Junya Watanabe is one of the most celebrated Japanese designers, establishing himself at Comme des Garçons as a protégé of founder Rei Kawakubo. Renowned for his avant-garde style and innovative materials, Watanabe is particularly interested in making familiar things look new and fresh.
After graduating from Tokyo’s famous Bunka Fashion College in 1984, he began an apprenticeship as a pattern-maker at Comme des Garçons. In 1987 he became chief designer of the Tricot Comme des Garçons line of knitwear.
Watanabe launched his own womenswear line Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons in 1993 and began showing his collections at Paris Fashion Week. With his keen interest in pattern-making and mastering the technique, he understood how to realize his design ideas. This was also the theme of his debut collection “Origins and pattern-making”.
Junya Watanabe is similarly reclusive as his mentor, Rei Kawakubo. He very rarely gives interviews and releases taciturn statements to explain his collections, leaving his work to speak for itself. Watanabe humbly describes his work as “monozukuri” – a Japanese term, which literally translates to “making of things”. This spirit of Japanese manufacturing focuses more on the craft rather than the individual behind the craft.
His “Techno Couture” collection for Fall/Winter 2000 is widely considered as one of Watanabe’s most memorable. Experimenting with innovative fabrics, the delicate dresses were handsewn to create voluminous honeycomb shapes that concealed the female figure.
Watanabe delved into menswear shortly after, launching his label Junya Watanabe Man under the Comme des Garçons umbrella for Spring/Summer 2002. While his womenswear is experimental and radical, Junya Watanabe Man is intended for daily use with sophisticated casual wear pieces and bold graphics prints. His debut collection “Poem” featured familiar menswear silhouettes in vibrant colors, adorned with poetic love confessions composed by his staff.
Junya Watanabe is a master collaborator, applying his talent to give familiar pieces a fresh look and appeal. His debut collection for Junya Watanabe Man featured a classic pair of Levi’s jeans printed with an intimate romantic poem. He is credited with elevating denim to haute couture level.
In 2007 he designed a series of Chuck Taylor All-Stars for Converse, marking his first mainstream collaboration. His latest show at Paris Fashion Week for Fall/Winter 2023 showcased collaborations with 18 different labels, ranging from Levi’s, Carhartt and New Balance to Palace, Champion and Karrimor.