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Great ideas are simply that, until a certain critical mass powers them to influence the world around them. The Ura-Hara movement in the backstreets of Harajuku were some of fashion’s most pivotal moments. It was there that many of Japan’s most influential streetwear brands and personalities got their start, some that are still making moves more than two decades later.
Jun Takahashi of UNDERCOVER played a pivotal role in all of this. His partnership with Tomoaki Nagao, also known as NIGO, would be an important cornerstone of the culture with their joint venture known as NOWHERE. Their retail concept may be an afterthought the present moment, but it was these collaborations and friendships that would cement a foundation that’s still discussed today.
It’s largely agreed that Ura-Hara of today lacks all of the interesting, carefree underpinnings of the past. Large corporate interests dominate the landscape and the ability to experiment, and simply create without economic pressures have gone the wayside.
For many, like Jun Takahashi, there’s a philosophy within that has guided him from the inception of UNDERCOVER until now. It’s the reason why almost three decades later, UNDERCOVER still careers the esteem of its peers and continues to find ways to innovate in a crowded space.
Ahead of UNDERCOVER’s upcoming visit to Milan with its Madstore first-ever European appearance, we caught up with the ever-busy designer as he discussed three critical elements of UNDERCOVER, the past, the inspirations, and the future.
Madstore by Undercover will be at Slam Jam Milano – via Lanza 1 – from 12 January to 12 February 2018. Launching on 12 January, at 6pm.
PT. I – From Harajuku to Milan: The Essence of the Ura-Hara Movement
If we were in Harajuku 15-20 years ago, what would the scene look like?
Harajuku was a place where high-quality streetwear was created, and creator friends and supporters of those people all got together to hang out. It didn’t seem like they were just working but having fun. I felt that the atmosphere allowed you to be free.
How did people find out about new things back then before the Internet?
I collected information from magazines etc., bit by bit and was naturally curious.
How did this lack of easily accessible information influence design?
Imagination was the only key to creation.
Why do you think so many great things emerged from the Ura-Hara movement?
In the ‘80s we experienced the end of the boom for domestic brands. New subcultures emerged from Tokyo during the ‘90s and street culture started to bloom. A lot of friends who could catch the new trends before anyone else and they could actually make things. We were all gathered in Harajuku. Everyone there would hang out, and we shared the same values and respected each other. That’s why such a big movement was born there.
Besides design and creativity, what else did the Ura-Hara movement teach you about business?
The momentum inspired everyone to start a company or store. They learned business in a particular way by trial and error and their own power and experiences.
Will we ever see another Ura-Hara movement for fashion and creativity?
I am sure it will happen.
What was your most memorable experience regarding Harajuku back in the day?
Every day was memorable, fresh and invigorating. Those experiences in my 20s are still influencing me in my later life.
PT. II – Sustained Push
On the days you feel tired, what keeps you going?
The desire to create.
Has this changed at all over the years?
Not changed at all. I guess the speed has slowed down as I got older.
Does design ever feel unpleasant or not fun? What are those circumstances like?
When it is difficult to balance between business and creation
UNDERCOVERs motto is “We make noise, not clothes.” Have you found it difficult to keep on making noise over the years?
“NOISE” is a general term for things that are created by a continuous process of trial and error. Therefore it should be spoken on a different level than being difficult or not.
From a fashion and design standpoint, these days noise is taking over. How do you manage to make noise and still stand above of it?
It is because the inside of my brain is chaos, maybe the energy created from the chaos is heavy, and it’s what propels it.
PT. III – The Future
UNDERCOVER has long been a highly respected brand with the right releases and projects. Do you feel UNDERCOVER slowly welcoming different opportunities, perhaps on a more mass scale?
I have been open to opportunities at any kinds of scale because I want to share our message with younger generations.
What are some of the important goals or requirements of any project you take on?
The contents of the collaboration need to be fresh and meaningful to us.
From a brand perspective, how does UNDERCOVER continue to grow? What are things you continue to explore and do differently?
I will continue to convey my worldview in a way that can be expressed only by us.
What will define UNDERCOVER in the coming years? UNDERCOVER
Before starting UNDERCOVER, what did you think it’d be like to run a clothing label? What was the actual reality of it?
There were many tough times because my desire to create was much bigger than my desire to run a business.