwear. But working women would like to wear professional clothes, suits, and elegant attire for special occasions. And so we wanted to create a range catered for these women. We wondered about the people we could reach out to, so we thought of Carine, who's a fashion icon and has previously worked with Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld and more. We learned a lot from Carine, such as the importance of the quality of clothes and how crucial styling is—she's had experience with designers so it's convincing to hear it from her."
On the difference between both collaborations:
Naoki Takazawa: "Carine gave us input on how to wear clothes and tips on silhouettes to make a woman look beautiful. Carine has the philosophy that the clothes create emotions and feelings, whereas Ines is someone who wants to feel the clothes from the inside, which is the opposite. She's alright with wearing clothes with creases, because she feels that's completely natural. Her philosophy is that she wears clothes because it makes her feel good about it. These two are also reasons why women buy clothes. Customers tend to tell us that they always feel 'uplifted' when they wear Carine's clothes, while customers who wear Ines often say 'it's so comfortable and it feels so good.' Customers give us different inputs because of the differing philosophies from both collaborations. Hence Uniqlo is making an effort to understand how customers feel when they wear the clothes we are developing for each range."
On ensuring that Uniqlo's clothes are fashionable and functional at the same time:
Yukihiro Katsuta: "When something in-trend or fashionable is released on the market, it loses its desirability after some time. But there are items that stay and become an essential in your closet, such as a tunic, and even skinny jeans. When skinnies first come out, it was rather in-trend, but now it's more of an essential silhouette. We try to create clothes that are timeless—our R&D has always been about how we can improve season after season, and to find out what type of clothes we can create that are essentials, which will also become our signature items. In the past, people talk about sportswear that is specific for certain activities, but now people look for sportswear that they can also wear at home."
On Uniqlo's price points and clothing quality:
Yukihiro Katsuta: "The biggest challenge is to create great quality clothes at an affordable price for customers. There's no simple explanation behind price increments. When we increase prices of clothes by a very small fraction, we try to increase the value as well. But some customers don't accept that because they don't know what happens behind the making of that piece of clothing. In USA, if you were to increase something by USD5, most people will get very sensitive about it. If you can add value that's equivalent to USD5 to that item, then it will sell. As a company, we do make an effort [in ensuring that each item are valued according to the price points]."