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Unique, So Chic: Uniqlo Coming to Chicago

By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 8, 2011 3:00PM

Uniqlo stairs 2.jpg
Uniqlo, 5th Avenue, New York City

First it was Sweden (H&M), followed by Spain (Zara) and England (Topshop) to set up shop on the Magnificent Mile, and now it looks like Japan is poised to blow into the Windy City in the form of Uniqlo—the stylish and sleek Japanese retailer known for its now-fabled cashmere sweaters and an overall design esthetic that is at once basic and modern. (Think: the Apple Store—but for apparel.)

In a recent interview with AOL’s Daily Finance, the CEO of Uniqlo’s U.S. division, Shin Odake, hinted at the company’s plans to enter the Chicago market, confirming rumors of a Midwest expansion for the retailer that started churning last December, when Mr. Odake announced plans to open 200 stores in the U.S. by 2020. Uniqlo (pronounced you-KNEE-coo-low) currently has three stores in the U.S.—all located in New York City.

“The U.S. is the biggest economy in the world,” said Odake. “We want to bring Heattech to Chicago,” said the CEO, referring to Uniqlo’s exclusive heat-retaining and moisture resistant technology. (Apparently, Heattech involves “milk protein softening fibers.” We’re not sure what that means, exactly, but it has our antennae quivering in anticipation.)

Uniqlo—which is blessedly logo-free—has attempted to infiltrate the U.S. market before, specifically in 2005 when it opened three mall-based stores. All three outposts were shuttered by the end of that year.

“It’s difficult to differentiate yourself in a mall environment,” explained Odake in the interview with AOL Daily Finance. “The strategy now is to open flagship stores on prominent streets.”

With the Gap announcing the closing of 21% of its U.S. stores in the next two years, Uniqlo—with its utilitarian design and appealing color pallete (Fall/Winter 2011, for example, features hues of mud, claret, Prussian blue and Russian green, among others)—seems poised to take over the task of clothing (the stylish) masses.