From The Straits Times    |

Its name is synonymous with quality basics that are easy on the wallet. Now, Uniqlo wants to add “trendy” to its calling card too.

Its spring/summer 2013 collection features a riot of prints and bright hues, the first time the Japanese casualwear giant says it has embraced such a wide array of patterns and colours at the same time.

“There is a perception that Uniqlo is less trendy and fashion-focused,” Mr Naoki Otoma, group executive vice-president of Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company, told a group of five Singapore journalists last November during a preview of its upcoming designs in Tokyo.

“With its global expansion, the brand is aiming for a certain universality… the apparel will be functional, high quality and contain some aspects of trends.”

However, the brand will not dictate fashion trends like other retailers, he added. So expect fashion-conscious rather than fashion-forward designs.

Uniqlo goes trendy

“With products that are simple and not over-designed, each piece of apparel remains relevant to all consumers,” said Mr Otoma, who is also the managing director of Uniqlo Asia and Japan.

True to its “Made For All” philosophy, which has been recast as “LifeWear” from this season, Uniqlo is aiming for versatile, attractive clothes that complement consumers’ lifestyles.

Special attention has been paid to bottoms for spring/summer 2013. No longer the neutral partner to statement tops, shorts, skirts and pants now come in rainbow hues and on-trend prints, such as checks, florals and other fun motifs.

For example, men’s chino shorts are offered in 20 colours, from lemon yellow to raspberry pink, and sport patterns such as anchor motifs, paisley prints and madras checks. Even boxer briefs have been jazzed up with nautical elements.

While the brand has always been known for clean, if bland, wardrobe staples, Uniqlo’s design director Naoki Takizawa said: “We now want to create more energy.”

Under his watchful eye, the brand will, for the first time, offer seasonal collections comprising cohesive ranges with coordinated looks and styles.

Uniqlo goes trendy

Prices for the spring/summer 2013 collection range from $16.90 for a T-shirt to $69.90 for bottoms and dresses.

Four main colour themes dominate this season’s collection: herb, a range of earthy colours from light camel to rich mocha; marine, a fresh palette of light and bright aqua shades of blue and green; gelato, a spread of vivid hues from mint green to sherbert pink; and denim, which plays with various colours of jeans, including indigo and khaki, for the hot denim-on-denim trend.

The first batch of designs hit stores in January and more spring/summer togs will be rolled out till July.

Mr Takizawa, who joined Uniqlo in 2011, was the creative director of Issey Miyake from 1999 to 2007. He handed the reins over to Dai Fujiwara when he went on to start his own namesake label under the Issey Miyake house.

While different teams used to take charge of different categories in the past, Mr Takizawa’s role now is to ensure “the story is connected”.

“I’m like a conductor coordinating a very good team,” he said. “I supervise the collection to make sure, for example, we pick the right colours, the trousers offer the best fit and all the items can be mixed to create cohesive looks.”

At a press exhibition where mannequins were used to showcase the results, floral green skinny jeans were paired with a blush-toned tee under a sherbert yellow parka, while a cyan tee was matchmade with Cheetos orange bermudas and pepped up with a light orange bandana in gingham checks.

The latest collection also sees the largest number of dresses ever, although Uniqlo cannot offer exact figures.

Uniqlo goes trendy

Instead of the usual looser cuts and solid basic hues, such as grey, black and navy blue, they now come in a myriad of styles, shapes and fabrics.

Priced from $34.90 to $69.90, the designs include pretty stripes and florals, shirt dresses with drop waists, as well as broderie anglaise frocks and soft jersey maxis.

Explaining the brand’s new push for dresses, Mr Yukihiro Katsuta, Fast Retailing’s group senior vice-president (R&D), said: “We didn’t have enough dresses in the past. They are easy to wear. You just slip them on and don’t have to think about coordination.

“If you add wrinkle-free, easy-care fabrics and a great colour or print, that will give customers more reason to buy our dresses.”

But the brand, which started as a single store in Hiroshima in 1984, will retain its competitive edge even as it works on polishing its fashion cred. Offering comfort, functionality and the best quality at the lowest prices possible remains Uniqlo’s top priority.

Mr Otoma noted: “If we are selling something that other companies also offer, we can’t have the advantage. So originality and innovation are key for Uniqlo.”

Uniqlo goes trendy

The use of innovative fabrics, for instance, is clearly its strong suit. Its thin yet toasty Heattech thermalwear range and the Airism line of cooling innerwear, dubbed “summer’s answer to Heattech”, are good examples.

Last season, it also released jeans which have been treated to make them softer than regular denim.

So while it may draw the same crowd as Zara, H&M and other fast-fashion retailers with democratic pricing, Mr Takizawa said: “We need to inject a sense of trend but we have to find our own way in this fashion story.”

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on March 1, 2013. For similar stories, go
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