Collaborations between luxury designers and high street retailers have been around for years now. Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto launched his Y-3 line with Adidas in 2003, and Karl Lagerfeld did a guest stint at H&M the year after. Whether these collabs are long-lasting endeavours like the former or brief unions like the latter, there is no doubt they are good for business. The most recent example would be Alexander Wang’s collection for H&M which sold out in a matter of hours late last year.
For retailers it is an easy way to gain legitimacy by associating with prestigious and critically acclaimed fashion houses, while for designers it means reaching a wider (and most importantly younger) audience. Granted most shoppers can’t afford the runway pieces but they still engage regularly with luxury brands through advertising and social media. First they’ll buy from the capsule collection and – who knows – maybe they’ll even end up buying a perfume or a key chain?
In other words designer collabs seem to be a win-win-win situation. That isn’t to say that they’re always a slam dunk. Arguably one of the dangers is that the final product often ends up being a rehash of the brand’s past seasons, only done in a cheaper way. The most successful collaborations need authenticity and a shared ethos between the designer and retailer, which is exactly why Uniqlo and Lemaire makes perfect sense.
Uniqlo’s success has been built on affordable basics, well-cut unfussy staples. This trendless ethos has served the brand well so far. The strength of these clothes is that they can easily be integrated into any each wardrobe. But basic can only get you so far and, in order to keep growing, Uniqlo needs to gain some fashion cred without compromising its unique point of view.
Fashion cred, Lemaire has it in spades. Former artistic director of Hermes (luxury titan also known for the quietness of its aesthetic), Christophe Lemaire now focuses solely on his eponymous line, which he founded with his partner Sarah-Linh Tran. Undoubtly one of the most promising young brands in Paris at the moment, Christophe Lemaire is best known for his pared back style often drawing inspiration from workwear.
This humility in design is where Uniqlo and Lemaire meet. These clothes do not shout, they are not for going out and sparkling brighter than the disco ball at the club. Instead Uniqlo and Lemaire focuses on the everyday, crafting practical clothes in carefully selected fabrics, that give a sense of effortless elegance to their wearer.
This offering is a Fall-Winter collection and as such focuses heavily on outerwear and knitwear. But do not fret my Aussie friends, the magic of these pieces is their timelessness and are well worth staying in your closet for a few months.
I was most impressed with the shirting which was full of smart details. For instance, a collarless shirt features a pleat down its front giving it an unexpected draping. Similarly side vents on shirts and sweatshirts alike make for extra easy-to-wear garments. Finally, the boxy cuts on the tops add a touch of modernity.
Other stand-outs include wool-blended cashmere pants with buckle fastening on the sides, a shawl collar lambswool sweater and a convertible collar long sleeve shirt. All pieces come in white, black, navy and dark green. This is somewhat counterintuitive for Uniqlo which is often known for its rainbow-like color palette but it does give the capsule collection a strong and sophisticated focus.
Without bells and whistles, Uniqlo and Lemaire have crafted a very smart blending of their visions, adding a sense of luxury and elegance to the retailer’s easy-to-wear clothing. Hopefully this is not the end of that union.
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