In 1990, while still a humble student of fashion at the prestigious Bunka Academy in Tokyo, a young Jun Takahashi began to design the romantic enigma that is now Undercover. Although unsure of his foray into the industry at first, the gifted designer saw the light when he attended his first Comme des Garçons show—witnessing the avant-garde greatness that is Rei Kawakubo at work. This presentation ignited a flame within the young mastermind, giving way to a future of well-thought-out ideas and feelings taking shape through clothing.

Upon the inception of NOWHERE, a now-legendary store founded alongside fellow Japanese wunderkind Nigo, rich designs gushed forth from Takahashi, embodied by distressed T-shirts and hole-punched leather garments that nodded to his punk-filled youth. The inspiration and emotions behind them, however, go a lot deeper, as the inner-workings of Takahashi's mind carried a broader love for subversion and sheer feminine beauty, all which transcend a singular subculture or region.

When the designer creates, he pours all of himself into his work. Using the label as a vessel to communicate and comment on the various inspirations Takahashi has come across, Undercover can be viewed as a “language” rather than just a clothing brand.

Languages piece together letters, single words, and feelings to form narratives for an audience to understand, and Takahashi, quite literally, has made use of the conventions of language throughout his years of creating clothing. In retrospect, adding striking words and phrases to his pieces gave them celebrity-like fame and recognition that could only be compared to the punk rockers that inspired him. While the notorious “REBEL GODS” jacket, “She Brings The Rain” leather rider and the brand's unofficial motto—WE MAKE NOISE NOT CLOTHES—spring forth into the mind of any Undercover lover out there, some might not even know where these words come from or why Jun chose to use them.

As a Western audience, we often see words scribbled on non-western clothing and dismiss them because they aren’t what we consider coherent or meaningful. Over the years, there have been a few Japanese names—like WTAPS and WACKO MARIA—that (while not a negative thing) use English for purely aesthetic reasons, voiding them of any apparent underlying message. Undercover sets itself apart from other labels because of the immersiveness that comes with each phrase or word that’s imprinted. We seldom think about the inspirations or stories the clothes have to tell, since we’re busy wearing the garments and appreciating their technical details or aesthetic value. This blissful ignorance never really deters Takahashi from taking that extra step to weave a narrative or start a dialogue in his designs. Whether it’s storytelling, or simply nodding to his punk-driven roots, there is a great deal of deliberation that goes into Undercover’s “vocal” clothing. Some of Takahashi’s most celebrated archival collections from the 2000’s and onward made heavy use of narration, text and imagery to convey something deeper than what we see at face value.

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Lead image courtesy of Huiben.

Tags: undercover, star-wars