“A hamburger can have just a patty only,” Yanai had told me a few minutes earlier, 31 stories upstairs in his office. “Or maybe it has pickles or lettuce! You may want ketchup or mustard—you name it!—depending on your taste. You definitely want more than buns and patty. Only then can you have a great hamburger.”
I don’t think we’re headed to the food court. Yanai, who can speak in koans, is talking about Uniqlo’s proletarian sportswear, which is all around us.
“Too often, we have tended to fall into a trap of creating plain hamburgers.” Yanai zeroes in on a lumpen gray sweatsuit, a 1,490-yen ($20) example of what to wear if you want to void all attractiveness on your person. “This,” he says almost triumphantly, “is a plain hamburger. It’s got nothing. You see no trace of a design commitment. We are probably selling it because it sold well last year.” He pauses, and then looks at me. “Would you wear it?”
“No,” I say. “Would you?”
“Of course not!” he says. “And my point is that I’m still not satisfied with it. It’s still not finished.”
I ask him to show me a once-plain hamburger that’s been transformed. He thinks for a moment and then darts to a corner of the store that, from afar, looks like a Pantone color grid and, up close, is a set of cubbyholes packed with socks. “We started out with a few different colors,” he says, “but then we came up with this crazy idea: Why not 50 colors instead of 10?” The rainbow of hosiery is at least a Five Guys burger.