Designer Spotlight: Junya Watanabe
Contributed by Rebekah & Elly
Brands, Collabs, Fashion
November 9, 2022
Brands, Collabs, Fashion
November 9, 2022
Rebekah & Elly
If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’ll be familiar with his song Junya (ft. Playboi Carti) off his album, Donda- a track that’s all about high fashion and how it symbolises Kanye’s well-earned status, and titled after none other than the often elusive, yet highly celebrated Japanese fashion designer, Junya Watanabe.
Image source: Soundcloud
Despite his low-key tendencies and aversion to the press, Watanabe is a decidedly beloved figure within his industry. A protogé of Comme des Garçons founder, Rei Kawakubo herself, this enigmatic, artistic genius is hailed within fashion’s most exclusive circles for his abstract, yet functional approach to design and expert use of textiles and materials in his work, making him one of Japan’s most critically acclaimed designers to date.
A look from Junya Watanabe’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection, image courtesy of Vogue
In terms of his background, Watanabe was born in 1961 in Fukushima, Japan, and went on to graduate from one of the country’s most prestigious fashion schools– the Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo.
Upon graduating, he was immediately appointed as an apprentice pattern-maker at Comme des Garçons (CDG); and within just three years, in 1987, he was hired as the chief designer of CDG’s Tricot knitwear line.
In 1992, Watanabe decided to venture into creating his own namesake label under the CDG umbrella, crafting his debut womenswear collection which received an overwhelmingly positive reception in Paris the following year.
By the turn of the century, the success of his womenswear line enabled the young designer to extend his career to menswear, launching Junya Watanabe MAN in 2001.
Signature Paint Splatter Jeans from the Junya Watanabe MAN collection, image courtesy of Farfetch
Since then, Watanabe has collaborated with international brands such as Brooks Brothers, Converse, New Balance, PUMA, and more, injecting his trademark elegant eclecticism in the form of unexpected silhouettes, ingenious materials, and asymmetrical detailing into each of his projects.
Throughout his career, Watanabe’s love of denim has been no secret, having released a multitude of creatively executed denim statement pieces on a regular basis. Thus, collaborating with global denim powerhouse Levi’s was inevitable.Their debut collection together was released in 2001, and has since led to over two decades of successful partnership between the designer and the denim-centred label.
The infamous Poem Jeans from the 2001 Junya Watanabe MAN X Levis collection, image courtesy of 1stDibs
In 2004 Watanabe flexed not only his fashion and form, but his function muscles as a designer, releasing a highly practical, yet aesthetically innovative rain jacket in his collaboration with another famous Japanese label, Porter.
The infamous jacket featured a sturdy Gore-Tex shell and a veritable army of pockets made to look like Porter’s signature mini bags, as well as a small kangaroo pouch sewn into the back. A technical marvel, the jacket itself could even be used as a tote bag by folding it in a certain way and attaching straps to metal hoops on the jacket’s front.
The infamous Junya Watanabe MAN X Porter Rain Jacket from the 2004 Spring/Summer collection, image courtesy of Stacked
While frequently compared to his world-renowned mentor, Rei Kawakubo, Watanabe has certainly cut his own teeth in the industry and defined his own aesthetic with his more pragmatic approach to styling.
“My idea of something being beautiful or aesthetically pleasing is completely different from what Rei Kawakubo’s vision of beauty is,” said Watanabe in a rare interview with the New York Times. “To this day, seeing Rei Kawakubo’s work, I feel the same. I understand certain points and I can relate to certain areas … that doesn’t mean that I completely agree.”
Today, Watanabe continues to wow the fashion crowd with his ingenious reinventions of timeless, classic wardrobe staples using technically advanced adjustments to dimensions, materials, and cuts. In an industry where it is commonplace to take inspiration from the external– whether it’s different cultures, places, or even periods in history, Watanabe manages to forge creations that are entirely his own.