BoF on Lemaire joining Uniqlo as one of their artistic directors.
PARIS, France — Christophe Lemaire is joining Uniqlo, the Japanese purveyor of colourful, well-designed basics, as artistic director of a new Uniqlo Paris R&D Centre. He will also design a new Uniqlo line, dubbed Uniqlo U. Previously, Lemaire (together with Sarah-Linh Tran, his partner in life and work) worked with Uniqlo on the brand’s “Uniqlo and Lemaire” collection. But the new design centre and line are reflective of a much deeper partnership. The first Uniqlo U collection will be unveiled during Paris couture week in early July and hit retail stores for the Autumn/Winter 2016 season. Lemaire will continue to design his namesake label.
“I am delighted to welcome Mr Christophe Lemaire as a member of the Uniqlo team. I have time and again been astonished by his outstanding talent in working together to create the Uniqlo and Lemaire collection. I look forward to seeing more of the innovations that he inspires, and I am confident that his tremendous experience and talent will thrive at Uniqlo,” said Tadashi Yanai, chairman, president and CEO of Fast Retailing, Uniqlo’s parent company.
"Uniqlo and Lemaire” did indeed blow up fast, so fast that Uniqlo had initially wanted to extend the collaboration for another season. But Mr Yanai had a grander plan: no mere collaboration, but a full-blown atelier; a research and development centre in Paris that Lemaire would staff and lead, building an entirely new design concept within the Uniqlo brand, a more refined version of the company’s “LifeWear” ethos — but integrated into the core offering, as opposed to some kind of “black label.” And, despite the timing of the offer, coming just as his own label was picking up a real head of steam, Lemaire said yes.
The concept isn’t entirely new. Five years ago, Jil Sander and Uniqlo embarked on a similar collaboration under the equally cryptic title +J. “We had that in mind,” Lemaire concedes. “But U is a little more democratic. The biggest issue was to design things that are essential enough to be timeless, and understood by everyone. Elevated basics, I call them. Our ambition is to fill the gap between what’s fashion and what’s ‘normal.’ I know the word ‘normcore’ is overused, but there’s something about normality I find very interesting — how do you make it super normal but refined and cool and desirable?"