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Music in Jun Takahashi’s life and Undercover collections

Music in Jun Takahashi’s life and Undercover collections


Jun Takahashi was born in 1969 in a small Japanese town Kiryū. As a child, he loved to draw, and during his teen years he, just like many of his peers, got enamored with Western culture. He was especially drawn towards music of British artists – The Beatles, The Sex Pistols, David Bowie. The turning point was getting familiar with punk rock, a music with the spirit of rebelliousness and nihilism that attracted young Jun. Often visiting Tokyo in search of new records, he got interested in relationship between music and fashion. Takahashi remembers late 80s as a period when you could still tell what music a person loves based on the way he dresses. It was a boom of subcultures, with their integral appearance.

In 1988 Jun, who was 19 at the time, enrolled into Bunka Fashion College – a well-respected Tokyo college – to study fashion design. During his time there, he and his friends created a cover band – Tokyo Sex Pistols. It was at that time when he received his nickname Jonjo – after Johnnie Rotten. Band’s lineup of members was impressive: Jun was doing vocals, Hikaru Iwanaga (Bounty Hunter) was playing bass, Nobuhiko Kitamura (Hysteric Glamour) was playing guitar, while Hiroshi Fujiwara (Fragment Design) and Tomoaki Nagao aka Nigo (A Bathing Ape) played the drums. TSP members stuck to traditions when it came to clothing – they wore mainly custom pieces or something by Vivienne Westwood. Fujiwara played a key role here, since he spent some time working in “World’s End” in the early 80s – a punk-themed store owned by Westwood and her boyfriend Malcolm McLaren. He got there when he won a free tour to London after participating in the costume contest at a party in Tokyo. Hiroshi, Nigo and Jun not only wore clothing by Westwood, but were also collectors of her brand “Seditionaries”. Fujiwara and Takahashi later released a book by the same name, that was devoted to their collections, and took part in Westwood’s 1990 fashion show as models. Around the same time Jun got into customizing clothing and was creating various 1 of 1 pieces for himself and his friends.
The following fate and success of Tokyo Sex Pistols is directly associated with Harajuku neighborhood, or a small area within it – Ura Harajuku or Urahara. In the nineties it became the cradle of Japanese streetwear, thanks to effort of Jun and his friends. Because of his enthusiasm towards punk culture, Jun, Nigo and Hiroshi became locally famous among fashionable youngsters, started to appear in various local thematic magazines and even releasing their own, successfully forming a community around themselves. In 1993 Takahashi and Nigo opened a store in Urahara, named “NOWHERE”. It was the place, where people could see first T-Shirts by Jun’s personal brand – Undercover, which was founded in 1990. In 1994 Jun and Hiroshi worked together to create a mutual brand – “Anarchy Forever Forever Anarchy” (AFFA). At their dawn, both projects were strongly inspired by punk rock aesthetics, but Japanese youth’ fashion became more and more influenced by hip-hop, thanks in no small part to Hiroshi Fujiwara. Thus, Japanese streetwear, largely associated with the hip-hop, wouldn’t have been possible without punk.
By mid-90s, young Jun Takahashi turned out to be at the forefront of streetwear along with his friends, who are later going to be called its “godfathers”. First pieces by Undercover, those T-Shirts from “NOWHERE” were inspired by Westwood’s early designs, some of them even being direct rip-offs of “Seditionaries”. Although AFFA’s selection was more diverse, (for instance, they were releasing bomber jackets, customized by hand) it was still aesthetically drawn to classic punk. Having spent some time working with basic items and graphics, Jun was ambitious enough to create something more than punk-themed streetwear. In 1994 he showed his first womenswear collection.
In this article we invite you to get acquainted with Takahashi’s art through a retrospect of his references to musical collectives, artists and genres in collections of his brand – Undercover.


Despite movement towards classic seasonality and full-scale collections, Jun didn’t abandon simpler formats that gave the brand its initial acclaim and reputation. T-Shirts are going to be an important part of brand’s collections throughout the whole history of the brand. Furthermore, in some regions like Asia, they caught on more with the audience than avant-garde pieces. Thanks to such duality, graphic musical references have stayed outside of the fashion shows for a long time. In his collections Takahashi opted for experiments with cut and fabrics, that were still influenced by subcultural stylistics – first seasons included bombers, mohair sweaters, tartan pattern etc. The only exception might be the appearance of “Ramones” tee on one of the models during FW 1999 fashion show titled “AMBIVALENCE”. Fashion shows themselves were organized in accordance with the best traditions of DIY style – Jun’s friends were models for these shows, while storage warehouses and parking lost served as venues.


