We thought Balmain for H&M would be fall's big collaboration hit, and while that collection has yet to debut, we've learned from the launch of Uniqlo's partnership with Lemaire (designed by Christophe Lemaire and Sarah Linh-Tran) that there are more minimalist sweater-lovers out there than we thought.
What we expected to be a pretty tame shopping/launch event at Uniqlo's Soho store on Thursday night turned out to be a bit of a madhouse. In the time I was chatting with Uniqlo USA's CMO & Director of Brand Marketing Justin Kerr, my size had disappeared in several of the styles I wanted, and the area housing the collection became packed to the brim with literally every stylist and editor you don't see in street style. In Paris (according to our own Lauren Indvik), the line to get into the section was so long she didn't even get a chance to shop. On Friday — which marked the collection's public launch — Racked reported that several stores in New York are running out of stock in many styles. And while we thought it might just be color-averse New Yorkers and Parisians buying up the understated wares, the collection is nearly sold out online, too.
Of course, Uniqlo is no stranger to surprisingly successful collaborations with low-key designers and tastemakers that beget pretty simple clothes and that the retailer doesn't make a big fuss about: A few years ago, you couldn't walk down the street without seeing someone in a Jil Sander x Uniqlo coat — a collaboration the retailer has resurrected twice due to its success. It also has an ongoing collaboration with French style icon Ines de la Fressange, and one coming up with Carine Roitfeld — both of whom are revered in fashion circles, but relatively unknown by the mainstream.
So why isn't Uniqlo pursuing the Balmains and Karl Lagerfelds of the world like some of its competitors? "We don't have a checklist or any specific way we go about it," explained Kerr. "We're just looking for like-minded people that want to improve people's lives through clothing. We're a global brand, we meet a lot of designers and talented people and when we meet someone we feel we share a lot of the same values with, we open up a conversation to figure out if we can work together." He felt the Lemaire collaboration worked because "they really weren't about occasion wear; they were about, let me make a beautiful garment that you can wear every day and fall in love with over and over again."
From a marketing standpoint, the team intentionally kept things simple, letting the beautiful images put together by the Lemaire team speak for themselves. "You'll notice we never have catchy slogans, we never try to hit you over the head," he explained. "People [shopping here today] will start to talk about it; fans of Uniqlo will be surprised and delighted by this collection and fans of Lemaire will love to see it at this absolutely perfect price."
The prices are great — the $60 sweaters and $170 jackets feel like they should cost more, though they certainly aren't Lemaire-level quality. However, said price point does inspire shoppers to buy those sweaters and dresses by the busload, which it sounds like they are doing; but if you can't find an item you were looking for, you'll have another opportunity come spring, as Kerr confirmed that a second collection is on its way.
As for whether this collection will be restocked, we've reached out to find out and will report back when we know more.