Functionality has always been at the core of the Uniqlo design philosophy. But a few days ago in Paris, they unveiled their LifeWear concept with a new proposition - 'Clothes for a better life for everyone, everyday'. It is a very bold statement to make. But somehow, for Uniqlo it makes perfect sense. They have dedicated themselves to making clothes that go beyond fashion – and more importantly beyond trend. For them, it is about real life. Always ensuring their designs reflect peoples needs and most importantly the immediacy of those needs. Inside an industrial space in Paris, they unveiled all eleven categories of their new LifeWear concept – including past favourites such as Heattech. Displayed on mannequins, styled by their Creative Fashion Director Nicola Formichetti you got a sense of the mass scale of Uniqlo's new vision. During the launch, we spoke with Uniqlo's design director Naoki Takizawa about the project and how his design philosophy has been shaped by his past as Creative Director at Issey Miyake.
Let's begin with your own career and how that has shaped your views on fashion and design. You started working at Issey Miyake, and working at a time when other Japanese designers – Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto included – were producing highly experimental and avant-garde designs. How did you, despite that, develop a design philosophy that places functionality at the core?
I think the big difference between myself and other designers, is that I am not conscious about mode. From the beginning, I have been interested in clothes as functional wear – almost as a military uniform. With Issey [Miyake], I believe he does not make mode. Finally people understand it as mode, but for himself, he always tries to make something that is a real creation. I think it is quite different for these other designers, I don’t know. I have never asked Mr. Yohji Yamamoto or Rei Kawakubo. They tried to introduce a new sense of beauty, you know, Yohji introducing black as a colour or the idea of deconstruction. They introduced many new processes. But with Issey, it has always been more focused on lifestyle and on the human, but at times, the result is far from the real lifestyle – but there is always that same way of thinking. That is something that comes from the research, the fabrics, society or economics. The starting point of his design is different. That is my understanding. I find that I adapt this philosophy with Uniqlo. If someone asked me to make mode or make a trend, then I am not the right person. For me this is the big difference. Some people say that I am more like a scientist. I understand what they mean.
The industry has changed so much since the beginning of your career. What impact has that had on the way your approach your role at Uniqlo?
I think this is a big hint of our new creation - LifeWear. I think with the internet the communication of clothes has totally changed. I agree with you, these things have changed, but the fashion system has still continued to be the same because it always moves forward and there is always something new. But, in a sense, our communication has become much faster than fashion. So this time we are using the tool of communication, like the LifeWear application where a customer can very easily access our products. We need speed and fashion needs a story. Customers enjoy reading a story. With LifeWear, people need it immediately. They need it today. Oh, the temperature is getting cold, I need something, ok I can go to the Uniqlo store and get some cashmere. These things happen around the world. So I think it is an interesting way to communicate with an application. Speed is very important. The system of fashion and the system of Uniqlo has totally changed.
You have also maintained that “people will always be [your] inspiration”. I think the industry creates a lot of pressure for trends and 'newness', so why will people and their needs always be at the core of your design philosophy?
This is my question, what is the fashion today? Is it clothes or accessories? I think this is just one element, the most important thing is the body. Now, especially everyone is aware and conscious of their body and what they are thinking. In a sense people are looking to the inside more and more. People are starting to invest. They are creating their own bodies. They go to the gym and try and control their appearance and do their hair. All of these elements are fashion. Clothes are already changing. This is just like a scheme, but people are naturally moving forward, it is always new and fresh. This is the most highest fashion.
That is why I look to the outside, because I don't want to forget what people are interested in. As a designer, I also look back at the history of fashion. In the 80s, fashion became the identity of the person, but moving into the 21st century the meaning and communication of fashion has changed little by little. Still, I never say clothes are everything. Clothes are just one of the elements, it is a balance. Trends are just topics, they are all going to finish very quickly. That is the system of fashion. But at Uniqlo it is about LifeWear and it shouldn’t be like that. It is a new category. With LifeWear we want to put Uniqlo into new categories. We cant fall too much into the old system of fashion, this is a new system. I put myself on your side – I am one of the customers.
How do you see Uniqlo evolving in the future?
I think with our new concept – LifeWear, the process of making clothes has already dramatically changed. What is the meaning of LifeWear? What is the meaning of fashion? and what is the meaning of LifeWear in fashion? Fashion is a story. For example, if a big star designer moves to one brand from another brand, people are already interested in it before they even see the clothes. It becomes exciting and people want to wear it. They go to a store and look for a shirt because someone has designed it. They want to share that feeling. That is the fashion. With LifeWear all the fundamental value is placed in the product. The product is everything. A story is your story. The thinking is very different in LifeWear. I think it is important to keep this concept. I think the process of making these clothes should be changing.
Can you believe we are going to make 100 million pieces of just one product?
It is amazing but quite scary to design. I have to think about the shape, the cut and the colour. Is it beautiful? How can I adjust? I need to know so much information – what is the make-up like for today? Chanel have released a new colour of lipstick. I need to adjust for the total image and for the new. Thats why I am back to being the scientist.
Follow Isabella Burley on Twitter here @isabellaburley