I can remember the moment I stopped being excited about high street collaborations: A pair of leather trousers and a cardigan from Isabel Marant x H&M arrived, purchased at the not-so-cheap cumulative cost of $432, and with a heady dose of Marant-obsessed anticipation. Both looked so terrible on me that I momentarily considered an actual body transplant. Instead, thankfully, I just returned the clothes. After that, other collaborations piqued my interest, but only momentarily, like Archive by Alexa Chung for Marks & Spencer. Just two months later, I eBay’d the pink pie crust frill collar that looked divine on Alexa but gave me shelf boobs and a piggy neck. In fact, nothing ever seemed to measure up to the halcyon days of Kate Moss x Topshop.
I remember that collaboration, now a full decade ago, like it was yesterday. I was almost sick with excitement at the prospect of all the floral tea dresses and Moss-approved bounty coming my way. Trotting into my university town at 4 a.m., I passed a clutch of friends coming out of a club (“Where are you going?” they slurred. “Oh, off to a cool…party,” I said, speeding up before they could ask to come with) before queuing in line for my allocated neon orange wristband and eventually entering the store at 7 a.m.
The high street collaboration is no longer a pioneering conflation of minds. The majority of it feels so over-established that it has become boring, and in general, it fails to get my heart racing. I’m too old now. Too skeptical. Too weather-beaten by retail tricks and tics and ill-fitting togs.
But then…J.W. Anderson for Uniqlo landed in my inbox, and that heady pulse of sickness came rushing back.
JWA has form with his high street collaborations. Remember his capsule for Topshop, in 2012? It was excellent, much like his curatorial and design abilities with both furniture and the exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield Gallery. In short, the man is smarter than Zeus. Immediately, I could pair instant outfits together — outfits that, unlike Marant x H&M, wouldn’t cost hundreds of dollars.
What makes this collaboration so good is that it’s utterly timeless. That trench coat with tartan turn-ups finally makes me grateful I never invested in a vintage Burberry mac — and I have come so close, so many times. The amount a coat like this would garner on a site like Net-A-Porter…the mind boggles and drools with anticipation.
Like Bella Freud, JWA knows the power of a monochrome print knit and this shark one will zoom into my basket.
The blue and white ruffle midi skirt, worn with a matching oversized shirt, would be incredibly modern with white over-knee boots from Neous (in a sort of Balenciaga way, but without the weird fit and the tremendous price tag) and some statement Ellery earrings. (I’ve just described my late September/early October look.) But then, said skirt, with a white t-shirt and Ancient Greek sandals would also work for every summer, forever.
Ditto that blouse with high-waist jeans.
As for the excellent offering of utterly plain polo necks, as every chic woman knows, polo necks do not suffer the fate of trends (they are neither hot nor not, merely always good) and the little wrist ties give these ones an expensive-looking twist.
Lastly, that padded tartan bag. Like a duvet for your computer. Yes please.
Vogue.com calls this collaboration “all about wearability.” Wearability is a word we hear a lot at the moment. It’s an empty phrase; all clothes, by dint of being clothes, are wearable. If you take that to translate “understated” and “unpretentious,” however, then yes, that’s exactly what it is. What makes this collaboration so good is the total lack of pretension. It’s affordable. It’s timeless. It’s beautifully cut. It’s neither trussed, nor sexy, nor so conceptually shaped that it makes this an illogical fit for the egalitarian baseline of the high street. As we’ve seen with Lemaire, the Japanese high street retailer nails collaborations in ways that few high street stores do: It makes sure the capsule is totally in line with Uniqlo’s regular, established design ethos. In short, I want it all.