October 21, 2006
By Danica Lo
October 21, 2006 -- CALL it Trader Joe's for clothes. UNIQLO, a k a "the Japanese Gap," which is set to open its 36,000-square-foot American flagship store in SoHo mid-November, has been teasing the palates of cheap-but-chic in-the-know New Yorkers since early September with pop-up and traveling "container" shops all over the city.
This Sunday, the traveling trailer of Japanese basics - denims, wools and cashmeres in every color of the rainbow - visits the Columbia University campus, it's third-to-last stop before the downtown store opens to the masses.
In the land of the rising sun - where die-hard water aficionados consume 80,000 bottles of $2,000-per-gallon spring water daily, a steak dinner-for-one can easily run upwards of $350, and an elaborate kimono can go for as much as $200,000 - UNIQLO is a cultural anomaly. But just as the Japanese raised the West's deep-frying bar to a whole new level (tempura), they've also perfected the practice of selling wardrobe basics at bargain prices.
In the market for a simple winter hat? You can pay $18 for an acrylic pompom cap at American Apparel - or just $10.50 for UNIQLO's knitted lamb's wool. How about a warm winter parka? Gap's $168 men's hooded utility coat is 100 percent unfilled cotton; UNIQLO's down-filled coat with detachable hood is just $98.
Founded in 1984, UNIQLO has expanded far beyond its Hiroshima roots. Today, the company has 730 wildly successful stores all over the world owing, largely, to word-of-mouth and inconspicuous branding - none of the clothes bear logos, and the minimalist nature of the corporate aesthetic is a subtle trademark in and of itself.
Where else can you buy true Japanese denim for just $39.50 a pop? And cashmere gloves for $19.50?
Basic doesn't have to mean boring, either. UNIQLO has commissioned Japanese artists to create limited-edition pop culture T-shirts for the traveling container stores and the pending flagship - for $15, you can purchase a true collectors' item, a little piece of authentic Japanese streetwear.
Container store dates and locations:
Tomorrow: Columbia University, 110th Street and Broadway
Oct. 28: Astor Place at Lafayette Street
Nov. 5: 17th Street and Broadway
Nov. 6-10: UNIQLO flagship store location, 546 Broadway, between Prince and Spring streets
Pop-up shop locations:
Rockefeller Center: 30 Rockefeller Plaza on the Concourse shopping level; Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Upper West Side: Broadway between 79th and 80th streets; Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.