Junya Watanabe goes street-style for SS

Junya Watanabe

Junya Watanabe goes street-style for SS

It’s been a while since Junya Watanabe let his street side out to play, the part of his aesthetic that makes collectors’ items out of patchwork jeans, perfecto jackets and trenches.

His Spring/Summer 2017 collection, now available at IF Boutique, is a fantastic integration of two aesthetics designed to satisfy conceptual purists and those attracted to his more relatable work.

As stated in collection notes, “Watanabe-san wanted to present an enhanced vision of street style. For him, neither extreme construction nor streetwear stand alone stylistically — they are complementary, and when merged together, stronger.”

Watanabe, whose brand comes under the Comme des Garçons umbrella, delivered on that position with a punk-driven look that owed a big debt to Berlin’s edgy youth-music-art scene. After a recent trip there, Watanabe enlisted two graffiti crews, 1UP and Berlin Kidz, to work on prints and details in the collection.

The first look outplayed like a David Bowie tribute, with a model in a choppy orange wig and silver paint on her eyebrows, wearing a spiky, sheer batwing cape over an illustrated T-shirt, black leather skirt that looked like it was fashioned from a jacket and shredded black jeans with holes lined in fishnet.

The constructed, geometric pieces were sheer, in black, nude and a few floral prints, worn as capes, aprons, shirts and dresses and harnesses over printed T-shirts; dresses and skirts made out of patchwork T-shirts; grungy but pretty floral dresses; studded jeans, and army green cargo shorts.

From the street, there are fabulous items — a denim jacket with leather sleeves, oversize army parkas, two trenches with graffiti art built to withstand any kind of trend cycle.

They are the type of clothes you buy now and wear forever.
But then, Junya Watanabe has always been fluent in the language of street style. His consistently brilliant chopped-up and redone jeans, motorcycle jackets, and army surplus are avidly-amassed wardrobe trophies for his followers.

Strangely, though, so little is known about this very private Japanese designer that it’s easy to project onto him the persona of a recluse who works in isolation in Tokyo. With his spring collection, it became apparent that the hermit-like suppositions might not be true.

Watanabe was born in Fukushima in 1961. He studied at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo before joining Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons in 1984 as a pattern cutter. His own line was formed in 1992 under the umbrella of Comme des Garçons. His debut show was held at the concourse of Tokyo’s Ryogoku Station the same year, and in 1993 he presented his first women’s wear show in Paris.

He doesn’t appear for the customary bow at the end of his runway shows, presented four times a year in Paris. He rarely grants interviews, refuses to discuss his personal life and is reticent even to talk about his work. Many of his own employees have never been to his studio. “He doesn’t have a problem with talking about his clothes and creation,” says Watanabe’s American-born assistant and longtime interpreter, Ikuko Ichihashi. “But he’s a little hesitant about talking about personal interests and just personal …”

Despite his insistence on privacy, it’s his singular imagination that has made the Junya Watanabe label so remarkably influential in global fashion.
He has created garments that have shifted the way people think about clothing, not just fashion.

His work is about experimentation, endlessly reworking garments into fresh constructions. In an industry where referencing — of other cultures, of other historical styles — runs rife, Watanabe’s pieces have the rare, almost unique attribute of seeming like stuff we’ve never seen before. It’s all the more striking because Watanabe works with what he calls “dumb” clothes: trench coats, biker jackets, the white shirt. The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Physically, Watanabe is markedly disconnected. His base is in Tokyo, which, while not exactly the boondocks, is removed from the four-city fashion circus where most designers not only work, but also live. He says he no longer looks at the work of his peers. “I don’t really know what they’re doing,” he admits. Instead, he acts as his own frame of reference.

Ultimately, Watanabe wants to create something different. He doesn’t reference “fashion,” or sometimes even clothing. Recent collections have moved away from specific garments, into abstraction around the body. “To me fashion is creating something, creating something new through clothes. That’s what really drew me, in the beginning,” he says. “To this day, I feel that I haven’t quite been able to portray the new. That’s something constant that I’m trying to work towards.”

And yet, oddly, his clothes often chime with the mood of the times, a collective unconscious. That Watanabe, an intentional outsider, can pinpoint exactly the axis around which the rest of the insular fashion world is turning gives his collections a prophetic quality.

Junya Watanabe’s craft is both a science and an art. It’s what makes his clothing great.

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