It's been a big year for Christophe Lemaire. Just a few weeks ago it was announced that Uniqlo had enlisted the designer to be artistic director of a new research and development centre in Paris. He’ll mastermind a brand new line, Uniqlo U. On his appointment, Lemaire talked about his enthusiasm for designing things that are timeless and relevant. He noted, ‘our ambition is to fill the gap between what's fashion and what's 'normal’.’ It was impossible not to keep in mind this new gig, or those exact words, when viewing the designer’s S/S 17 show for his eponymous brand.
When designers take on new jobs, the influence invariably shows on their own work - Raf Simons at Dior is an obvious recent example. But what does it mean when the designer’s role involves clothes for the masses not the elite? Good things, in Lemaire’s case. Uniqlo has loosened him up. Compared to previous work, this season’s offering was more sporty, slightly less perfect even. It looked more thrown together, more ‘normal’, to quote the man himself. You saw that in the opening look - a convertible parka and overcoat - and later in the cheerful key holders, some in bright yellow, that peaked out from waistbands. You couldn’t help but think of usage, or practicality, of function over form. Or make that function and form combined. Lemaire was clearly thinking about making the most useful items beautiful. Elasticated cuffs and waistbands littered the collection, yet the fit remained crisp. Nylon and pockets ran throughout, yet pieces still felt covetable and elevated. Many of the longer line pieces recalled international clothing traditions and the styles and rules of different cultures. One thought of religious robes - an example of Lemaire casting his eyes wide when designing. This was a collection about clothing realities - the kind of realities that us from the fashion bubble only really consider when we’re pulled out of the melee of fashion week. Uniqlo has done just that for Lemaire - it’s expanded his gaze. This was about what we wear to work. What we wear at home. What we wear to relax, and the interplay between all these categories and requirements. The final look, an extra long line cotton denim shirt looked like something one could retire to bed in. Relaxation. An apt thought for a collection that felt natural, and at peace with how we all actually dress, rather than in battle against it.