I WAS TWO DAYS LATE for the launch of the new Uniqlo Undercover (uu) collection: I couldn’t quite summon up the passion I’d had for Jil Sander’s sadly defunct +j line. Alas, I was right to be blasé. Designed by Japanese superstar Jun Takahashi, the clothes reflect his penchant for chic reinterpretations of street and punk-music trends—in other words, casual and above all young (Uniqlo doesn’t have an online shop, but you can get a sense at www.undercover.uniqlo.com/us/). This is an all-in-the-family collection that is most successful with kidwear (striped leggings, piped print raincoats, tiny biker jackets, cardigans with heart-shaped buttons) and menswear (I especially liked the pepper-and-salt print tees and heavyweight fringed cotton “stoles” closely modeled on the Arab keffiyeh that you used to be able to buy on almost every street corner for a lot less than the $40 Uniqlo is charging).
For women, the pickings are slimmer. I tried on six things, but only one—updated oatmeal-color sweatpants with a side tie and good lines, $40 (also in brown and navy)—made the cut. I loved the color of a deep green elongated cardigan ($50); unfortunate that there was a stitched uu logo on the chest. I also liked an olive green topper in gleamy cotton with a lovely swing in back, but for a novelty jacket, $100 seemed a lot. Although I was drawn to mid-thigh-length zip hoodies involving a cute cat pattern, when I put them on they struck me as too girly and busy; ditto the multi-pocketed and grommeted fitted jackets. And I thought the tunics, both prints and solids, looked a little like hospital gowns.
Undaunted, I checked out the second new, less lauded designer collaboration with Orla Kiely, a Irishwoman best known for her ultrabold patterned bags, wallets (I have two), suitcases, and “lifestyle” items (there is even a car!). Although the generously sized scarves come off well, and at $13 each you really can’t lose (I succumbed, twice), the tee-shirts and dresses look cheap.
Prints are difficult when you are doing inexpensive fashion. One of the many things that Jil Sander did right was to stick mostly to neutrals and to eschew patterns, except for an occasional striped shirt. Even given Uniqlo’s relatively good fabric, the color and quality just don’t measure up to the originals (I felt the same way about Target’s Liberty of London project). Now that there are few if any holdouts in this age of class/mass collaborations, the question is not whether a designer will do an accessible line, but how well. I’m still waiting for the new +j.