In this exclusive interview, NIGO tells us how he plans to transform UNIQLO UT as the brand's new creative director.
Last October, UNIQLO announced the appointment of NIGO as the creative director of UT (Uniqlo T-shirt), the mega retailer's first-ever role of the sort for its LifeWear line. The founder and former creative director of BAPE and owner of Human Made is busy these days, traveling the world to debut his first collection for UT this Spring/Summer 2014. We caught a few moments with NIGO during his recent stay in New York, and heard from the famed streetwear icon himself on how he plans to transform the UT brand. See our full exclusive interview below.
Photography: Thomas Welch/Highsnobiety.com
You are the first creative director that UNIQLO has appointed specifically for UT -- How did the conversation begin? UNIQLO approached me this spring, about six months ago, and I was interested.
How do you feel about being a part of UNIQLO? I'm really pleased to be working on a project where it feels like there's a lot of work for me. The scale of UNIQLO is global and it's got customers all over the world. It's a great project for me to do. And it's a new kind of discipline to me, to make something that can have really broad appeal. In the past, I've been able to appeal to a very hardcore group and bring them to me, but now I have to learn to study broad customers and work for them.
What was your attraction to the UNIQLO brand? I respect UNIQLO's ability to be out there in the rest of the world, because at the moment, there are not many Japanese brands that are able to. And the scale of it is interesting to me. I was specifically asked to do the UT brand, and t-shirts is something I felt I could actually bring something to.
What is the brand aesthetic and attitude that you want to bring to UT? Basically, I've changed everything. I wanted to create a new standard for the brand, starting with the t-shirt itself. UT has been using the same shape and cut for a long time. All of them had side seams, and I wanted them to be tubular-knit. The quality was all good, but it looked good flat and [boxy] when you wore them. I wanted it to be [comfortable] and breathy when you wear them. From that point, [it was just] using the actual graphics and I'm used to working with graphics.
Are you using any higher-quality materials? Will the price point stay the same? The price point will not change. The fit is changed to how I envisioned, but the quality was always good. [My quality] is just different. I really tried to use all of the resources available at UNIQLO that I wasn't able to [use] before [UNIQLO] -- for example, printing the whole shirt rather than printing on the front of the shirt. There are a lot of new options.
UT has been known for having designs by notable artists like Terry Richardson, Sølve Sundsbø and House Industries. Do you plan on bringing in any more designers or artists to collaborate? There's a lot of stuff in the pipeline. There are over 1,000 SKUs this season. But the main thing is that I am working with a new shape for the shirts, so the news [on collaborators] will come later.
You are known for being a really avid toy collector -- you are a huge fan of Star Wars and all the American superheroes. Which character are you most excited about bringing in the UT collection? I really like being able to use the Wizard of Oz. I wanted to do that for quite some time. I bought the movie again recently so it's a fresh memory.
You made BAPE a lifestyle brand, with a café, toys and even housewares. Are there any plans to expand UT to other product categories beyond t-shirts? This is not my brand. It is cool for me to work as part of the team and be the leader, but the direction is there already and I have to work within that framework. But it's an open door -- if we see a need, I'm definitely open [to expanding].
The UNIQLO UT Spring/Summer 2014 collection will be available in stores at the end of this month, with prices ranging from $19.99 to $29.99.