If you don't know Uniqlo now, you will by the end of this recession.

That's because the Japan-based chain -- which specializes in affordable, structural, fashion-forward basics -- is poised to be the first retailer to truly shatter the down-spending doldrums. Today, the company reported that its same-store sales are up an enviable 18.3% from this time last year.

Uniqlo currently operates just one store in the U.S.: a giant Soho flagship that's constantly wall-to-wall packed. But it's been quietly assembling all the firepower it needs to launch a streak of global openings, and you can be sure that the minute American consumer-spending forecasts are up, Uniqlo will announce more U.S. outposts (I'd recommend it scout for space at South Coast Plaza in tony Newport Beach, Calif. or along the coed-trafficked sidewalks of Cambridge, Mass.).

So what does Uniqlo have that gives it such an edge over retail competitors? Well, everything:

DESIGN GENIUS
One thing that's brilliant about Uniqlo's strategy: it appeals to young people with a range of styles. In each store, you'll find basic skinny tees and grandpa cardigans for hipsters, button-downs and cashmere v-necks for preppies, and "Designer Invitation" exclusives from this-minute names like Opening Ceremony and Shipley and Halmos for diehard stylephiles. And early this year, Uniqlo secured its own permanent, in-house high fashion talent: German minimalist designer Jil Sander is now the company's creative director.

FRESH FACES

The store has proved adept at locking up spokespersons with an underground vibe and an international fan base -- like Chloe Sevigny and its current ad star, the model Agyness Deyn, an English native and current New Yorker.

MONEY TO BURN

The New York Post reported today that Uniqlo, along with British chain Topshop, is a front-runner to take over a massive retail space on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue retail corridor. Uniqlo has the cash to win this bidding war -- and if it does, it will win visibility among tens of thousands of out-of-towners every day.

COMPETITORS' ATTENTION
Foreign fashion blogs are reporting that Gap Inc., in order to compete with Uniqlo, has directed its Japanese unit to develop a lower-priced concept store to be stationed north of Tokyo. This shouldn't bother Uniqlo chairman Tadashi Yanai, who casually told the Times last month that him just up and buying Gap Inc. is "not such a crazy idea." Which brings us to Uniqlo's last and best advantage...

BILLIONAIRE BACKING
Yanai just happens to be Japan's number-one richest man at the moment. So learn his name, too, while you're at it -- he might be commissioning your next season's wardrobe right now.

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