John C. Jay

The New Chapter


As the celebrated former Wieden+Kennedy Global Executive Creative Director, John C. Jay has become known for an immersive approach to advertising. He delves into culture rather than merely observing it, and supports emerging artists who carry that torch, sponsoring artists’ studios inside The Yale Union building through his independent company, Studio J.

Jay has won over one hundred and fifty international awards for his ad work, but as he humbly attests: “With all due respect, I was never only an ad guy, or a fashion guy. It was always my passion to seek the widest and deepest creative experience possible…”

Just over a year into his new role at Fast Retailing Co., Uniqlo’s holding company, Jay continues to seek deep creative experience and fuels Uniqlo’s brand and value propositions with a bouquet of dreamy collaborations, concepts, and of course, products.

How has your customary immersion in unfamiliar cultures influenced your recent work for Fast Retailing?

My past year at Fast Retailing has been an intense initiation into UNIQLO’s own culture—setting up offices in Portland, Oregon, the Fast Retailing Creative Lab, and an office in Tokyo’s Midtown Towers. I travel to our other regions around the world, whether inside the USA, China, or Europe, with our founder and CEO, Tadashi Yanai, to check in on our cultural and business growth in each of these regions. Fast Retailing has cultivated generations of creative thinking and making. Virtually no Japanese corporation could ever offer such freedom, but early on you realize this means that it is about our responsibility to inspire each other, regardless of any organizational structure.

Where do you find inspiration?

I work very hard at this. It was never the responsibility of the employer to inspire me. I felt it was always my job. Working recently with fashion designer, Christophe Lemaire of Paris, has been so inspiring because of his masterful way of thinking and creating. I just finished the day with a session with architect Brad Cloepfil, who designed the iconic Wieden+Kennedy building in Portland. The importance of craft, in any form, is so crucial in today’s world. So to work with such sophisticated talent only makes me hungry for even more inspiration. This is what makes me want to run to work each morning and why I love working into the night. To surround yourself with people of all ages and cultures, who make beauty in the world, from code to clothing, to strategy to buildings, that is when you can honestly blur the boundaries of what is vocation and vacation!

Including all of the dull steps, what is your creative process?

I ask that anyone on my team take an interest in the idea of social context in everything we do. That is why I encourage everyone to be connected to the world at large and get out of your own silos at work and home. I lead many of the discussions concerning the problem to be solved and find great joy in intelligent dialogue before we get into the juicy part of concept and execution. I love creative directing again, and I even have some chances to art direct despite my title. What a difference a year makes. My creative direction, nevertheless, is from a very high level, but at least I know I am making a tangible, creative contribution.

You worked with Uniqlo on their fleece products in 1999, so you’ve been familiar with the brand’s goals and culture for some time. How has the brand evolved since then?

The brand, its approach and its goals, have evolved even just in the past 12 months. So of course it has moved since my early years in Tokyo, working on the brand and creating the initial fleece campaign. Yet, the DNA has remained consistent through the magic and leadership of our founder, Tadashi Yanai. His modesty and ability to dream big will never fade. This evolution is ongoing. It must, if we want to stay relevant and inspiring. And this is true for us as individuals or as any major brand. Nothing is more dangerous than your own status quo.

What upcoming collaborations excite you? And what do you hope those collaborations will do for the brand?

We are launching our newest flagship store in the world with a redo of our store at 311 Oxford Street in London, featuring a collaboration with Liberty London that includes images by photographer Nick Knight. The opening campaign will introduce an eclectic mix of influential Londoners, photographed by Rankin. Each [is] a contributor to the city’s reputation as a hub of global creativity.

We have been very careful, and some say surprising, in our choice of fashion collaborators. Rather than simply using designers as a means of bringing attention to our brand, we choose carefully those who share our values and vision. Concurrently, we must not shy from an opportunity to surprise both the consumer and ourselves… Hopefully, these are not simply short-term capsule collections, but an ability to build longer partnerships where our ideas can grow together. The quality of the relationship is paramount because it will show in the clothes. Hype alone is just hype.

What is the aim of collaborations with the likes of French style icons such as Inès de la Fressange and Carine Roitfeld?

What excites us most about France is it’s future of diversity, of liberty, how multiculturalism will add to its rich heritage. It is going through difficult times, but we remain inspired by their devotion to the arts and freedom. Fashion is simply a mirror to the changes of the future. Fashion must change, and we look to France as one of the global centers for that inspiration.

You will see how our admiration of culture and social change will inspire other forms of creative collaborations in the near future with other countries and different skills. You will see our support for youth and fresh talent both internally and externally. We cannot go to new places without them. We have to learn from the future.

Are you working on anything just for fun, for yourself, at the moment?

Creative people often don’t live up to their own rhetoric about risk-taking and being fearless in their own lives. I could not live with myself if I became one of those who made a career of being an industry icon. Being able to put yourself in a position of risk, if we can be so fortunate, helps to keep us relevant and learning. Being able to explode the definition of “make” is important.

I have just gotten started, I have so much to learn and do. I must think and make.

Text by Valerie Demicheva
Photograph by Ben Clark