October 2002 was the time when Undercover FW2003 collection debuted on Paris Fashion week. Rei Kawakubo inspired Jun Takahashi to try and win hearts of Western audience. She also helped great deal with publicity, telling journalists and buyers about the upcoming show. According to Jun, a lot of people came to the show because of her influence. Friendship between designers started after Takahashi’s first Tokyo show, which was highly acclaimed by Rei. She bought one of bomber jackets from the collection and wanted to buy sneakers as well. When Jun learned about her wish, he sent her a personal pair. Rei replied with a letter of gratitude.
SCAB's graphics are based on the cover art for "Earthbeat" by Scottish crust punk band Sedition and graphics for the track "Positive drinking attitude" by crust punk/grindcore band Sore Throat. Hand-sewn patches on most of the collection's items are also a reference to the clothes of radical punks who lead the most asocial lifestyle. Their ideology presupposes a temporary or permanent absence of housing, movement from place to place and asceticism. This naturally affects their clothing over time, which rips, gets dirty and covered in multiple patches.


After "SCAB", Jun continued to run shows in Paris. The next collection with a strong musical theme was FW 2004 "But beautiful .... part parasitic part stuffed" inspired by the androgynous-bohemian personal style of singer Patti Smith and the work of artist Anne-Valerie Dupont. The soundtrack for the show was a recording of the poem "Neoboy" performed by Patty herself. The collection's most iconic piece is the “68” jeans with an embroidered zip at the knee - a nod to Smith's tattoo. Later, in the SS 2009 collection by the same name, the full or partial quotation of Neoboy was the main graphic element. Another quote from Patty that appeared in Fall / Winter 2005's "Arts & Crafts" is "I haven't fucked much with the past but fucked plenty with the future" from the song Babelogue. Like "but beautiful ....", some of the looks of the recent Spring / Summer 2021 collection "The SIXTH SENSE" were also inspired by the singer's style.


UNDERCOVER RECORDS is originally a non-existent label created by Jun Takahashi for one of his most "musical" collections - Spring-Summer 2006 titled "T". Then the designer was interested in German kraut rock, in particular such bands as: Popol Vuh, Embryo, Guru Guru, Agitation Free and Tangerine Dream. During his research for T, he was inspired by the idea of musical merch and, combining it with his passion for kraut, decided to create his own imaginary bands - KLAUS, THEO BURP, THEE CROUH, THE SSSSS, CHUUUT! T-shirts of these bands became the backbone of the items from the collection. Although the bands are fictional, at least one of them refers to an existing musician. The names of the group "KLAUS" and its album "Wahnfrieden" owe to the electronic musician and former member of the group "Tangerine Dream" Klaus Schulz, who released music under the pseudonym Richard Wahnfried in the 80-90s.
For the inner world of "T" Jun invented albums, lyrics, live performances of bands at festivals and "UNDERCOVER RECORDS" - their label. Together with his friend, the artist and creator of the "Hysteric Glamor", Nobuhiko Katamura, Jun developed the graphic component - album covers, logos, art, etc. Furthermore, rare physical artifacts were released in limited quantities - backstage passes, concert bracelets and band records with soundtracks for the show. The resulting items of the collection were dresses, skirts, and jackets of intricate cut, presented at the women's show, as well as many hybrid men's clothes, created using merch T-shirts with prints of the groups listed above.
In 2017, Jun revived UNDERCOVER RECORDS for several drops. The first featured merch of the new fictional bands PUNK FLOYD, THE SPACE NURSE, THE ORGANS and BRAIN CASTLE, as well as the real-life band "Can". Apart from the merch, the drop also included the album by Can with several songs from their previous albums, released on yet very real label "UNDERCOVER RECORDS". In the second drop, more basic pieces included quotes and track titles by Patti Smith, Joy Division and Klaus Nomi. The following year, in the SPIRITUAL NOISE Spring / Summer collection, he used UR again and created several more new bands - Brain Castle, Twin Ginsberg, The Vesh-ches, All Access and The Janus. The label also released the Fall / Winter 2019 soundtrack as an LP and digital release titled THE DROOGS, featuring Mars89, Zomby, Low Jack and Thom Yorke.


