by Stephen Garner
Justin Kerr

Thursday night saw the launch of one of the most talked-about fashion collaborations of the year: Uniqlo and Lemaire. The French apparel brand, led by former Hermes Creative Director Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran, takes its inspiration from the Parisian streets and translates it into a clean and sophisticated product, while Japanese fast-fashion powerhouse Uniqlo is known for its simple aesthetics. MR had the chance to speak with Justin Kerr, Uniqlo’s chief merchandising officer and director of brand marketing, at the Uniqlo SoHo’s exclusive pre-shopping event about this new pairing.

Q: What were the deciding factors for Uniqlo to collaborate with Lemaire?

A: I believe it was a really natural alliance. Uniqlo is famous for its LifeWear and making sure we improve people’s lives through clothing. The more that we talked to Lemaire the more we understood what he and his team stood for — that they wanted to make great products that you can wear every day. That’s very much in line with our aesthetic and our goals of made for all.

Q: What’s the one thing Uniqlo and Lemaire are really trying to accomplish with this collection?

A: I think that it’s to offer understated luxury at incredible prices. What’s great about launching this collaboration for fall/winter is that we get to use all of Uniqlo’s famous fabrics: 100% cashmere, wool and extra-fine merino, and we’re able to add that extra spin or that nice detail that just elevates it a little bit and gives the customer something new. Still, whether you love Uniqlo or you love Lemaire or you just love great clothes, this collaboration really has something for everybody.

Q: What influence did you have on the collection personally?

A: It was actually a very collaborative process. Lemaire and his team spent a lot of time in Tokyo where our global headquarters are located. Our designers were really inspired by him, just seeing how the simple shift of a pocket or a line on a sweater can change the whole attitude. We felt like all of a sudden it went to an inspirational place but remained so approachable. That’s the balance that we really love to try and achieve in our own clothes. We’re always looking for people that can inspire us and keep pushing us because we want to make every item better every year and to keep growing as a brand.

Q: What are some of the key marketing efforts Uniqlo made on this campaign launch?

A: One of the key things to point out about this collaboration is that we called it Uniqlo and Lemaire, ensuring equal footing, and showing that we’re very clear that we are in this together and have a shared mission. With these collaborations we don’t really try to come up with a catch phrase or slogan. We really want to say here’s who is collaborating together, and let the product speak for itself. We really want people to embrace the clothing organically in their lives. Whether people find it on their own or if they are fans of the brand already, they’re coming into the store and being surprised by what they find. They’re also finding us on social media and from our dedicated landing page that has built up a lot of buzz over the last 30 days. When we released that landing page it was incredible the number of hits we received, people really got into it. What’s interesting is that some of them are fans of Lemaire, some of them are fans of Uniqlo, but a lot of them are just people that are attracted to what looks good.

Q: Is there a new audience Uniqlo is trying to go after with this collection?

A: I think everything Uniqlo does is made for all. We really pride ourselves on that. We think that we are doing something totally different than anyone else in the apparel space. Whether it’s a cashmere scarf or a wool coat, it doesn’t matter what age you are or whether you are super fashion-forward or everyday or anything in between, you can wear it, look good and feel good. We never like to design or approach a collection saying “This is for a certain age or certain type of person.” We’re a global company, so everything we do needs to appeal to that mass audience. What that means is that you need to find the truth in each garment and fabric and let that speak for itself.

Q: What is the one item from the new Uniqlo x Lemaire men’s collection that every guy should buy?

A: The wool coats. They are simple, elegant and they have one extra detail on the shape of the pocket that makes it new and interesting and will get every one of your friends saying: “Where did you get that, that looks great!”

Q: Are there any future collaborations planned that you’d like to talk about?

A: What we’re most excited to announce and talk about tonight is that we’re extending the Lemaire collaboration into spring/summer 2016. It was great to work with Lemaire and the team on these fall fabrics and fall colors, but we can’t wait to get into spring with all of the light, airy fabrics to see where they take it.

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