I’m writing this wearing a J+ cream shirt, with a Ines de la Fressange for Uniqlo navy jumper slung over the back of my chair. When I go for my lunchtime walk, I will likely pull on the same J+ duvet coat I’ve been wearing all winter. Unless you have an eagle eye for fashion, none of these pieces stand out on their own, or are noticeably from any particular label.
In a branding-orientated industry like this one you’d think that anonymity was a problem. But the fact Uniqlo makes clothing that is simple enough to look completely different on one person to the next, depending on how it is styled, is their greatest attribute. There is no other brand that could form the basis of my wardrobe – a fashion editor in London – but also my father’s, my boyfriend’s and friends with completely different tastes to my own.
So what is it about Uniqlo? It has been popular from the moment it arrived in the UK in 2007, quickly stealing the majority of Gap’s already diminishing customer-base and becoming the go-to retailer for urban consumers of all ages looking to buy staples like white T-shirts and slim-fit trousers. The basics market has always been an important one, no matter what the prevailing fashion winds, and Uniqlo was talked about in glowing terms by the fashion industry almost as soon as it landed on British shores.
Some of this was because it was Japanese – a country that we see as inherently stylish, and for good reason. As well as having a particularly avant-garde side, Japan has also always done the basics very well, be it in fashion, food or furnishings. Yanai knew that while his customers may not want to spend a lot on a shirt, they would want it to fit flatteringly, and be made of comfortable, durable material that would last more than a few seasons.