Over the past 30 years, Undercover has accomplished feats few other brands can claim. Undercover was founded by Jun Takahashi, who was born in 1969 in the small village of Kiryu, Japan. Takahashi was one of many children who watched Japan change drastically before his eyes as a child. The formerly insular nation was becoming heavily influenced by the United States and western culture. By the mid-’80s, rock had a huge presence in Tokyo, which in turn influenced the youth of Japan. A significant turning point for Japan’s youth was watching the rise of Comme des Garçons, helmed by Rei Kawakubo, as the brand had its inaugural runway show in 1981. With Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto soon following, the fashion world began to see Tokyo as a breeding ground for talent.
In 1988, Takahashi enrolled in the Bunka College of Fashion. While enrolled in college, Takahashi also played in the Tokyo Sex Pistols, a Sex Pistols cover band. Takahashi was unsure of what career he wanted to pursue when he was dragged to a Comme des Garçons show by a friend. Takahashi left the show feeling so inspired that, along with classmate Hinori Ichinose, he founded Undercover.
In its first years, Undercover primarily focused on tees and vintage garments that Takahashi would customize with studs and patches. Soon enough the brand was fulfilling orders for notable Japanese shops like Billy and Milk Boy. Upon opening his store Nowhere in Harajuku, Japanese streetwear legend Hiroshi Fujiwara trusted Takahashi and NIGO—Fujiwara’s pupil and Takahashi’s classmate—to run the shop. The store was split down the middle, with NIGO selling a curated selection of streetwear on one side, and Takahashi selling Undercover on the other.
Undercover held its first runway show for its Fall/Winter 1995 women’s collection, one that established the principles that Undercover leans on to this day. Takahashi took items commonly associated with punk rock and changed the proportions, shortening jackets and elongating shirts. Although these styles are commonplace today, Takahashi helped set the trend decades ago.
Takahashi immediately became one of the designers to watch. Takahashi was unique in his ability to create clothing that felt like both high fashion and streetwear simultaneously. While his clothing was experimental, Takahashi also began to bring this type of creativity to his shows, opting for presentations as opposed to the traditional runway format. For the Spring/Summer 1996 “Under The Cover” collection, the show featured models in costume as monsters wearing fitted topcoats and military jackets. Many of the collections that followed used similar motifs.
Though Undercover produced men’s pieces occasionally, Takahashi started Undercoverism, a purely menswear line, in 2001. In the United States, both men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections are sold under the Undercover name, while the distinction between lines is reserved for Japan. The first menswear collection was presented alongside womenswear in the show for the aptly titled Spring/Summer 2001 “Melting Pot” collection. Inspired by Star Wars, the men’s pieces were technical with a nod to ’80s sci-fi. By 2003, Takahashi’s role model Rei Kawakubo had taken note of Undercover and began singing Takahashi’s praises to the media. With the buzz louder than ever, Undercover made the jump to Paris Fashion Week for its now legendary Spring/Summer 2003 “Scab” collection. Not only was it the highlight of fashion week, but the “Scab” collection introduced Undercover to a much larger audience. The collection introduced Takahashi’s now iconic, and often imitated, slash and burn style as seen on pieces like the 85 jeans. Takahashi’s goal was to add tribal elements to basic pieces through extensive amounts of patchwork layers and with frayed hems and hanging strings, each piece was unique.
In recent years, Undercover has come to be celebrated by two completely different sets of fashion enthusiasts: archivists who lust after pieces from the brands ‘90s and early ‘00s collections, and those who simply love Undercover’s collaborations. While the brand’s mainline garments have a high fashion quality to them, there has always been a street element to Undercover; where there is streetwear, there are collaborations. Naturally, Undercover collaborations are done with much more consideration than other brands, becoming some of the most highly anticipated partnerships from the respective brands. Several pieces from Undercover’s collaborations with Supreme are widely considered among the best Supreme pieces of all time. In back to back summers, Undercover’s takes on the Nike React Element 87 and Nike Daybreak dominated street style galleries. That’s to say nothing of Undercover and Nike’s ongoing Gyakusou collaboration—a line aimed at leveraging Nike technology and Undercover aesthetics to create a new kind of running label.
Women or men, street or high fashion, sneakers or carefully constructed garments, it seems that no matter what anyone’s preference is, the answer is undoubtedly Undercover.
Who designs Undercover?
Jun Takahashi is the founder and designer of Undercover.
Is Undercover Japanese?
Yes, Undercover is a Japanese brand.