In Review: Uniqlo x Lemaire Collaboration
|Uniqlo x Lemaire Sweatpants|
Collaborations are one of the best things about menswear, and Uniqlo and Lemaire make a natural pairing. While Uniqlo excels at simple basics, Lemaire offers a clean minimalist aesthetic that marries well with Uniqlo's base design philosophy. H&M x Balmain this is not.
|Uniqlo x Lemaire Wool Cashmere Coat|
Pieces were restocked in a stuttering fashion for the next couple of days over the weekend, during which I scrambled to place four separate orders to get the garments I was interested in. In the end, I ended up checking out the sweatpants in dark green, the wool blended cashmere flat front pants in black and dark green, navy lambswool hooded cardigan, a navy merino blended mock neck sweater, and the dark green sweat long-sleeve full-open shirt. Some impressions and thoughts after the jump.
Materials and Construction
Collaborations between high-end designers and mainstream retailers tend to focus on design rather than improving materials or construction to keep prices affordable (though that obviously varies between retailers and collaborations). In this case, I found the quality of materials to vary quite a bit between the pieces I received, from standard Uniqlo to better. For instance, the 100% lambswool hooded cardigan is impressively thick as well as luxuriously soft, much more so than Uniqlo's own lambswool cardigans - the difference is really night and day. On the flip side, the cotton material for the sweats seems about on par with usual Uniqlo quality (though Uniqlo's quality is generally decent for its price range, in my opinion). I've also heard good things about the quality and details on the relatively nondescript cotton hooded coat, and yet the much more interesting shawl collared wool-cashmere coat has received a lot of bad feedback from multiple sources regarding the fabric. Let's talk some more specifics about the pieces I had in person.
The wool blended cashmere flat front pants feature a 90% wool/10% cashmere blend with a polyester lining extending approximately 3/4 of the leg, securing up top with a button fly and double hook and bar closure as pictured. In person, the pants are as thick and heavy-weighted as I had hoped. They have a feel in hand somewhat in between rougher wool and cashmere on the spectrum of softness (but definitely closer to the wool side). Despite being decidedly simple, I really like some of the detail choices. Instead of belt loops or brace buttons, the pants are tightened with side adjusters that articulate well and hold under tension. The pockets are also jetted in keeping with a minimal aesthetic, including a small coin pocket above the right front pocket. They're subtle details, but a lot of the time the smaller things are more rewarding to me than other more attention-grabbing, obvious deviations from the norm.
Another piece that's been getting a lot of attention has been the merino blended mock neck sweater. The sweater is of light to medium weight and, unlike the wool/cashmere blend of the pants, constructed from a blend of 90% wool/10% nylon. I do wish the sweater was thicker, but that's just my preference. The color in anything but bright light could easily be confused for black, and the texture is very soft, though it took me a while to come around to the idea of a wool nylon blend. The hem and cuffs are ribbed long - about 3.5 inches at the cuffs and over 4 inches on the body, though they're easy to miss unless you're looking closely. You can barely see the ribbing on the product shots, and that's how it translates in real life (see fit pictures below).
The sweatpants are 100% cotton (of which the sweat long-sleeve shirts seem to be made of the same fabric), and feel a touch thinner and considerably stiffer than the sweatpants many of us grew up with. Interestingly, Uniqlo's description notes they "used select materials to create elegant everyday clothing unswayed by fads. This season's trendy sweatpants, updated for a simpler, more stylish design." I don't see how those two sentences could possibly reconcile with each other, but in terms of design the pants feature zippered cuffs and some stitched paneling I really like.
The other clear standout I received was the hooded cardigan, as mentioned briefly above. I returned it before I thought to snap some pictures of my own, but the lambswool is beautiful, soft, and pretty heavily weighted as well. In quality alone I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. The only reason I couldn't ultimately justify keeping it is that I'm 32, I have the blessing/curse of the Asian baby face, and I know that hoodies make me look (and kind of feel) like I'm back in high school.
