It has been five years since Uniqlo U first became part of an ongoing partnership between the Japanese brand and French designer Christophe Lemaire. The two started out with a collaboration in late 2015, UNIQLO AND LEMAIRE, that continued to the spring/summer 2016 season. Both collections were equally well-received and were applauded for elevating Uniqlo's aesthetic, skewing the brand more fashion-forward yet still retaining its wardrobe-essentials quality.
Extending the partnership to something more extensive was a no-brainer. Lemaire joined the brand as the artistic director of the Uniqlo Paris R&D Center in 2016 and launched Uniqlo U. As part of Uniqlo's 'Future LifeWear Essentials', the concept remains somewhat similar to UNIQLO AND LEMAIRE but with an even greater emphasis on reimagining the modern wardrobe using new materials and innovations.
Uniqlo U's spring/summer 2021 collection is set to continue the evolution of that modern wardrobe. New for the season is the introduction of kidswear (starting with a nine-piece offering) that were inspired from previous Uniqlo U designs but scaled down.
Menswear favourites that have since become Uniqlo U staples, such as the AIRism oversized T-shirts and convertible collar shirts, come in new colours and washes for spring/summer 2021. Lemaire's study of form and function (an aesthetic that he's brought to former roles at Lacoste and Hermès) is evident in woven pieces that have been designed to age well as they're increasingly worn and washed. The addition of a boat-neck silhouette to T-shirts adds a touch of contemporary flair.
Essentially, every Uniqlo U collection can (and should) be interchangeable. These are pieces designed and made to be timeless, after all. And as simple as they may look, Lemaire tells us that a lot goes into making Uniqlo U the way it is.
ESQ: What was the starting point for Uniqlo U spring/summer 2021?
CHRISTOPHE LEMAIRE: Well, it was about creating essential pieces that last, and about understanding the evolution of what might happen now and in the near future. The collection reflects our current lifestyles, from working from home, to the 'one-mile' concept, to pieces that work both indoors and outside. This means simpler pieces that are reduced to what's necessary—so just practical, functional and clean. And with the weather turning warmer, we focused on creating items that are as light as possible, roomy and easy, with fresh textures.
ESQ: How did the colour expression come about for this collection?
CHRISTOPHE LEMAIRE: We work very meticulously on colours with a lot of passion and love. There are many ways of creating colours, from neutrals to faded shades to brights. For example, beige is the ultimate refined neutral, and this season we created seven perfect shades. Overall, we wanted this refreshing feeling of connecting with nature and of lightness after the heaviness of winter. So, we have dusty pinks, earthy tones, and off-whites mixed with crisp greens, bright citrus, kumquat, mandarin, lavender, blues, and indigo denim.
ESQ: There's always an assumption that simple clothes are, well, simple to make. What's the design process like in creating timeless pieces for Uniqlo U?
CHRISTOPHE LEMAIRE: Every season, we do a lot of research and brainstorming. The general mood comes from this process, and we get our first inspirations for fabrics and silhouettes when we begin to do stylings. Sometimes a vintage piece will inspire fabric or colour, for instance. We work very closely with fabric suppliers like Toray Industries to develop innovative materials. We begin creating a colour card from things like artist paintings and photographs. Every detail is carefully considered, from trim to stitches. Simplicity, practicality, and thoughtfulness go into every design.
ESQ: Tell us about the Uniqlo U menswear collection this season.
CHRISTOPHE LEMAIRE: More than ever, there is a need for long-lasting, quality pieces that are versatile. With everything changing in the world, we focused strictly on the essential items, with an emphasis on practicality and utility. This time I had in mind a simple men’s wardrobe, with archetypal items that work well together with those from previous collections.
For silhouettes, now that the oversized look—which had previously felt new and directional—has become more mainstream, we have pared it down to be more of a loose, sophisticated fit that moves past street culture to something more relevant, timeless. As far as fabrics, where we had promoted functionality before, this season we went for simple materials, refining them and considering how well they might age in many years' time.
ESQ: This collection marks Uniqlo U's 10th season. How did it all begin, and where is it today?
CHRISTOPHE LEMAIRE: In 2014, Uniqlo contacted us at LEMAIRE for a collaboration. It was successful and ran for two seasons. We realised that we shared the same values and aesthetic, so we talked about creating a long-term relationship and establishing an R&D Center in Paris.
From the beginning, it was clear this would be different from the original collaboration. We would be designing for, and not just with, Uniqlo. We envisioned an extension of the main line, very much in the concept of LifeWear and within the total Uniqlo world. Our overarching design principle was to keep it simple. From this, Uniqlo U was born.
Today we have the same goals as Uniqlo: quality items, simple design, and something for everyone. The difference is that Uniqlo U is designing basics, but with a point of view. We make elevated essentials. We are constantly refining and reconsidering what is truly necessary, what makes a piece essential. Quality, functionality, movability, durability, solidity, comfort, and timelessness.
My definition of essential is a piece you need as much as you want. Desire + necessity. That's Uniqlo U.
The full Uniqlo U spring/summer 2021 collection will be available from 22 January 2021 at uniqlo.com as well as the Orchard Central Global Flagship, with select styles available in selected stores.