Designer 101: Junya Watanabe

“How does the past remain in fashion without reeking of nostalgia? And by what new technological means can you reveal beauty?”

—Junya Watanabe

 

Japanese designer, Junya Watanabe began his career as a pattern cutter for Comme des Garçons in 1984. Watanabe’s mentor, Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, has referred to him as a “co-combatant” in the “Comme des Garçons army.” Watanabe helped combat traditional representations of beauty and fashion by designing some of the most challenging and technically ingenious garments on the runway for Comme des Garçons. Watanabe is a very private figure in the fashion industry; very little is known about his personal life. He prefers to let his work to speak for itself.

 

“I am not interested in the mainstream.”

 

In 1987, Watanabe was appointed as the design director for Comme des Garçons Tricot, a knitwear line. In 1992, Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons launched with financial backing by none other than Rei Kawakubo. His menswear line debuted nearly a decade later, in 2001. It has been reported that although Kawakubo clearly supports Watanabe, she does so without any bit of creative interference. Watanabe famously stated to Vogue that he has never received praise from his mentor: “Sometimes, I would like a little more feedback. Criticism would be better than silence.”

Notable collections from Watanabe include: Spring 1996 presentation of tunics and shifts in colorful, transparent cellophane-like nylon. Vogue described this collection as “like wearing origami.”

Junya Watanabe Spring/Summer 1996

His Fall 1998 collection of melton-wool cloaks, robes and aprons were shaped and held together without the use of thread. Watanabe instead used metal hoops coiled around the body to keep the pieces together.

 

His Spring 2000 “Techno Couture” collection used computer shearing to create layers of nylon and polyester that look like mushroom gills and honeycomb paper.

 

In Spring 2002, dresses sewn out of frayed and distressed denim were sent down the runway.

 

In Watanabe’s world, the ever cherished icons, archetypes, and mythologies of modern culture are disfigured and re-engineered. Watanabe has stated that he is never inspired by anything in particular, nor does he design with any specific woman in mind.

 

“I always start from zero each season. To create an interesting form… [It’s] more a question of feeling.”

 

Though Watanabe’s clothes may come across as excessively conceptual on the runway, his work has proven to be equally wearable and beautiful on the street. Critics, customers and collectors alike follow his work with rapt attention. Junya Watanabe is one of few designers who remain true to their creative and conceptual vision while maintaining a high level of commercial success. Perhaps Watanabe’s mystique is what sets his work apart. Nevertheless, he continues to be one of the industry’s most prominent figures.