<p>Uniqlo's 11-story flagship store is located in Ginza, Tokyo's luxury shopping district.</p>
Fashion & Beauty director Julia McEwen travelled to Tokyo to learn about Japan's top clothing brand before it lands in Canada this fall.
I've never understood the fashion world's obsession with Frenchwomen and their unfussy Parisian style. For me, it has always been about Japan: land of dewy skin, nail art (top manicurists have celebrity status) and minimalist design. That's why when Uniqlo, a leading Japanese retailer that's about to land in Canada, invited me to Tokyo to experience it all in person, I jumped at the chance. And, I'm happy to report, it more than lived up to the hype that's been building since I was 10, when I developed a steady diet of ramen noodles and Sailor Moon.
Some of the most iconic minimalist fashion labels hail from Japan (hello, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake), so it's no surprise that Uniqlo, pronounced "you-nee-klo," has a similar sensibility—though at a much lower price point. One of the only major fashion brands to offer simple modern designs at affordable prices, the retailer caters to women, men and children and has more than 1,500 stores in 17 countries. This fall, you can bump that number to 18; Canada's getting two flagship locations in Toronto, and there are e-commerce plans being explored for 2017.
Down coat, $150, hat, $30 and Ines de la Fressange cashmere sweater, $80, uniqlo.com.
Immediately after I arrived in Tokyo, I was whisked away to a tower that houses Fast Retailing headquarters, Uniqlo's parent company, where I got to chat with its billionaire founder, chairman, president and CEO, Tadashi Yanai.
When his father retired in 1984, Yanai transformed the family's suit shop into the first Uniqlo store. Since then, the company has become one of Japan's leading retailers, and he's striving to make it the largest in the world by stocking easy-to-wear basics with high-style potential. "From my perspective, pieces of clothing are items in a toolbox," says Yanai, through an interpreter, from inside his spacious office. "Rather than sell very unique clothing, I believe uniqueness can be derived by the wearer, who picks and styles looks differently." This is a belief that is at the core of the brand; it's how you wear clothed, not the clothes themselves. They call it "lifewear."
That's why Uniqlo's offerings, though expansive, don't tend to touch on trends. "We have the most difficult design challenge in fashion because we're making simple styles, but we still need to insert newness, freshness and excitement," says Yuki Katsuta, the vice-president of global research and design for Uniqlo and FastRetailing. To do that, Katsuta believes in aligning Uniqlo with like-minded designers to create seasonal collections. Once of its most successful partnerships to date was +J, a three-year collab with minimalist master Jil Sander. In fact, that collection is what enticed me to enter my first Uniqlo in NYC in 2011. I've been hooked ever since.
But it's not just because of the collaborations or the $30 button-downs. Lifewear is an approach I can appreciate. In true Japanese style, it related back to simplifying things, something I think Canadians are hungry for. So welcome, bienvenue and yokõso, Uniqlo! I'm excited to have a breath of fresh air, and a little piece of Japan, right here at home.
Rock the jogger: Uniqlo modernizes the classic workout pant, allowing you to wear your joggers form exercise to everyday. $40, uniqlo.com. Pleats, please! This mid-length pleated silhouette fits snuggly at the waist and skims over all the right areas. $60, uniqlo.com. Mad for Motos: A cropped moto jacket can balance a pair of slouchy trousers or be the perfect companion to a fancy frock. $80, uniqlo.com.
Herb-Rubbed Roast Turkey with Fresh Sage Gravy<br>Photography by James Tse Credits: Herb-Rubbed Roast Turkey with Fresh Sage Gravy<br>Photography by James Tse
At her baby shower two years ago, Jessica Stewart received three mini motorcycle jackets and a tiny pair of jewel-encrusted high top sneakers. “They were super cute gifts given to me by well-meaning friends without kids, and they were totally impractical, “ Jessica recalls. “My older sister, who had a two year old, was the one who gave me the best baby gift. It was a bag full of the essentials: newborn diapers and diaper rash cream, a set of bottles, baby nail clippers, a pack of soothers and some stretch mark cream. It was what my baby and I really needed and we used every item within the first two weeks.”
Jessica now makes it her mission to give practical, smart baby gifts to all of her friends. “Before I had a kid, I thought that those hand-knit, artisan, one of a kind sweaters were a great gift. I’m a bit embarrassed about those now that I know how silly it is to pull itchy wool over a newborn’s head.”
Jessica’s go-to shower gift is a homemade keepsakes box filled with baby must-haves: baby lotion, bottles and a nipple variety pack, soothers and a receiving blanket. “The items are all things a new baby needs and the box can be kept to store mementos from the first year, like the newborn cap from the hospital, the ankle bracelet, first pictures, that home-from-the-hospital outfit and more. My mom friends tell me consistently that this is the best gift they received at their shower.”
The next time you receive a baby shower invite or need a gift for a newborn, consider those essentials that baby really needs. Research from PlaytexBaby™ shows that close to two-thirds of new moms receive an impractical gift, while the items that new moms say they really want include diapers, onesies, books, toys and bottles. Moms also say that they love gift cards, so if you are unsure of what to get, a baby store gift card is always a good option.
From September 30 to October 31, PlaytexBaby™ and Babies “R” Us® are making gift-giving easier. With every $40 purchase, before tax, of PlaytexBaby™ essentials, you will receive a bonus $10 gift card.* You can add the gift card to your baby gift to help out mom even more, or keep it for your next purchase. To learn more about this offer click here.
*Excluding all Playtex® Diaper Genie Products®. Program valid from September 30 to October 31, 2016 in store and online. Conditions apply.
<p>CL Books Contest (2)</p>
Enter for your chance to receive one of four prize packs with all seven of this month's top picks from Penguin Random House Canada.
Small Great Things: $32.00
I Am Brian Wilson: $34.00
The Award: $37.00
Wayne Gretzky: $35.00
The Whistler: $37.00
Girl on The Train: $22.00