Every season, there’s always one Uniqlo collaboration we’re most looking forward to — the one with UK-born designer, Hana Tajima, for her take on sophisticated simplicity and effortless style. The Spring / Summer 2021 offerings are no different, and give us breezy wear we can’t wait to don in our forever-Summer. And while she’s responsible for introducing a range of hjiabs to Uniqlo’s LifeWear collection, all the way back in 2016, we wouldn’t want to classify her designs as ‘just modest wear’.
They may be covered-up, but there’s something universal and versatile about their appeal too, seen on fresh seersucker trousers or the relaxed-yet-structured silhouettes of this season’s summer dresses. “I’ve never identified with the idea of ‘modest wear'”, says Tajima. “I prefer to think of it as understated design. I’m proud of who I am as a Muslim woman, as Japanese, and English, but I’m more interested in those universal ideas of what it is to be a person.”
Her latest collection embraces universal design codes via classic styles with a twist, and interestingly, was conceptualised during the lockdown phase in 2020. In our interview with the designer, she shares more about the theme of ‘Changing Lifestyles’, transitional wear that will take you from day to night, or more accurately, from ‘work from home’ to an intimate gathering with friends and family.
“The idea of ‘Changing Lifestyles’ was a response to our lives being suddenly very different. I wanted to create clothing that would help us regain a sense of ourselves, and connect us to different parts of our lives, be it work or relaxation,” she says.
This series breathes new life into casual “lived in” designs, which highlight lightweight fabrics that drape just-so on the body. Rayon linen features across classic shirts, wrap skirts, and tapered pants; a new ramie fabric holds structure while still giving a delicate, organic vibe. There’s also a wavy puckered seersucker cotton that adds subtle texture to flared A-line dresses and cropped trousers. As for the colour palette, expect neutral shades that are particularly soothing with tone-on-tone styling, while even the pops of colour are muted, from a pastel yellow and soft orange, to a refreshing lavender.
Read on for our full interview with Hana Tajima, and to view the rest of the Spring / Summer 2021 collection.
What was your inspiration for the SS21 collection?
“The idea behind this season was ‘changing lifestyles’. So much of our lives have taken place in smaller confines this past year. And even before that, there has been a shift towards a more integrated lifestyle, a feeling that all the boundaries between different aspects of our life are blurring. We can work remotely, or exercise at home. While there are a lot of practical benefits to that way of life, it’s challenging to keep a sense of separation that allows you to transition easily. Clothing can be a mental armour, the act of dressing can help us to embody the role we’re about to take on. I wanted to design clothing that was versatile enough to take us through one part of the day to the next.”
Was the collection designed during the lockdown phase in 2020?
“Yes, the collection was designed during the lockdown, and I think that gave it more meaning. The idea of ‘Changing Lifestyles’ was a response to our lives being suddenly very different. I wanted to create clothing that would help us regain a sense of ourselves, and connect us to different parts of our lives, be it work or relaxation. To give our bodies a space to inhabit that was comfortable but still felt intentional and put together.”
What do you want people to feel when looking at and wearing the collection?
“I want people to feel connected to their bodies, to themselves. These clothes are made to be worn, to belong to people. I think that’s where it intersects with UNIQLO’s philosophy of LifeWear. They truly are made to be lived in. By focusing on comfort, and innovative but simple design, it allows each person to define their own style. The more you wear the clothes, you start finding new ways to style them. I was wearing these pieces as we were going through the design process and found that I kept coming back, creating different looks, experimenting.”
Are there any new fabrics or styles that you worked with for the first time?
“Fabrics are so vital to the collection. At the beginning of each season, I work with my team at Uniqlo to find beautiful and interesting natural fabrics. This season, we made a shirt using ramie, a fibre similar to linen, which is structured but light and delicate. In fact, the design had been developed in previous seasons and although I knew I was pretty close with the style, it was only when we made the ramie sample that it finally made sense.”
What does the idea of transition look like in your daily life — are there items you’re excited to style with?
“I’ve always used clothes as a way to connect to different parts of myself. I think when you grow up between different cultures you have a deeper awareness of what identity is. It’s not that clothes are a costume or facade. It’s that wearing those clothes can change your state of mind. For example, if I wear a simple dress that to me represents my strength as a woman, I will walk taller, and feel grace in the way I move. If I wear a relaxed linen suit, I will carry myself effortlessly. It’s just tuning in to parts of ourselves that are always with us.”
It’s been more than five years since your first collaboration with Uniqlo. Would you still consider the current series a ‘modest wear’ collection?
“I’ve never identified with the idea of ‘modest wear’. I prefer to think of it as understated design. I’m proud of who I am as a Muslim woman, as Japanese, and English, but I’m more interested in those universal ideas of what it is to be a person. My collection has always embraced that, all genders, cultures, and backgrounds. I try to translate a feeling or mood, and if I do my work well, someone will wear that piece of clothing and feel that same emotion. That’s a remarkable testament to our ability to connect with one another.”
How do you think your design sense has evolved since?
“What we realised is that there was a wider audience for these designs than we’d first anticipated. I’ve always designed trying to speak to a beauty that exists in all women, but as we brought it to different countries we saw how that beauty could translate between cultures. That has been a wonderful thing to see.
A lot of the prints are special to me. Each season I’ve painted and drawn these designs, and they come from different parts of my life. In an early season, I used an element of my father’s ceramic design in one of the prints, in a more recent season I was inspired by the lining of my grandmother’s kimono. I don’t think a lot of people know that. But I think that’s part of what makes it feel so personal, these secret ‘notes’ to the people I care about.”
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The HANA TAJIMA FOR UNIQLO Spring/Summer 2021 collection, $9.90 – $99.90. Available from 9 April 2021 at selected UNIQLO stores and online.
Full collection available at the UNIQLO Orchard Central Global Flagship Store, Causeway Point, and online.