An antenna that captures signals from the future and can describe what will happen. Fabrics. Lines. Colours. Prints. Patterns. Renowned partnerships with other brands. Today they tread Junya Watanabe’s catwalk, in his shows that ooze determination. Tomorrow they become an inspiration for the entire fashion system. With a mechanism that gets lost in translation. There’s no need for too many words, because the clothes speak for themselves: they are like 3D thoughts, projections that stem from the reflections of the designer who was born in Fukushima and who graduated from the Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. He famously then grew up in the world of Comme des Garçons, under the protective wing of Rei Kawakubo, the creative spirit behind the Japanese brand and aesthetic philosophy. He doesn’t give many interviews, and he doesn’t come out at the end of shows. But when you are lucky enough to enter his world, his thinking is clear and enthralling. He is avant-garde and real at the same time. Ultra-creative, but without renouncing business sense. Combining techno/dreamlike shows and runway shows in super-street contexts, like his latest menswear offering, with graffiti on the walls and tattooed faces. This catwalk marks 15 years since his debut menswear collection, and is a good starting point for understanding how his creative process works. “When we decide upon a theme, we begin our research, and try to go deep into it. Our creation is based on becoming maniacs”.
Photography by Tommy Ton
Stefano Roncato: Facial tattoos. Music-inspired prints. Where did you get the idea for your Spring/Summer 2017 gang?
Junya Watanabe: I drew inspiration from the look and feel of retro gangsters. I took a very light and almost humorous approach to what they wore and their antics - the small-time hustlers and henchmen in the farcical film Black Cat, White Cat(Ed: directed by Emir Kusturica) were an inspiration.
SR: Your first menswear show was in 2001... How has your menswear changed in fifteen years? What is your starting point when designing a collection?
JW: In every collection we look internationally for a new approach, partly because of our desire to do something different. When we decide upon a theme, we begin our research, and try to go deep into it. Our creation is based on becoming maniacs.
SR: You once said: “For the women’s collections, I try to look for what has yet to be seen. For the men’s collections, I play within the rules”. Is your menswear more ‘real’ and your womenswear more avant-garde? Do you have different approaches?
JW: As a creator, I try to create something exciting, believing that excitement will sell. It’s the same for both men’s and women’s.
SR: How did you meet Rei Kawakubo? What is working with her like? How would you define the Comme des Garçons project?
JW: I rarely get to work with her directly, nor do I get any day-to-day advice. I am certainly inspired by her way of working and the environment at Comme des Garçons, which she creates, and I live in.
SR: Co-branding has become very popular. You were one of the first to collaborate with other brands such as Moncler, Levi’s and All Stars... Where did you get the idea? Why are your collaborations so successful?
JW: Making clothes that are similar to the classics is easy. But imitation could never express the story behind the originals. I wanted makers with an attractive background to make pieces tailored to my taste, so I could then add those pieces to my collection. That was the starting point in my work with other makers. I choose the partners that I feel I need for the collection.
SR: What is most important for a designer today: being creative or being business-oriented?
JW: Making money is a given in business. The company has strict targets that it expects me to achieve, and I also believe sales provide a certain measure of success. The balance between all of this and creativity is always on my mind. Although the objective of my creation is not to please our business customers, it would be useless if nobody paid any attention. The standard is set in my day-to-day life. I put up my own antennae to verify my own standard. Basically I propose what I think is good in my collections, and as a result we win over our customers.
SR: Are you ever satisfied with your collections?
JW: Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I have never thought “this is the best”.
SR: How difficult is it to create something interesting today?
JW: I too feel the crisis of not being able to create anything that I think is new any more. But I can only do my best.
By Stefano Roncato - MFF Magazine for Fashion
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