memo: if ever a lady is caught in this, marry her.
jun takahashi, creator of japanese label undercover, is one of those designers who maintains he’ll never put his logo on a t-shirt. this may seen stubborn coming from a guy whose arty streetwear is thought to nestle comfortably next to the rest of the ura-hara (tokyo’s youth ghetto) set such as a bathing ape, number (n)ine and neighbourhood. but this is the ura-hara label whose first womenswear show was called ‘scab’. a label created by a man who cites both walt disney and japanese hardcore label GISM as major influences; which extends its modernist and confrontational vision to range for babies and toddlers. undercover is often mentioned in the same breath as rei kawakubo’s early work for comme des garçons. startling, adept and purposeful, it’s comparable to that moment of japanese original thinking when some shogun said, ‘why don’t we carry around a little sword in case we need to commit seppuku in the field?’
michael koppelman of london-based streetwear organisation gimme 5 has collaborated with takahashi on one-offs and special projects for his hideout store since it opened in 1998. ‘at the time of the “scab” collection, soome of jun’s assistants came over to london,’ he anecdotalises, ‘and they told me that a lady selling fruit on oxford street came and gave them some bananas, because she thought they were homeless. they were happy, not only because of the random act of kindness, but also because it meant the clothes seemed real. that’s the difference between what jun does and what others do; it’s not based on “yachting” or something, it’s based on street culture.’
interview by nicola formichetti
so this collection we’ve shot for homme + is entitled ‘languid’. what exactly does languid mean here?
it means stretched, worn out and untidy.
and what do you take the name undercover itself to allude to?
it means mysterious, the other side or the back side of things.
you’ve shown your womenswear collection in paris for the last four seasons. why did you go to paris?
i thought that nothing would change as long as i continued creating designs in japan. i wanted more people to see my designs and wanted more people to wear my clothes.
are the women and the men you design for similar?
yes, in terms of having strength, individual spirit and unyielding minds, and valuing peace and love.
would you ever show your menswear in paris as well?
no, i wouldn’t. i don’t want to become any busier.
where do you stand on japanese attitudes to fashion, particularly in relation to the uru-hara designers?
japanese people are too influenced by short-lived fashion trends. few people have their own styles and policies. they rely on information provided by magazines too much. they are also very influenced by american culture.
how do you feel about other japanese menswear designers, such as nigo of bathing ape, takahiro miyashita of number (n)ine and high fashion designers like junya watanabe and rei kawakubo?
i most strongly respect rei kawakubo.
and what appeals to you so much about kawakubo?
her destruction, construction, ugliness, beauty, craziness, humour and her anti-establishment broad-mindedness in admitting the power of younger people.
what do you think about progressive european menswear designers like raf simons, hedi slimane, kim jones and christopher bailey at burberry?
i like raf. i don’t know the others.
ok… but we hear you are a vivienne westwood collector…
i have many “sex” items. i am not interested in the current vivienne westwood at all. i am only interested in “let it rock”, “sex”, “seditionaries”, and “world’s end”.
why do people call you jonio rather than jun?
i was told by people that i looked like johnny rotten of the sex pistols.
we’ve heard that you used to be a punk rocker and sang in a sex pistols tribute band when you were a student at bunka academy. how punk are you now?
i am much more punk now than i used to be.
what gives you cultural inspiration right now?
at present i’m listening to patti smith, television, the slits… and nina simone. in the visual arts, i like [contemporary czech director] jan švankmajer, [chilean surrealist producer/director] alejandro jodorowsky, [japanese modernist director and artist] hiroshi teshigahara, [cult japanese director and screenwriter] kazuhiro hasegawa, [director of seven samurai] akira kurosawa and alfred hitchcock.
in other fields, i like [austrian painter] hundertwasser, [anarcho-pioneer and ‘art director’ for punk band crass] gee vaucher, [singer with japanese hardcore band GISM] sakevi yokoyama, skate thing, walt disney and [akira creator] katsuhiro otomo.
the clash are having a huge revival right now, but surely the buzzcocks are more relevant to 2004…?
i don’t care about them.
where would you like to go right now?
Venus in Furs, 2008
choreography: Damien Jalet
dancer: Alexandra Gilbert
music: Christian Fennesz
costume: Jun Takahashi/Undercover
Pyranoif by Undercover Jun Takahashi for UNDERMAN produced by Medicom Toy