Jun Takahashi has addressed the legacy of the cult post-punk band several times. In the Fall / Winter 2009 collection EARMUFF MANIAC, Jun used the cover of Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division as a graphics for some of the pieces. Unlike Raf Simons, who also used the band's covers in his collections, he did not get permission from the author - Peter Saville. According to rumors, this was the reason for a lawsuit, which made clothes with this graphics very rare and expensive. Jun used a portrait of Ian Curtis in the SS2016 retrospective collection THE GREATEST, while the SS2018 SPIRITUAL NOISE collection has several items, decorated with patches and containing the lyrics for the song Atmopshere.


Although an interesting story about the superhero Underman was developed for the SS2011 Underman collection, the clothes themselves, (just like the previous AW2010 season) were quite simple and casual. Almost the only graphic component was another reference to the German avant-garde kraut-rock band Can. It included a photo of the band used as an allover print, as well as the covers of the albums Future Days, Saw Delight and the single I Want More.
In SS 2012, Open Strings there was a lot of deconstruction and tartan in the clothes, which marked Jun’s return to the straightforward punk aesthetic that had been absent from "Undercover" for a long time already. As graphic elements, the designer used the slogan "Fuck the Past. Fuck the Future", the cover of the live album "Live 1977-1978" by the American proto-punk band Suicide, as well as quotes from the single "She Brings The Rain" and the title album Monster Movie by the group Can.
For the fourth time, Can appeared in the 2017 collaboration between Undercover and Levi's as a quote from the song Mother Sky.


In his SS2013 collection COLLAGE, new-wave band titled “The Talking Heads” became the object of graphic references. Clothes from this collection depicted name of the album Stop Making Sense, as well as patches with parts of cover for This Must Be The Place and the lyrics from the track Heaven.


In the SS2014 collection GODOG Takahashi was inspired by the visual style of the Scottish band "The Jesus and Mary Chain". Thus, black and red prevail in it, prints refer to the album Psychocandy. Some of the pieces have an allover print from a collage of band photos.


The highlights of the SS2015 collection ADVENTURE are tied to the proto-punk band "Television" with allover prints and patches featuring the cover art of the Marquee Moon and Adventure albums. Similar to the case of Peter Saville in 2009, Jun Takahashi's brand is also rumored to have been sued by copyright owners. The sale and distribution of items was limited, which significantly increased their value in the secondary market.


Bowie is associated with two Undercover collections. The FW2015 look book NO (B) ORDERS refers to him being shot by photographer Masayoshi Sukita in 1977. In addition, it contains references to the singer's work and his personal style, as well as to the Los Angeles pan-rock fanzine "Slash". For the SS2019 collection THE SEVENTH SENSE Jun Takahashi worked with photographer Mick Rock to license the use of David Bowie's image.


Although Jun Takahashi has never made any reference to "Radiohead", Thom Yorke and Takahashi are tied with friendship and occasional collaboration between them. Yorke was featured on “the Shepherd UNDERCOVER” line's first collection look book in 2017, as well as on soundtracks for several shows, including the recent CREEP VERY. York's personal wardrobe also includes many of the brand's items.


In the women's Spring-Summer 2017 collection PORTRAIT IN JAZZ, Jun Takahashi moved away from his usual rock inspiration and turned to jazz. This way, images of musical instruments corresponding to the genre are used as graphics for many pieces. For specific artists, June has used the covers of Bill Evans' Moon Beams, Portrait In Jazz and Waltz For Debby, Miles Davis' All Stars, Art Farmer's “Farmer's Market”, Sonny Rollins' “Saxophone Colossus” and Sonny Clark’s “Cool Struttin”. Some of the looks were inspired by the personal style of these artists.


The Spring-Summer 2019 collection consisted of looks for several bands invented by Jun Takahashi. Pictures of the gothic rock pioneers Vlads appeared on things from that collection in the form of prints.



In 2018 collaboration with Supreme, Jun Takahashi decided to use the cover art for the album "Fear of a Black Planet" by hip-hop collective Public Enemy as a graphic element. This atypical reference choice, arguably the first and only in the brand's history, aligns perfectly with Takahashi's punkish rebellion.
Today Jun Takahashi is in his 50s. He does not dye his hair bright colors or wear Seditionaries clothes anymore, but his love for music is nowhere near fading. It is safe to say that there will be many more references to cult bands and performers in future collections that will delight both fans of those bands and Undercover fans alike.

♬ Playlist with all the mentioned songs is available via link

More playlists are available in our Telegram-channel under the #listensharerepeat tag
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