Inspired by the works of British fashion photographer Jamie Hawkesworth, Junya Watanabe’s spring/summer 2022 collection is peppered with alluring neo-ethnic touches that are ready for some unknown quest
Enticingly wearable and irresistibly fab have always been how fans of Junya Watanabe view his effortless melding of work wear and the artistic, incorporating into the line collabs with heritage brands across the globe. In many ways, Mr Watanabe is a fashion vagabond. There is no fixed point on which to stay put. This season, he looks at the travel photography of Jamie Hawkesworth (specifically the Bhutan photos, such as those published in Holiday), admired by fellow Brit J W Anderson, who paired with the former for both Loewe and his collaboration with Uniqlo. In the accompanying collection notes, Mr Watanabe quoted the photographer saying, “It’s such an incredible feeling turning up to a place with no ideas or expectations, and just walking and exploring and taking photographs—it’s incredible what you find.” The same feeling can perhaps also describe encountering Mr Watanabe’s designs: you do not know what to expect, but you won’t be disappointed. For those familiar his work, Junya Watanabe may be destination familiar, but there would always be unexplored territory and untasted fare.
Mr Watanabe’s work this season riffs on Asian motifs, prints, and details, which he has intermittently done in the past. More pronounced now are his use of visuals by Asian illustrators: Chinese illustrator/artist, Shenzhen-based Rlon Wang; Japan’s pop art fave Keiichi Tanaami, Nepalese artist/Californian resident Ang Tsherin Sherpa, Thailand’s fashion darling Phannapast Taychamaythakool, and Vietnamese children’s book illustrators Phung Nguyen Quang and Huynh Kim Lien. But rather than just use them as patterns on fabrics, he has employed them as he would with parts of his favourite garments. The prints are used on yokes—like bibs, some are in grid form, some as repeated patterns, some as a single delineation of, say, a head. There are prints used as linings of jackets too. A surprising large number of T-shirts with those artists’ illustrations are shown. In fact, this seems to be the summeriest collection of the menswear season, even when there considerable outers too.
Presented against what looks like a makeshift art gallery, randomly placed with Mr Hawkesworth’s photographs, and accompanied by a soundtrack featuring Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Ma Mere L’Oie (from 1984’s Ongaku Zukan) and Thousand Knives (from 1978’s same-name album), the collection seems to be focused on—as Mr Sakamoto also sang in Ongaku Zukan—Steppin’ into Asia. The original opening track features a chorus of children singing, which sounds suitably Bhutanese, although in the album, references were made to Tibet and Paradise Lost. While Mr Watanabe is not susceptible to the obvious, the Asian-ness is seen in the fabrics, some evocative of Bhutanese textiles made into the national costumes of gho and kira for men and women respectively, as well cropped and draped trousers with shapes that recall the Thai sarouel (fishermen’s pants). In fact, the whole collection comprises separates that are truly approachable and commensurate with the present desire for clothes that are relaxed (we resist using the word ‘lounge’!). The silhouettes suggest something more for the outdoors than a corporate meeting room, but Junya Watanabe has never been a business wear label, and those who succumb to it’s charms tend to be individuals in the creative business, and the many unshakable diehards.
As usual, there are collaborations galore, including his on-going work with The North Face, Levi’s, and New Balance. Others include Ark Air (blousons!) Dickies (work pants), Brooks Brothers (shirts and blazers), and also the Harajuku vintage outlet BerBerJin, which Time Out calls a “classy vintage store”, from which select pieces are printed with Mr Watanabe’s choice images from those illustrators mentioned above (not sure how those can be produced in large quantities). There is clearly a sense of sartorial adventurism here. Regional prints meet the Tokyo-urban, folk costumes convene with work wear, hipster sandals stride alongside hypebeast sneakers, all in an unmistakably happy convergence. We call it ‘exploracore’.
Photos: Junya Watanabe/Comme des Garçons