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UNDERCOVER’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection can be summed up by a quote from one of the works that inspired it: “Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.”
Jun Takahashi first watched Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange in high school. The film features a band of troublemaking teens (referred to as “droogs” by protagonist Alex DeLarge in the work’s fictional Nadsat parlance) who sip drug-laced milk and commit various acts of violence and sexual assault.
“It was really shocking. The story of violence, sex, the youth, really everything together — I was inspired,” Takahashi tells Highsnobiety backstage in Paris. “Of course, I’m anti-violence,” he adds.
That dichotomy is characteristic of UNDERCOVER’s journey between the worlds of chaos and balance. A Clockwork Orange itself is full of multitudes, like errant youth who commit acts of “the old ultraviolence” yet also share a predilection for the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (whose Ninth Symphony was “gorgeosity made flesh”).
In true Takahashi fashion, the film’s visceral scenes are interpreted into statement pieces that cater to casual fans of the film, Kubrick, or the label, but hold a deeper meaning for those able to appreciate them to their fullest extent.
It would be easy to place UNDERCOVER under the streetwear umbrella, thanks to Takahashi’s penchant for using graphics to inject a dose of meta-referential imagery into clothing, but the label’s most ardent followers equally enjoy dissecting the meaning behind each collection. That amateur sleuthing extends to the designer’s collaborative products, which span brands including Dr. Martens, Valentino, Eastpak, and, of course, Nike.
Takahashi offered up his own iteration of the unlikely UNDERCOVER x Valentino collaboration, which was walked in Valentino’s show this week. Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli is a longtime fan of the brand and friend of the designer, so to see the two riff on each other’s oeuvre adds another meta moment, something akin to seeing two different artists sketch a character in the other’s respective style.
One of the standout footwear pieces was Takahashi’s latest experimental silhouette featuring Nike’s much-hyped React sole tech. Last year, UNDERCOVER released several takes on the React Element 87, utilizing bold color-blocking to highlight the shoe’s most innovative aspects. This season, he has created a high-top boot featuring a futuristic zip closure and IV tube details on the upper.
“I was sort of inspired by the middle age — the renaissance, mixed with contemporary,” says Takahashi. As a designer whose work is characterized by playing in the space between spectrums, here the threads between past and future played out in the way he approaches his lifestyle collaborations for Nike under the Gyakusou performance running subline.
Perhaps that’s the reason he also gravitated toward one of Nike’s newer models, the Air Max 720. The shoe itself is an amalgam that pulls from the Air Max’s history as a subcultural sneaker, worn more often in clubs than on the running track, with an upper that looks more suited to indoor football than running. Here, Takahashi again utilized the shoe’s potential for distinctive color-blocking, turning a general release into an exciting tier zero product.
Next, COMME des GARÇONS alumni Fumito Ganryu played with proportion at Paris Fashion Week FW19.