“It’s like comparing playing Wembley to a private concert,” says the former star designer of Chloé and couturier chez Givenchy Clare Waight Keller of her next collection – a powerful and practical fashion statement for Uniqlo.
Entitled Uniqlo:C, the collection debuts on September 15 in a whopping 1,500 stores, a remarkable return to fashion prominence for Waight Keller, who departed her last position at Givenchy, just six months before the pandemic.
Cannily, Uniqlo:C contains hints and elements from several of her previous positions. Knitwear in varying textures and weights followed from her first job as a creative director – helming Scottish cashmere specialist Pringle; while the sense of sensual volume and cool romanticism in plissé dresses evokes her days at Chloé. Even something of her meeting of British practicality and mannish tailoring seen at Givenchy peeks through at Uniqlo.
But above all, it marks a new chapter for Waight Keller, who followed graduation at the London College of Art with stints at Ralph Lauren in New York and at Gucci under Tom Ford in Milan. In a very real sense, Clare is one of the best qualified designers in the industry, and its shows in this subtle, practical and assured collection, which seems destined to find a major audience.
Mannish trenches retail for €129.90; romantic draw string plissé print polyester dresses for €59.90; and clever chunky knit pullovers seem a real steal at €39.90.
Uniqlo – generally considered the acceptable end of masstige – has done plenty of collab’s before, like with Jonathan Anderson, Ines de la Fressange and Jil Sander. But somehow this feels like a bigger statement. So, much so the house has even introduced its first designer footwear with Waight Keller.
Fab looking street mechanic boots retail for €69.90; while comfortable chunky heel moccasins go for €49.90.
So, FashionNetwork.com caught up with Clare over some matcha cookies and Zen Tokyo drinks to hear her take on this project. Dressed in a soft micro plissé dress from the collection and sporting pink toenail polish, Waight Keller was the epitome of freshness when we met in the rooftop showroom on avenue Hoche.
Fashion Network: What first attracted you to working with Uniqlo?
Clare Waight Keller: The scale is so interesting. You can reach so many people and it’s like the difference between a private concert and Wembley Stadium. The way I look at it, I’ve been doing runway shows to an exclusive audience and shopper for years, so this is so fresh. I left Givenchy just before Covid and I moved house to Cornwall for 10 months – five miles from Land’s End. It’s gorgeous and in a very artistic community with not a lot of Londoners. I love the fact it is remote, and a five-hour train ride from Paddington to Penzance. But eventually I came back to London for a few projects and was approached for some bigger roles, but I wanted to take a new direction and began speaking with Uniqlo back in 2021, and ended up meeting the founder Tadashi Yanai.
FN: Which led to what?
CWK: To a capsule of ideas that captured my aesthetic and also a style that is essentially timeless. I wanted a broad capsule, so we moved into shoes, which Uniqlo had never done before. If you check out their mannequins, the shoes are from other brands. Then we added hats, bags and scarves – putting plenty of styling into this wardrobe.
FN: You are not the first designer to team up with Uniqlo. What did you want to do differently?
CWK: I wanted a blank page, so I could do anything – and to capture my iconic aesthetic. Knitwear obviously is a strong suit, along with a feminine flou, and a certain fluidity. And I wanted to reach a much bigger audience than I ever did before – 1,500 stores, and new countries like India, Thailand and Australia along with China and Japan, Uniqlo’s biggest markets.
FN: Many people call this sort of project masstige, ever since Karl Lagerfeld hooked up with H&M. How did you approach the idea of democratizing fashion?
CWK: By finding a way to capture everything I wanted in terms of aesthetics and practicality – at the right price. With Uniqlo’s precision where every fabric is tested and washed for durability. While adding more femininity and my taste in a color palette and soft prints.
FN: What did you learn from each of your stints at major houses – Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Pringle, Chloé and Givenchy – that you tried to put into action in this collab?
CWK: From Pringle, all the different weights of knitwear and texture. From Chloé and my first shows in Paris, femininity, and transparency, which is maybe not in the Uniqlo wardrobe. And also, the boyish silhouette in suits and pants which I like.
FN: How do you want women to feel when they wear this collection?
CWK: Uplifted definitely. When you go into a shop you want to feel clothes that give you an emotion – from color and freshness and shape. We all go through phases to cover up or to show, so I wanted a wide aesthetic.
FN: Define the DNA of Clare Waight Keller fashion. And of Uniqlo:C?
CWK: Femininity, Britishness and a slightly eccentric boyish to gal crossover. A sense of style and a whole look. And softness.
FN: Who are the designers you most admire?
CWK: Jil is one of them. She did amazing stuff! Vivienne Westwood for spearheading an extraordinary moment in culture and fashion. Miuccia Prada. When I was first working – she trailblazed Italy into a new era. In the 90s I was desperate to see her latest take on the zeitgeist. To catch her next collection and back then you had to wait. They were always going to be women!
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