Uniqlo’s campaign featuring Charlize Theron and Orlando Bloom, shot by Alexi Lubomirski and Steven Klein respectively, sits firmly in the tradition of a campaign driven by personality rather than pomp.
Styled by Nicola Formichetti, the campaign is perfect at summing up the ethos of the Japanese label based on simple, no-nonsense clothes and affordable classicism. This is a campaign based on portraiture rather than the overt modelling of garments; the tradition of using photography as a means of trying to convey some essential aspect of the subject rather than the human form as a clotheshorse. Naturally, it’s highly desirable for Uniqlo to associate itself with real people and big name celebrities simultaneously. The art direction is spot on in enabling Uniqlo’s clothes to look good without overpowering the image. Just as the brand has built up a public image based on straightforwardness in clothing partly through an aesthetic in which all the bells and whistles usually used to dress up fashion are stripped away, so too do these strong images of recognisable faces place the clothing in context.
It’s not that what they are wearing is superfluous – far from it- but more a matter of skilfully using understatement to both highlight the people wearing them and, by implication, to convey that this is what Uniqlo is all about; fashion in proportion to real life and a bigger picture.
There is also a sense that this is a new direction for the Japanese brand that has spent a lot of time and energy gaining its fashion stripes. In a world in which style and quality are all too simplistically equated with cost, the kingpin Japanese brand has engaged in a strategy of skilfully wooing the fashionistas and the broader market alike with a series of interesting collaborations with top name designers. If any doubts persisted, then last year’s unveiling of the collaboration with Jil Sander, whose own brand sat atop the fashion kudos mountain at exactly that time, clarified things for once and for all: Uniqlo is cheap, Uniqlo is cool and Uniqlo engages with good design in a bling-free language for style.
The past few years have also seen the Japanese brand building a presence and following outside of its traditional Asian stronghold. If part of this strategy has been to engage designers with reputations and credibility in both Asian and western markets, then the latest campaign feels like it is also something of a sea change.
At the risk of generalisation, much of Uniqlo’s original concept of real clothes for real people was partly conveyed by a corporate identity –in everything from store design to packaging- and public image in which the value of association with celebrity or supermodels has been unnecessary. Then came the designers, and now here are the personalities. Uniqlo has deftly upgraded itself from a brand that sat in the difficult territory occupied by purveyors of affordable clothing with claims to quality; that place in which everyone wants the bargain but isn’t necessarily going to boast about where they bought it.
The smartness of the brand’s strategy over the last five years or so has been to steadfastly stick to its offer on pricing and promise of quality by publicly linking these two traditionally separate qualities with other indicators of quality such as well-known designers and, as is boldly visible in this campaign, red carpet celebrity.
Using the good old-fashioned device of demonstration, the campaign unashamedly elaborates Uniqlo’s belief in the durability of a style founded on classic basics and simple clothes. Anyone still insisting that in fashion, more is more, will find it hard to dismiss Uniqlo’s affirmation of its own principles underscored in this campaign.