Junya Watanabe F/W 2016
Junya Watanabe F/W 2016

Before the show, Japanese designer Junya Watanabe handed out drawings attempting to illustrate the origami folds we were about to see come down the runway. He had so graciously taken the time to show, step by step, with precise measurements, how he created the shape for what would be one of the most photographed pieces from today’s show. It didn’t help. I’m not sure an engineering degree would help. As simple as some of these designs look, they really are rather complicated.

Welcome to Saturday, what has become the designated Avante Garde day of Paris Fashion Week. This is when some of the most creative minds on the planet try to move us away from our tired old traditions and get us thinking about new possibilities, why we wear what we wear, and maybe even what might work better. Standard descriptors don’t apply today. Instead, we’re straining to find ways to talk about 3D effects and make comparisons that don’t sound as though we’ve been drinking too much absinthe.

Watanabe actually seems a little more somber this season than previously. There isn’t the wide array of colors, there are absolutely no patterns, and there’s nothing so dramatically oversized by what one could wear any of the outfits on a public transit bus without crowding other riders, though they might look at you a bit strangely. He works primarily from a circular base this season, so we have a lot of rounded and scalloped edges and shapes that move away from the body rather than restricting it. Most the pieces are black, so when he does insert a red element, the effect is quite dramatic.

At first glance, the beginning look doesn’t seem all that much different from some others we’ve seen, minus the black shower cap. A black bodysuit embellished with a black skirt with large ruffles seems well within the realm of reason and may give us a hint at what we’ll see on store shelves. Only upon closer inspection do we find that the “ruffles” are actually three layers of circular folds all blended and tucked together. A single seam holds them all in place.

Quickly, the ensembles become more elaborate and while the oversized headpieces may be distracting, what Watanabe does with these opening skirts is amazing as he creates flowers in place of peplum along a waistline, or embellishes a tulip skirt and texturizes a pencil skirt, all with minimal seams, expertly folding fabrics into glorious pieces of art. Pictures don’t do these monochrome pieces justice as runway lighting minimizes the detail in this pieces.

Just as layering is a big thing elsewhere this season, Watanabe does the same here, but he does so in such a different style that one might not think of it in that context. The first red piece he introduces fits nicely over the black sweater and reminds me of the origami lights I’ve seen. The look is extremely artistic on its own, but when one considers that he has made this with a single piece of fabric, that nothing has gone to waste, one has to realize just how inefficient our traditional silhouettes are in utilizing resources. There are no scraps left over. He uses the whole piece of fabric to create astonishing style.

Yes, the headpieces are quirky. This is a Watanabe specialty. This season there seems to be a Suessian influence on many of the pieces. I felt a bit sorry for the models who wore the head coverings where only a hole for the right eye was left open; that had to be a rather challenging walk. Many of the headpieces looked a bit top-heavy and models rehearsed walking with them before going through hair and makeup. Roundness still played a major roll here, driving home how much influence is found in a single cut under the weight of gravity.

By the end of the show, I was again pondering whether this type of work is best considered as fashion art or wearable architecture. While there is a visual appeal in what Watanabe presents, there is also structural precision and engineering that goes beyond fashion. Expand some of these concepts a few hundred times and they would make beautiful buildings. Yet, in his unique way, he keeps things feminine.

My brain hurts now from thinking so hard so early in the morning. Junya Watanabe is a fashion design treasure. This is a fantastic, brooding collection that is a delight to observe.


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