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Undercover

Japanese hipster designer Jun Takahashi, the creative force behind the cult label Undercover, has been a major fashion star in his own country for more than a decade. But the international spotlight largely eluded him until 2006, when he sent masked models down the runway, their faces shrouded in knitted hoods. Though the unsettling display reminded some viewers of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Takahashi claimed he wasn't making a political statement but voicing an idea about hidden beauty.

A 1991 graduate of Tokyo's Bunka fashion college, he started his retail business in 1993. With his signature punk street style composed mostly of jackets and T-shirts that have been patched, layered, slashed, deconstructed, and emblazoned with graphics, he quickly cultivated a following among the youth for his antiestablishment image. Garnering support early on from Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons was another coup for the young designer, who, at her urging, showed his first collection in Paris in 2002. (Making a rare public appearance, she sat front-row.) Though Undercover isn't part of Kawakubo's design empire, Takahashi's designs and fashion-as-art theatrics certainly traverse the avant-garde territory forged by the Comme des Garçons founder. Takahashi's first Paris show, entitled "Scab," featured violently deconstructed clothes, ripped to shreds and sewn back together with red thread. Ensuing collections have been both puzzling and provoking, and have included women wandering around in medieval headdresses declaring allegiance to "Klaus" and "The Amazing Tale of Zamiang," or identical twins modeling identical outfits. But the clothes themselves are rarely less than intriguing, and sometimes even—gasp!—wearable. In addition to winning numerous awards in Japan, including the esteemed Mainichi prize, Takahashi recently served as guest editor of Belgian A Magazine, an honor previously held by avant-garde masters Martin Margiela and Yohji Yamamoto.

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