Updated: Feb 1
Junya Watanabe in his Tokyo office. by Jamie Hawkesworth
Copying, whether nefarious in nature or simply inspirational, is pervasive within fashion. Fashion brands cultivate ideas from disparate sources, while in turn their designs are often blatantly plagiarized and sold for pennies on the dollar. Fashion is cyclical, not only due to the constant recycling of trends, but through this permanent meta-referential mentality. Perhaps that’s why Junya Watanabe has managed to consistently captivate people’s attention. A master of fine-tuning familiar concepts and presenting them in a mind-altering ways, discovering Junya Watanabe for the first time is puzzling yet sublime. His work is strikingly different, to the point where people often have a vivid memory of the first Junya piece they stumble upon. Watanabe’s clothes are the manifestation of a duality, a struggle between simplicity and complexity.
Only 23 at the time, Watanabe’s obvious talent and vision were quickly apparent, and the young upstart caught the attention of Rei Kawakubo, who took the young pattern maker under her wing. By 1987, Kawakubo promoted her protege to design director of CdG’s Tricot line, a position he held until the launch of his eponymous label—still under the Comme des Garçons umbrella—in 1992.
Rather than reference contemporaries or present a specific take on current trends, Watanabe collections are physical encyclopedia on a particular textile, colour, or garment. Inspired by traditional uses, cultural significance, or their place in the fashion canon, each collection is a master class on fabrication, fit, and history, while always cohesive and highly specific.