Japanese fashion brand Uniqlo celebrated this year’s London Fashion Week and the London Design Festival with an exhibition held at Somerset House. Called The Art and Science of LifeWear: New Form Follows Function, the brand aimed to showcase its LifeWear range from all angles, describing it as a detailed look at “the technology and craftsmanship behind Uniqlo’s clothing”. Innovation researcher and long-time fan of the Uniqlo brand Harriet Cox went along to take a look.
The concept behind LifeWear is simple; it is described by Uniqlo as “elevated essentials”, both “practical and beautiful”. The brand has curated the New Form Follows Function exhibition to examine the collection through a series of installations highlighting the art, science and craftsmanship of each item.
Designed by creative agency Pentagram, the exhibition is an immersive walkthrough of the brand’s design and manufacturing processes. Visitors are introduced to the exhibition space via a back-lit corridor displaying graphics outlining the brand values and a timeline of the company’s history before emerging into a double height space displaying the whole collection against a huge digital display.
The following rooms home in on specific products, using interactive installations to communicate something about how the item is made. For example, the science installation highlights the function and technological properties of the brand’s Heattech products, which are designed to regulate body temperature without the need for bulky clothing.
One thing that strikes me is that the whole exhibition is really good visual merchandising, and that perhaps more of this information could or should be communicated in-store. Each area breaks the item into its component parts and delivers information about its provenance alongside a factory video showing how the item is constructed. It’s a compelling experience that, had I been able to shop the space, I probably would have been tempted to get my purse out.
A six-metre-long area filled with hundreds of floating strips of fabric is one of the standout large-scale installations. It was designed to demonstrate the qualities of Uniqlo’s cooling AIRism fabric, allowing visitors to feel the lightweight properties as they walk through the space.
Bringing art collaborations to life
Also known for its popular artist collaborations, the brand has created mini room sets to bring to life designs from the likes of American pop artist Keith Haring and iconic Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.
There is of course – as with any kind of branded experience worth its salt – plenty of photographic opportunities. A Yayoi Kusama-esque multi-sensory mirrored room is filled with 50 hanging sculptures made from Uniqlo socks in 50 different colours. The lights pulse on and off giving the effect of an atmospheric infinity space, perfect for taking selfies and sharing on social media.
At the end of the exhibition there was a small pop-up shop, run in association with London-based online radio station NTS, where visitors could buy items from the new range and pick up a free copy of LifeWear magazine. This is a nicely produced piece of print, dedicated to the collection and the brand lifestyle.
Room for more transparency
With all the world waking up to climate change, one thing I noted was that the whole production feels polished, rather than transparent. Although the brand has been careful to address sustainability issues, dedicating a whole room to its recycling and educational programmes, I felt that perhaps it didn’t go far enough and all it did was serve to highlight this.
All in all, the exhibition was a good exercise in immersing visitors in the world of Uniqlo as a brand and its aesthetic. This is a mechanic that we have previously seen used by many brands at the luxury end of the market to communicate brand heritage and quality, so it was interesting to see a high street brand go some way to revealing their technology and manufacturing processes. This is something we have yet to see from the likes of Zara, Topshop and H&M. Although there is no indication that this is the plan, it would be great to see some of this storytelling bought into store to really elevate the Uniqlo experience and sell the lifestyle of LifeWear.