Jun Takahashi’s love for music is well documented in his work, from obscure Krautrock bands to the sacred–and much bastardized–Joy Division. There is even a subsection of UNDERCOVER called Undercover Records–an imaginary record label that produces imaginary band merch for (mostly) imaginary bands, all designed by Takahashi.
Takahashi was a musician before he was a designer—he played in a punk band the Tokyo Sex Pistols while attending the Bunka fashion school, and he wore his hair in the spiky, orange-dyed style of Johnny Rotten. Punk was an early influence on Takahashi’s work. His first store in Harajuku, called NOWHERE, was in partnership with his friend NIGO, the founder of A Bathing Ape.
But while NIGO’s love for hip-hop is well known, Takahashi’s image is strictly one of a rock person. Hence, this week’s release of the Supreme x UNDERCOVER x Public Enemy collaboration set some scratching their heads, including yours truly. I missed my chance two weeks ago to ask Takahashi about his personal relationship with hip-hop. But one thing I know about Takahashi is that he is a true auteur, who gets involved only in the projects he likes.
In lieu of further speculation, here is some history of Jun Takahashi referencing music in his work. No knock on Public Enemy, mind you—one cannot deny its influence growing up in the early ‘90s Brooklyn, like I did.
Fall/Winter 2003: Punk
UNDERCOVER’s first Paris show was for a Spring/Summer 2003 collection called “SCAB.” With extreme distressing, patchwork, and raw edges it embodied the DIY, slash-and-burn spirit of punk rock. That same spirit was channelled in Takahashi’s first two collaborations with Supreme in Spring/Summer 2015 and Fall/Winter 2016, where anarchy-inspired graphics and terms adorned sweat suits, work trousers, trench coats, and a collaborative Schott Perfecto.
Fall/Winter 2004: Patti Smith
If you ever noticed that little lightning bolt stitched out on many of UNDERCOVER’s jeans in the knee area and thought that it’s a Harry Potter reference – congratulations, you are young. You are also wrong. The inspiration for this is a Patti Smith tattoos. You can see it on one of the photos of her by Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith recorded a reading of her poem “Neoboy,” which Takahashi used as the soundtrack for his Fall/Winter 2004 collection, “But Beautiful.” He had the words from the poem stitched out on jeans, printed on tees, and engraved on jewelry. “I haven’t fucked much with the past, but I’ve fucked plenty with the future,” is a Patti Smith line Takahashi used on a blazer a couple of years ago.
Spring/Summer 2006: Krautrock and UNDERCOVER RECORDS
For his Spring/Summer 2006 collection, called “T.,” Takahashi, in collaboration with Nobuhiko Kitamura of Hysteric Glamour, imagined five progressive German rock bands, and created merchandise for them under the UNDERCOVER RECORDS moniker—a fake label for fake bands, but with very real apparel. The T-shirt was the base, reworked and spliced into jackets, long skirts, and women’s blazers.
Fall/Winter 2009: Joy Division
Takahashi reinterpreted the iconic Peter Saville graphic for the band’s Unknown Pleasure’s album for his Fall/Winter 2009 men’s collection called “Earmuff Maniac.” Takahashi told me once that he had reservations about the graphic since Raf Simons already used it, but he decided to go for it in the end. For his 25th anniversary collection two years ago Takashi reissued a tee and an intarsia sweater from his Fall/Winter 2012 Psycho Color collection with Ian Curtis’s face and the song title “Isolation” written below. And, of course, there is the collection that’s now in stores, with Joy Division’s song “Atmopshere” as one of its inspirations.
Fall/Winter 2012: Nirvana
You know that Nirvana smiling face graphic that all the gentrifiers put their children in? Takahashi did a good version for his “Psycho Color” collection in F/W 2012.
Spring/Summer 2013: The Talking Heads
Spring/Summer 2013. Takahashi puts “Stop Making Sense,” the title of a live 1984 album by Talking Heads, another ‘70s New York experimental rock stalwart and a new wave pioneer, on a sweatshirt. A very UNDERCOVER line, if there was one.
Spring/Summer 2014: The Jesus and Mary Chain
The Spring/Summer 2014 collection, called GODOG, featured some of the TJMC graphics, including their Psycho Candy song. There is also Psycho Candy candy, in case you are feeling meta.
Fall/Winter 2015: David Bowie
For his men’s Fall/Winter 2015 collection, Takahashi had the lookbook shot in a style reminiscent that of the famous photo series of David Bowie shot by Masayoshi Sukita for his “Heroes” album cover. Bowie’s song “Rebel Rebel” is referenced throughout, and is the cult punk magazine Slash.
Spring/Summer 2015: Television
UNDERCOVER’s Spring/Summer 2015 men’s collection was all about Marquee Moon and Adventure, two albums from the iconic ‘70s New York band that has influenced many a punk rocker and a score of alternative music bands in the ‘90s.
the Shepherd Fall/Winter 2016: Radiohead
While Takahashi has never used Radiohead’s imagery in his work, Thom Yorke has been both an aspirational figure and a friend, who has provided Takahashi with a soundtrack for one his “Utopie” show last year. Yorke appeared in the Japanese menswear magazine HUGE wearing UNDERCOVER in 2011. Yorke also modeled the first collection from UNDERCOVER’s the Shepherd sub-line in 2016.
Spring/Summer 2017: Bill Evans
For his recent Spring/Summer 2017 women’s collection “Portrait In Jazz,” Takahashi pivoted from his predilection for rock music and turned his focus on jazz pianist Bill Evans. Inspiration manifested in the subtle—like a piano key belt, to a more literal sense. Several models came out in brown suits and glasses emulating Evans’ signature style, and graphics for his 1962 album Waltz for Debby featured on everything from quilted jackets, to T-shirts, to lightweight scarves, appropriate for the breezy mood of the music.
February 2017: Temples
Never one to skimp on collaborations, Jun Takahashi teamed up with Vans Vault to release several pairs of Vans Old-Skool and Era sneakers. The Old-Skools were rendered with an all-over floral pattern, while the simple Eras took inspiration from English neo-psychedelic rock band Temples. Some of the lyrics from the group’s 2014 song “Shelter” were screenprinted on the toe.
April 2017: Can
Can, an obscure West German prog-rock band from the 1970s, saw an homage from Jun Takahashi as part of a Levi’s collaboration. He embroidered some of the lyrics of the group’s song “Mother Sky” onto a raw denim Type II Trucker jacket.
Spring/Summer 2018: UNDERCOVER RECORDS Revival and Can
UNDERCOVER revisited its fake record label concept for its Spring/Summer 2018 collection, where it not only revived the UNDERCOVER RECORDS graphics for fictional bands like The Organs, but also included a modern line of merch for the very real Krautrock group Can, once again referencing the band.
Now check out all the pieces from the Supreme x UNDERCOVER x Public Enemy collaboration.
- Additional Photography: Edward Chiu