Droga5’s New Uniqlo Ads Are a Delicious, Diverse Romp Down Advertising’s Memory Lane

When story mattered more than engagement

Last year, for its LifeWear line, Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo launched its first-ever global ad campaign. Created by Droga5 New York, “Why Do We Get Dressed?” was an elegant meditation on that very question.

This year, Droga5 London hopes to answer it more concretely. The latest articulation of this campaign, “Because of Life, We Made LifeWear,” features three ads, each exploring a different item of clothing—wireless bras, Uniqlo’s AIRism underclothes and Distressed Denim.

“Uniqlo make some of the best clothes I put on my body. Everything they do is dedicated to improving what they sell,” says chief creative officer David Kolbusz of Droga5 London. “Every iteration of every garment is a step up from the last. What we’ve tried to do here is take the rational reasons you buy their clothes and articulate them in the abstract.”

In a campaign follow-up like this one, you often expect to see stylistic similarities in each spot that tie back to the parent ad, either in turns of phrase or in look. But while it’s true that all the ads end with the LifeWear tagline, they have distinctly different spirits.

When Kolbusz talks about articulation in the abstract, he’s talking about something advertising has done since it first realized it could hook people emotionally—but that we’ve perhaps lost track of in this era of justifying your value and attracting likes, shares, comments and clicks.

This work serves almost as a tribute to a lost time, when great ads were mostly TV-based fantasy sequences that didn’t have to work so hard to explain themselves to a socially connected world. Yet there’s a thread that unites them—an ethnic diversity that somehow still feels minimalist and uniform, which characterizes Uniqlo’s brand.

“Wireless Bra” has the runaway musicality of Gap’s super-choreographed khaki ads from the 1990s. Directed by Autumn de Wilde through Anonymous Content and Somesuch, with choreography by Ryan Heffington (think Sia music videos) and styling by Nancy Steiner (who costume designed Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides), it shows women in conservative outfits, but in various states of dress and undress.

“Ants” by Starcrawler punctuates the atmosphere. The women leap, moving their arms and shoulders, twisting and bending in ways that challenge both behavioral expectations and the ways you can reasonably move while wearing a bra.

This approach serves the product especially well. Uniqlo doesn’t just promote the bra’s smooth nipple-hiding shells under unforgiving white button-downs, or the lack of constricting, painful wires. It defies an annoying quality about bras in general: Even after tightening, those damn straps always loosen, resulting in the defensive shoulder-slumping a woman engages in all day just to keep them in place. (And don’t get us started on strapless bras, which we spend more time pushing back up than forgetting about.)

The result is a spot that both promises and galvanizes freedom of movement. Reinforcing this, it ends, “Move like you’re not supposed to”—a playful, feminist appeal that speaks to modern bra-burners and resigned bra-wearers alike.

Next comes “AIRism.” An abrupt departure from the frenetic quality of “Wireless Bra,” this is slow-moving, smoky and monochromatic, harking back to the stylish but grainy ads from the ’60s.

Shot on the streets of Santiago by Nick Gordon, a smoky claustrophobia coalesces in what looks like steam from an iron filling a room, or the exhausts from cars in traffic … but it’s mostly just the grit and sweat rising off bodies, fogging up windows and condensing into droplets.

In some frames, smoke is the only thing that moves.

This one is narrated throughout by English actress Tuppence Middleton, who explains how our bodies stay cool by releasing heat into the atmosphere. Toward the end, she says, “Our bodies are made to breathe. So shouldn’t our clothes breathe with us?”

The products on show are AIR breathable undergarments, which, without saying as much, vow to keep you as fresh and aerated as if you were naked in a sweltering subway car.

Last comes “Distressed Denim,” also shot by Gordon.

There’s something of old Levi’s love stories to this one, which features two people in a remote gas station meeting eyes and triggering sparks. What we feel are familiar messages about this particular jeans-clad style of youthful, on-the-road American liberty—it is curious, spontaneous, untethered, unerringly casual.

“Distressed Denim. Imperfect, yet perfectly at ease,” Middleton tells us.

The jeans, modeled by the actors, offer a lived-in, comfortably broken quality right off the rack. (The press release says Uniqlo’s Distressed Denim is “engineered to combine the two often opposing forces of comfort and imperfection.” Why wear things down yourself when you can buy them that way?)

The music, “Baby” by Donnie and Joe Emerson, also feeds the ad’s tiny mythology. The Emerson brothers grew up on a remote farm, “with the radio on their tractor as their only source of musical education.” Their father would ultimately build them a recording studio on the land, enabling them to make an album in the late ’70s—a piece of work that gathered dust for decades, and finally emerged into the mainstream in 2012.

“The new Uniqlo campaign is a great example of how exceptional storytelling dimensionalizes the technology-led benefits of our LifeWear apparel,” says president-global creative John C. Jay of Fast Retailing, which owns Uniqlo. “The Droga5 London team’s creativity lifts rational reason to an emotional answer.”

Maybe. Ad wonks know these methods well and will relish in the approach, which feels refreshingly simple compared with today’s schizophrenic 360° affairs. But even as we enjoy LifeWear’s ability to be varied, universal and nostalgic all at once, we can’t help but remember that Uniqlo also symbolizes the aggressive, globalized uniformity that steamrolls creative subcultures … even in its home country.

Oh, well. If nothing else, this campaign marks both our relentless advancement—and how the past never really lets us go.

The campaign will appear in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia, on TV and online in :60, :30 and :15 cuts. You can also expect to see a print campaign.

CREDITS
Client: Uniqlo
Agency: Droga5 London
CCO: David Kolbusz
ECD: Steven Howell, Rick Dodds
Creative Director: Devon Hong
Copywriter: Ulrika Karlberg
Group Account Director: Rebecca Lewis
Account Director: Michelle Villarreal
Account Director: Alex Dousie
Senior Strategy Director: James Broomfield
Agency Producer:
‘Wireless Bra’ – Chris Watling
‘Denim’ – Peter Montgomery
‘Airism’ – Peter Montgomery
Director/ Production Co:
‘Wireless Bra’ – Autumn de Wilde / Anonymous Content x Somesuch
‘Denim’ – Nick Gordon / Somesuch
‘Airism’ – Nick Gordon / Somesuch
Producer:
‘Wireless Bra’ – James Waters
‘Denim’ – Chris Harrison
‘Airism’ – Chris Harrison
DoP:
‘Wireless Bra’ – Chris Blauvelt
‘Denim’ – Evan Prosofsky
‘Airism’ – Evan Prosofsky
Choreographer:
‘Wireless Bra’ – Ryan Heffington
Stylist
‘Wireless Bra’ – Nancy Steiner
‘Denim’ – Lyson Marchessault
Editor:
‘Wireless Bra’ – Darren Baldwin / Final Cut
‘Denim’ – Dan Sherwen / Final Cut
‘Airism’ – Dan Sherwen / Final Cut
Post Production: MPC
VFX: MPC
VFX Producer: Sophie Hogg
2D Supervisor: Bruno Fukumothi
Grade: MPC
Colourists: Houmam Abdallah, Richard Fearon
Sound Design: Will Cohen / String and Tins
Music:
‘Wireless Bra’ – “Ants” by Starcrawler
‘Denim’ – Baby. By Donnie and Joe Emerson
‘Airism’ – Evaporate by William Doyle
English VO Artist
Tuppence Middleton