Jun Taka­hashi: The God­fa­ther of Japan­ese Streetwear

The visionary behind cult label UNDERCOVER, talks punk, the art of collaboration and the “madness and humour” of Cindy Sherman’s work.

Jun Taka­hashi is the cre­ative poly­math behind cult label UNDER­COV­ER. Born and raised in Tokyo, the Japan­ese designer’s her­itage, along­side some fair­ly eclec­tic influ­ences, have been woven into UNDERCOVER’s DNA since it was found­ed back in 1990. And the label remains a pure expres­sion of his cre­ative spir­it to this day.

Hav­ing stud­ied at Tokyo’s pres­ti­gious Bun­ka Fash­ion Col­lege, it was upon grad­u­at­ing in 1988 that Taka­hashi dis­cov­ered Mal­colm McLaren, Vivi­enne West­wood and London’s by-then well-estab­lished punk scene. His love of the brand prompt­ed him to cre­ate Sedi­tionar­ies – a book doc­u­ment­ing his and Hiroshi Fujiwara’s vast pri­vate col­lec­tion of Sedi­tionar­ies cloth­ing. It also led to his becom­ing the lead singer of punk-rock cov­er band Tokyo Sex Pis­tols and to launch his first cloth­ing line AFFA (Anar­chy For­ev­er For­ev­er Anar­chy). It’s a scene that has inspired him and his Under­cov­er col­lec­tions ever since. 

With metic­u­lous atten­tion to detail, an arti­san approach and deep affec­tion for art and music (think co-labs with Cindy Sher­man and pieces riff­ing off the work of Pat­ti Smith, Joy Divi­sion, David Bowie, Nir­vana and Talk­ing Heads) – Jun has long been join­ing the dots between main­stream and under­ground culture.

UNDERCOVER SS20

For his SS20 col­lec­tion shown in Paris, Jun enlist­ed leg­endary Amer­i­can artist Cindy Sher­man for a sec­ond col­lab­o­ra­tion. The col­lec­tion found itself in a dark­er, sleek­er place than pre­vi­ous sea­sons, play­ing out as an all-black offer­ing of slick tai­lored suits and silk pieces fea­tur­ing prints from Cindy Sherman’s Unti­tled Film Stills series tak­en between 1977 and 1980.

Jun’s love of all things dark and mys­te­ri­ous is evi­dent in his stores too, in which del­i­cate jew­ellery and acces­sories hang atop decay­ing skulls and ros­es sur­round­ed by taxi­dermy crows, bee­tles and moths. But per­haps what’s most sur­pris­ing about UNDER­COV­ER is that until this week, it has nev­er trad­ed online. 

Hav­ing worked with the strapline, We Make Noise Not Clothes” for 29 years, it’s rather sur­pris­ing they’ve not done it sooner. 

The Face caught up with Mr Taka­hashi to dis­cuss his punk ori­gins, the art of col­lab­o­ra­tion, and UNDERCOVER’s evo­lu­tion into the cult name we know and love today.

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Hi Jun, what have you been up to for the last few weeks?

I’ve been hav­ing a mean­ing­ful time. 

The atmos­phere at your most recent menswear show felt mood­i­er than pre­vi­ous sea­sons, why the change?

I want­ed a new chal­lenge for myself. I want­ed to break away from the streetwear boom that has spread through the streets. 

Your SS20 col­lec­tion revis­it­ed the work of Cindy Sher­man, you must be a big fan?

I am a fan of her work, espe­cial­ly her images that express a mix of mad­ness and humour. We’re also friends on a per­son­al lev­el. Two years ago we col­lab­o­rat­ed on a women’s col­lec­tion, but this time her work close­ly matched the theme we had going for our men’s col­lec­tion. I also want­ed to wear her work myself. 

What’s your approach to collaboration?

I only col­lab­o­rate with those who have some­thing we don’t. I believe that mutu­al­ly respec­tive rela­tion­ships are the most impor­tant. The design process varies depend­ing on the sea­son or the theme.

Do you have a go-to source of inspi­ra­tion when design­ing new products?

The sen­si­bil­i­ty and intu­ition that I was born with.

The punk era was huge­ly influ­en­tial for you when you start­ed UNDER­COV­ER – and cre­at­ed the incred­i­ble Sedi­tionar­ies book with Hiroshi Fuji­wara – does it still influ­ence you today?

My phi­los­o­phy of break­ing down stereo­types remains unchanged. Hiroshi and I were long-time col­lec­tors of Sedi­tionar­ies. We made the book hop­ing to give lots of peo­ple the oppor­tu­ni­ty to see the bril­liant clothes that influ­enced us in our ado­les­cence. When I was study­ing design, I was some­what forced to be in the band. It wasn’t some­thing that I inten­tion­al­ly chose to start.

How do you think UNDER­COV­ER has evolved and adapt­ed since its incep­tion in 1990?

It has been nat­u­ral­ly chang­ing along with the flow of my thoughts. Even now, I still have no clue what the future holds.

Tell us about the UNDER­COV­ER Records con­cept. You’ve col­lab­o­rat­ed with Thom Yorke, Zom­by and Mars 89 – what do they share with you and the brand?

It start­ed with imag­i­nary bands that I cre­at­ed, then lit­tle by lit­tle it has devel­oped and now we are actu­al­ly mak­ing music. All those artists have their own world views, they have own way of approach­ing things, and are unique in their own ways.

Your love of music has always been at the fore­front of what you do, what do you lis­ten to when you wake up, in the stu­dio and on the road?

I don’t lis­ten to music when I wake up. I want to lis­ten to it when when I’m dri­ving to the stu­dio, but because my car is vin­tage the sound doesn’t work well so I can’t. In my stu­dio, I check and lis­ten to new releas­es online every­day. I also play old vinyls too. When I have time, I DJ by myself with the equip­ment in my studio.


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