Uniqlo @ Tate Modern Opening Weekend
This weekend saw a new high point added to the cultural landscape of London: the opening of the Tate Modern’s Switch House extension, designed by Herzog & deMeuron.
The opening bonanza was delivered in partnership with Uniqlo – so we went to find out what London’s favourite Japanese fashion retailer was bringing to the party.
Ahead of our visit to the Tate Modern, we went to scout out how the hype was being amplified at Uniqlo’s recently-refurbished Oxford st store. The windows were dedicated to a collaboration with young artists, but they were missing the celebratory spirit and cultural clout that a partnership with the Tate is begging for in a flagship storefront.
Upstairs, things got a bit more interesting. Uniqlo’s “Wearhouse” began to use their commissioned images to edit fashion lines and curate mini collections around the colour and style of each art piece. The VM stopped short of borrowing a gallery aesthetic, and we were left wondering about how the artistic process overlaps with fashion design and manufacture in Uniqlo’s utilitarian universe.
When we arrived at the Tate Modern on Saturday, we expected to see these same images represented on the walls of a branded space – but Uniqlo had something a little more adventurous planned. The retailer created an interactive experience in one of the galleries under the banner of “London Dreaming”.
The brand were asking Londoners to imagine a new future for their city. The exhibition itself encouraged visitors to take a ribbon at the entrance, move through a colourful tunnel (confusion to enlightenment), and then cast a vote against six alternative futures: one in which we embrace imperfection; where questions are always welcome; where there are fewer screens between us; where creativity is part of daily life; where we play as much as work; where all surprises are good.
We cast our votes by pinning our ribbon on a wind wall, which blew the collective votes to create a contemplative rippling effect. We could then make our choice permanent and enter a photo booth to bring our future to life; or collect a challenge card with a personal task designed to make our chosen future a reality. A programme of artist talks were also planned to coincide with the experience.
Though “London Dreaming” was a colourful encounter, particularly against the austere background of the Switch house architecture, it failed to capture our imagination, and lacked any real brand take outs that linked Tate Modern’s art with Uniqlo’s fashion.
The space felt very temporary (admittedly it was only there for the weekend) and the interactions were passive, the debate never truly ignited. What would the new reality of a London where we play as much as we work actually feel like – and why would I pick that over the other five dreams for the future? What does choosing it say about me? How would it affect the feel of the city?
Ultimately, it felt quite transactional – move through a space, take your photo and trade your email address for a jpeg of the photo-booth images. There is little doubt that “London Dreaming” could only have been strengthened by tying together the campaign in store and in the new building for its opening weekend. Uniqlo’s flagship could have been used to invite a more collaborative vision of the future, created and curated by Londoners, and imagined by their team of young artists ready for a showcase in one of the city’s great artistic institutions.
Whilst Uniqlo’s brand experience arguably is a transactional (and colourful) one, we were left wondering whether the opportunity to deepen the dialogue and create some emotion and energy was lost in translation.
Nicole Wilson & Michael Lawless