White Mountaineering's UNIQLO collaboration is kind of Yosuke Aizawa's big break. Don't get me wrong, White Mountaineering is a massive brand in its native Japan, famous and financially stable enough to hold runway shows at both local events hosted by Rakuten and ritzy Paris Fashion Week.
Despite this international reach and renown, White Mountaineering is still one of those "in the know" kinda brands outside of Japan.
Collaborations with adidas and Eastpak have earned some eyeballs but White Mountaineering's appreciably stylish technical garments remain unfamiliar to all but the more obsessive Japanese fashion types.
That ends with the launch of White Mountaineering's collaboration at select stores and UNIQLO's website on November 1, Aizawa's largest global push to date.
It's the latest in a long line of appreciably wearable yet stylistically elevated UNIQLO collaborations, following drops from Cristophe Lemaire's UNIQLO U, Jil Sander's +J, JW Anderson, and Engineered Garments.
Even with UNIQLO's mass-market inclinations, Aizawa wants the garments from his UNIQLO line to last forever. He envisions White Mountaineering x UNIQLO being shared between family members and perhaps even passed down generations, as well-loved as any of White Mountaineering's own hardy layering pieces.
What brought you and UNIQLO together?
I was inspired by UNIQLO’s philosophy of LifeWear and "ultimate everyday wear" – creating clothing that can connect people across generations, races and genders.
The collection theme is "outerwear created as a common language for everyone": I wanted to combine the technical design that White Mountaineering is known for with UNIQLO’s LifeWear philosophy.
The new collaboration is also the first time White Mountaineering has designed items for children – UNIQLO connecting White Mountaineering with new audiences and possibilities, and White Mountaineering doing the same thing in kind, is exactly what I look for in a mutually beneficial collaboration.
Was it challenging to scale White Mountaineerings design ethos to UNIQLO's larger audience?
The scale of White Mountaineering and UNIQLO are completely different. With White Mountaineering, it is a personal process of figuring out what I like and what details I find interesting in the moment.
Whereas for this collaboration, I had to think about how to reach a demographic that knows UNIQLO but not White Mountaineering, such as my friends from my youth, my children, and my wife's friends and colleagues for instance. In other words, I had to figure out how to design, price, and fit the lifestyle of these people, which is something I had never thought about before.
From a design point of view, it's a task of adding to the brand what you are pursuing in your own brand. I think about how to integrate it to the extent that people do not recognize whether it is White Mountaineering or UNIQLO.
What carried over to this UNIQLO line from mainline White Mountaineering?
One item with typical White Mountaineering-style details is the Hybrid Down Jacket with waterproof zip pockets on both sides of the chest. Though rare for a UNIQLO jacket to have pockets at the chest, our aim for the design was to take the middle path: not simply maximizing warmth and wearability, or getting too outdoorsy, but incorporating elements from military styles as well.
This jacket can be paired with classic items for a modern look – especially in all black, it is versatile and can adapt to different styles. Our goal was to create LifeWear that withstands the test of time.
BLK by White Mountaineering is sort of like a streamlined version of your work: did that sub-label guide your work for UNIQLO?
We decide on a seasonal theme for White Mountaineering, but for BLK, it’s based more on our accumulated experience as designers. We build on the technical skills gained through making snowboard gear and working with sportswear manufacturers.
However, there is a mutual relationship between White Mountaineering and BLK. The most important thing for us in designing this UNIQLO collaboration was the ease of movement and comfort, and I can say that we adopted the knowledge and skills we gained through designing BLK.
What would you consider to be this collection's core pieces?
The Ultra Light Down oversized jacket is the one that I was most particular about making.
Conventional UNIQLO Ultra Light Down jackets are made of a smooth, shiny material, but we developed a material with a wrinkled finish that gives it a slightly crispy feel. I was very particular about the material. It is easy to wear, easy to move around in, and packable.
I think the Fleece Oversized Long Sleeve Jacket is another item that gives you a sense of White Mountaineering's style, in that it combines a military aesthetic with outdoor details.
By using boa fleece for the body and sponge fleece for the sleeves, it looks as if it is layered, but it is also designed to allow for ease of movement around the arms. Like this jacket, many of the items in this collaboration can be worn unisex, so I hope people will share the items with their families and partners.