celebrate 25 years of undercover's subversive punk poetry with jun takahashi

The father of Japanese streetwear melded his passion for punk and his love of deconstructed contemporary fashion into UNDERCOVER, his cult brand and the subject of a new coffee table book authored by the man himself.

by Lynette Nylander
06 July 2016, 2:28pm

UNDERCOVER spring/summer 10. Photography Katsuhide Morimoto.

Jun Takahashi has never played by the rules and, consequently, is one the world's most preeminent Japanese designers. Since he began his label UNDERCOVER after graduating from Tokyo's Bunka College, he has remained beloved by streetwear's inner sanctum, who lap up anything his capricious mind creates. Always able to keep the fashion crowd along for the ride, Takahashi consistently straddles the fine line between style and non-conformity with shows that often echo his punk roots.

His fashion week outings are often glimpses into his myriad influences. Models at his spring/summer 15 show were swathed in tulle skirts, while dresses with images from The Garden of Earthly Delights brought the painting to life. At his fall/winter 2016 show, they wore crowns of thorns and headpieces of hydrangeas, which juxtaposed Matthieu Borel's collage art on Jun's knitwear. If one word aptly describes UNDERCOVER, it's hybridity.

Following a retrospective at Tokyo Opera City that included mannequins from his most iconic looks, invitations from previous shows, and sketches by Takahashi himself, the designer has channeled his quarter century in the business into a tome that celebrates his work at UNDERCOVER, as well as his collaborations with Nike, Uniqlo, and Hello Kitty. The book opens with a foreword by fashion critic Suzy Menkes and has in-depth essays by some of fashion's finest scribes and curators, as well as his some of the most iconic looks from his back catalogue. We ask Jun about what 25 years in fashion means to him.

UNDERCOVER fall/winter 06. Photography Mamoru Miyazawa.

Why was it important to you chronicle your work in a book?
In order for as many people as possible to learn about the 25 years of UNDERCOVER's history.

What were some of the ways you have seen the brand evolve and grow throughout those 25 years?
I started out designing T-shirts. UNDERCOVER has grown, through trial and error, into a brand with a peculiar worldview that is somewhere between fashion and the street.

UNDERCOVER spring/summer 03. Photography Yoshie Tominaga.

What were some of the things you unearthed from the archives when creating the book?

Who have been your favorite brands to collaborate with?
Every collaboration is special to me and it's difficult to choose one. When I collaborate, the most important thing is for there to be something new, by bringing and combining each brand's strong points and creating something that has a demand in the market. When you look with that point of view, all collaborations I have done make sense.

A roar of anger from Underman. Photography Katsuhide Morimoto.

How does the brand continue to stay true to its punk roots?
I am not trying to stay true to punk roots, but the spirit of punk I learned about when I was young is still in me. It is true that the spirit is the foundation of myself, so I guess my personal character is punk.

How will you stay subversive and continue to innovate over the next 25 years?
I believe I can continue to create by being honest to myself. But as far as the next 25 years? I am not sure if I can continue that long!

UNDERCOVER fall/winter 94 invite. Photography Katsuhide Morimoto.

What are some of the things you haven't done in the realm of design that you would like to?
I always challenge myself with new things, so I would assume there are a lot more out there to try.

Who or what excites you in fashion?
I am excited by the distinguished creations of people with their own particular worldview.


UNDERCOVER by Jun Takahashi is available to buy at Dover Street Market on July 12.


Text Lynette Nylander

jun takahashi
japanese designers