On November 11, UNIQLO’s second collaboration with Carine Roitfeld hits Canada and will bring with it a slew of jackets, skirts, tweed and faux leather and fur. However, we were lucky to get a preview of the pieces when they landed in the U.S. late last month–and luckier still to sit down with Roitfeld and UNIQLO design director Naoki Takizawa before heading to the collection’s launch party on October 26.
Anne T. Donahue: So to start, what sparked this collaboration?
Carine Roitfeld: I think the [first collection], though this one is a bit more feminine than the first one [last] winter. It did very well, it was a big birth. I think for me, for UNIQLO, you can see the clothes everywhere, and it was sold out immediately and when it sells out immediately, it’s a success. I think it was quite strange for UNIQLO to have [those] sorts of clothes because UNIQLO is more life-wear — classic [and] very well known for their cashmere and basics. I’m basic in my way because it’s always very simple, but not in the same way as UNIQLO. I think it was a bit of a surprise for them to see my proposition of fake fur and lace, so I think it was a bit of a nightmare for the production of UNIQLO because for them it wasn’t something they normally do and it took a bit for them to realize. I’m very pushy, I want things very specific.
So you being so entrenched in high fashion, is this how you balanced that and day-to-day wear?
CR: For me this is everyday wear, but for UNIQLO this is like cocktail wear. So yes, these are classic pieces, but they have to be very specific. I’m very picky on the proportion–the length of the sleeves, the neckline not being too high. I have a lot of specific ideas like this that you can find in the collection. I love pockets and I love skirts; there are always pockets in my skirts because I want skirts to be like jeans. I don’t want to feel uncomfortable because I’m wearing a skirt and a lot of people don’t wear skirts [for that reason].
This collection has been really embraced by North America, too. Why do you think it’s finally starting to clue in to such a classic, clean and streamlined aesthetic?
CR: I’m happy they are–I hope [they are]. I think Americans are always fascinated by French taste. I don’t know what that means [laughs], but they love the idea of a Parisian, so maybe they can find here what is the fantasy of the Parisian. And in America, it’s more about comfort. It’s a different way of wearing clothes. In America, number one is comfort, but in France we love to be fitted in our clothes, we want to feel beautiful in our clothes–it’s another education.
Yes! And I think despite the fact that Japanese and Parisian fashion is so different, there is that common bond in that so much thought goes into the story behind it.
CR: It’s tradition. There’s a lot of tradition behind Japanese work, and in French. They’re very different, but at the same time they’re very similar. Everything has to be very proper; there is a reason for everything. We’re very picky. We don’t want something . . . we’re not very country. [I’ll put] a tweed jacket with a silk shirt. I don’t like to put a sweater under it. I like to make it different. I want to make it more feminine. So if you’re using men’s material, [I want] to mix it with something feminine.
What story were you trying to tell specifically with this collection by enlisting Carine? Because UNIQLO has a very specific style narrative.
Naoki Takizawa: It’s the little things. Because she’d mention to me something like a slip dress–she’d ask the UNIQLO people, “How about something like a slip dress for the collection?” and everyone [was] surprised: “A slip dress? In Japan, that’s too difficult to sell.” But at the end of the day, the result was that it sold out in a week.
And that makes sense.
NT: Yes. Because the concept of UNIQLO is life wear. Life wear should cover all people. And she brought a new mode to the fashion and a new attitude to the fashion. It is very important to have that sense in UNIQLO–that’s why they’re after this product. I think always the product should be essential. It’s basic, but–
CR: It’s basic in my world. Maybe it’s not basic in the world of everyone, but in my world, this is very basic, you know? You just have to find a way to mix them together. It’s a lesson of fashion, I would say.
So what pieces are you most proud of when you look at the collection?
CR: You know, it’s very difficult when you want to go low cost and you have high dreams. So I love fur, but you can’t do real fur, so we’ll do fake fur that is more politically correct. But this fur, when you look at it, it looks chic–you can go to a party and you look chic, it doesn’t look cheesy. And this fake leather is very . . . when you wear it, it’s very beautiful. So I think I’m very proud to make these quality pieces in this price [range]. And I like to break the rules.
I think this collection does a really good job of breaking the rules while still adhering to UNIQLO’s rules as well. You respect the brand, but they’re respecting your vision.
CR: Yes. When you work with UNIQLO, you have to follow a lot of rules. Everything has to be washable. Everything can’t be flammable because they respect the customer very much. But what I like is to mix things, that’s my specialty.
A lot of people look at mix-and-match fashion and get intimidated and think they can’t do it. But this line succeeds in making it a tangible thing that you can do. Like, “Oh! It’s not scary!”
CR: It’s not scary!
But people do get scared! And you both have done such a good job of making something that could be scary very accessible. Especially to a younger demographic who may be trying to determine who they are aesthetically. If there is one takeaway from the collection, what is it?
CR: You know what I really like? Yesterday I saw some people working for UNIQLO, and she was wearing one of my coats. And I didn’t recognize the coat because these are [such] individual pieces. But suddenly, you forget about the pieces, and it became the coat of the person. So it becomes yours. [The collection’s] not too special that you think it’s the coat of someone else. I don’t like to belong to [a] brand–I’ve never liked that. The thing is, when you wear something, it’s your style, it’s yours. It’s what I like about the collection. Anything someone puts on, it needs to be them. This [collection] looks like you.
And I think that’s where fashion is heading. It’s not about trends, it’s about your own interpretation and who you are and how you express yourself. And in this collection, there’s so much room for self-expression.
CR: And you know what’s great? You can play with the size. It’s a bit like when you go to England, everyone has to wear the same school uniform. And it must get boring when you get to be 14, 15 years old, so they play with their uniform to make it their own. And that’s a bit like this collection. You can play with it, and it belongs to you. They’re not complicated pieces. Don’t complicate your life. And it’s better when people say, “Oh you look beautiful” and they ask you what you’re wearing. You should feel beautiful in your clothes.
NT: I think fashion should make emotion. This is very important for fashion.
CR: But you can’t be frightened. A lot of girls can find a lot of things [in this collection]. Everyone can find something. It’s open to everyone. I don’t want to make any restrictions. Even the boys, I don’t want to make any restrictions.
And that’s such a healthy thing to assert too. Because gender norms in fashion are so passe. Clothes are an extension of you. So if you feel powerful in what you’re wearing, you will be powerful.
CR: Exactly. People think fashion is not important and that it’s very superficial but it’s definitely not. Because when you’re in a bad mood and put something on, you’ll immediately feel more beautiful. There are some pieces that make you feel more beautiful. And we need those pieces.
Right. Like, don’t wear something that doesn’t bring you joy.
CR: And that [can be] very difficult because some people go into the store and buy something bad because they don’t want to go into the fitting room. To try on jeans is a nightmare. I never try on jeans, I think it’s a nightmare. Jeans are the worst. To find the right jeans is the worst thing in your life, so I never buy jeans. But a skirt is easy, in a way. So make your life easier.
See some of our picks from the Carine Roitfeld x UNIQLO collection, launching tomorrow, below.