Design or Desire? Influential Fetishisation of Junya Watanabe


Junya Watanabe, no doubt if you hadn’t heard of it before you will have seen this name explode in popularity in mid 2017. Is it a wide coverage of the brand, heralding his design skills and innovative prowess? Or is it more a narrative driven by the increasing popular desire to have incredibly niche and specific stand out items that are placed on a pedestal by the current fashion sphere enthusiasts?


Having started as an apprentice at  Comme des Garçons under Rei Kawakubo around 1984 and becoming the Lead Designer for Comme des Garçons TRICOT in 1987, Junya quickly became known as a ‘Techno Couture’ designer, focussing on innovation of fabric, working processes and design. Notably seen most recently with his 2016 ‘Solar Panel Rain Mac’. On a ready-to-wear level the brand has many highly regarded collections, namely the JW MAN Poem capsule from 2001, the mainline women's Parachute collection from 2003, the JW MAN and Head Porter collaboration from 2004 and 2005 and the Patchwork Denim pieces from 2014 and 2015. Why are pieces from these collections considered such ‘grails’? Typically this term is used incredibly loosely, in terms of the flexibility of said current ‘grail’ with one flip-flopping from one item, to another, to another upon a very short term basis.


This indecisive and quick paced market has evolved with the development of the use of Social Media content to target and tap into as a customer base. Instagram influencers such as Luka Sabbat who have hundreds of thousands of followers have a controlling say in what a lot of people will buy, for example the explosion of the 2001 Poem Collection interest around the time of the posting of this image. Wearing three separate items no less. Way to stunt. This is a perfect example of the fetishisation of high end designer wear; in no way besides the stereotypical colour balancing does this work. Three messages, all different, all in different places and all screaming for attention with the use of white text. Within three months the price of a pair of the Poem Jeans skyrocketed from around £150 to its current value of £350, give or take for condition and size. This plays hugely into the concept of being a ‘logomaniac’, although not typically associated with high fashion you can see other celebrities like A$AP Rocky also participating and arguably paving the way for the youth interest in high end fashion. When combined with the instant and constant bombarding nature of platforms like Instagram, is it conceivable to think that within a certain time span there could be a complete conformity, with these influencers and celebrities setting what will be worn, almost a uniform; or it could go the other way and taper to a total splurge of self-expressionism. How would this affect the way people purchase new items? That would be a totally different ball game.


With recent collections featuring more collaborations, as seems to be the in-thing with brands right now, the brands see a coverage across many different demographics, from the Carrhartt workwear capsule, to the technical hiking utility coats by Karrimor. The decentralisation of a brands target market through collaboration is a practise employed by many; it can bring many more consumers to a brand and allow it to flourish in a time that it may have struggled without. It takes away from a brands core ideals, not in whole, but in part through the watering down of a client base which can upset purists. Many people who have enjoyed archive Junya Watanabe in the past are now finding it increasingly difficult and costly to source items, especially when collecting. This oversaturation as it could be called, takes away from an original ethos which is about longevity; the time period you will own something before it is no longer wearable, as opposed to the current focus of buy, wear, flex, sell and repeat with the next branded item. It takes away from the reasons that people like Bill Gates chose his clothing for; durability and minimalism.


Although Rihanna and Pharrell wear Junya Watanabe their fan base is such that it would not intend on purchasing these items due to the off-putting nature of the retail (for the fan base). On the other end of the spectrum is Iris Apfel currently aged 96 years old and her cover for Dazed in 2012; which depicts the donning of stunning Japanese design (Kawakubo for CDG), in the way it would originally be intended to wear. Boldly, confidently and without care. The garment isn’t meant to keep your legs warm, or support your back; it is supposed to represent a 2D cutout of construction paper scaled up and translated to a garment. The shape subverts the viewers pre-conceived notions of body and size, by removing an identifiable width and giving protection to the precious body below. This type of design is difficult to compare to ready-to-wear and although at surface value viewing, highly impractical to wear, very basic variants can be found in the ready-to-wear collections (as well as from other catwalk couture to ready-to-wear collections) which are fitting to more traditional Junya Silhouettes despite being overlooked and generally unworn by many.

Age Iris Apfel on the cover of Dazed and Confused                             %.jpg

As we can’t expect the popular masses to stop flocking to what’s imposed on us as cool, current or on trend, we can think about what is being bought and by who. With Facebook groups and Instagram posts connecting thousands, if not more, people across the world, we should look to developing interest and style, keeping it on prosumer and consumer terms. After all, the trickle-down method only works for so many fashion houses for so long. Even though we will continue to see the mis-appropriation and fetishisation of Junya Watanabe's work we will only be able stand back and let it unfold as we have to do, as consumers of current media. We can dictate what we wear ourselves and we can do it for design, but the seldom USP of ‘coolness’ will, unfortunately, remain one the most focal points of the fashion sphere today.


Words Rory Cole