Sizing and Fit
Uniqlo x Lemaire's aesthetic features oligochromatic simple garments with a distinctive drape, and the designs translate well on the whole in the menswear collection. That being said, I found fit and sizing to be inconsistent. I am 6', 155 lbs, I take a 36 R in most suiting, and wear a slim size small in Uniqlo, BR, J. Crew, Bonobos, Brooks Brothers, etc. (slim being named slightly different things depending on the company). My natural waist in the modern era of low-ish rise pants is 33" with a 32" inseam, which equates to 31x32 in most mainstream vanity sizing. Given that I couldn't make it to NYC to check out the garments in person, I took my best guesses going by the size charts and even double ordering the pants in two sizes.
|Uniqlo x Lemaire Sweatpants - Size S|
The sweat pants I tried in M and S, which both fit fine in the waist even though the S size chart noted a 30" measurement relaxed. In the end I liked the drape and taper on the small size better. Because of the fabric and the details, they almost feel more like jogger style pants than sweats in the type of motorcycle style some design houses are putting out these days. They've quickly become one of my favorite pieces of the collection. Though I don't have pictures, the sweat shirt in size S fit my frame in the shoulders and chest well while being a little billowy in the back - I would say a good fit in general, though I returned it because it made me look a little too Chairman Mao chic. Is that a thing?
|Uniqlo x Lemaire Wool Blended Cashmere Flat Front Pants - Size 32 x 34 (hemmed in pictures)|
The flat front wool/charcoal pants showed measurements in the waist about 1" larger than tagged, which is more true to size than Uniqlo's normal sizing. The top block is comfortable for me, with the leg taking a slight taper into slim leg opening proportionally. The pants have about a 10.5" rise on the 32 x 34, which I'd say feels like a medium rise, but certainly not as low as many of the pants men are accustomed to wearing these days. Uniqlo will also do free hemming at local stores, though if you want a blind stitch (which I did) it will cost you $5/pair (no chainstitching for jeans, unfortunately). Looking at the pics and wearing them around a few days now, I think I actually want even less of a break making them drape cleanly.
Looking at feedback from other customers on the forums and some other site posts, I think it's fair to say that fit and sizing is really a mixed bag, with some people having to size up or down on certain garments to get their ideal fit. It's not something that lends itself well to online ordering, in my opinion.
Impressions and Value
What makes collaborations so great between mainstream retailers and niche designers is that they make accessible a high level design aesthetic at an affordable price, and to a population that otherwise might not be exposed to it. To this end, I think the Uniqlo x Lemaire collection for men is a success, although I do think the women's collection is better designed and more compelling.
Exclusivity drives interest, but it can also fuel frustration as both customers and Uniqlo could potentially save a lot of returned orders and outgoing shipping costs if people could see items in person prior to purchase in physical locations. Worse was the piecemeal restocking and subsequent fast sellouts online, which happened so many times over the course of a few hours I was forced to put in multiple orders when something else I was interested in came into stock and others sold out again. When you stock that way, people are encouraged to make impulse purchases to get the clothes they want. But the retention rate on those purchases, at least for me, was terrible - at the end of the day, I'm only keeping the wool flat front pants and one pair of sweat pants out of everything I ordered. That's 1/3 of what I purchased originally. I hate doing that, and I'm sure Uniqlo doesn't like it either.
You could make a valid argument that the design represents a tremendous value alone. That's a fair point and a subjective judgment call everyone will have to make for themselves. The materials and construction, however, as expected don't seem to represent a premium value. The variation in sizing as well (though Uniqlo does well to have size charts) was enough for me to have to return the mock neck sweater in the end. It would be unfair to act like the Uniqlo x Lemaire line is the only line of clothing in the world to have sizing issues, but it certainly doesn't help. When I asked myself honestly if I would have bought it again at that price and fit, though, the answer is no - at least not without trying it on first.
Uniqlo recently announced they are bringing the collection back for the holidays, and I'm sure a lot of people will be interested. I would still recommend the Uniqlo x Lemaire collaboration, but with reservations. There are pieces I'd say are worth the price - especially if you have your eye on something you find unique or hard to find at the price point. Personally, though, I would only buy something else from the collection in person. It just isn't worth the whole rigmarole to me given the variation in sizing and quality combined with the price and the process of purchasing. Given the amount I spent on the items I kept (which is still a considerable amount of money), it pains me a bit to conclude that, in terms of value, for me it was no more than okay. Your mileage may vary.
Link to the full collection
Things I LikedInteresting and details and some nice fabrics
Better quality, on average, than mainline Uniqlo
Accessible Lemaire design (in regards to price)
Things I Didn't Like
Too much variability in quality and sizing
Inaccessible Lemaire design (in regards to availability and access)
Inaccessible Lemaire design (in regards to availability and access)