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Sartorial Form and Function

The notoriously incommunicative designer breaks his silence for shoes.
Junya Watanabe Autumn/Winter 2016 | Source: InDigital.tv
By
  • Tim Blanks

PARIS, France — Junya Watanabe never speaks after his shows. Well, maybe one word. Today's would have been "Outside." Except that today Watanabe actually wanted to talk. He was excited about his new collaboration and he wanted to promote it to the world.

Heinrich Dinkelacker has been making shoes for German businessmen since 1879. Watanabe came across the company in a store in Tokyo three years ago. He liked them, and, as with all his strategic alliances (today's collection also featured his on-going ones with Levi's and Trickers), that was the sole criterion for collaboration.

Watanabe has a winning knack for finding and fetishising the authentic (and the authentically unfashionable). But he's canny too. The Dinkelackers firmly grounded a collection that offered a typically idiosyncratic take on sartorial form and function. That's where "Outside" came in. The elegant tailoring had solar panels that could power a battery to feed portable electronics. There were bonded neoprene-like fabrics, also precisely tailored, for warmth and protection, and coats waxed for waterproofing. Some pieces had aluminium lining, an idea lifted from the military. Obvious subtexts were protection and self-sufficiency, but to suggest such would not solicit so much as a nod from the gnomic Watanabe, whose rare verbosity extended only to the limit of his affection for Heinrich Dinkelacker's footwear.

He loved the shoe's vamp. Mesmerised by it. From such a morsel, you wanted to extract the germ of inspiration that makes Watanabe one of the world's most perennially cultish menswear designers. An appreciation of classic form? Well, that would work for the collection he showed today. Some very spiffy overcoats, some extremely contemporary takes on the classic (a caban with bouclé front and neoprene back), a shearling-collared tweed coat which would surely have gladdened the heart of Heinrich himself as he took the tram through Stuttgart. Watanabe has his own classics. As usual, the trad-striped shirt was infected by patchwork, but here it was precisely geometrical. It highlighted the collection's union of tradition and technology. Maybe it's time for a Gattaca revival in menswear.

For all his Garbo-ness, Watanabe has always managed to leave the impression that he is a man with a highly developed sense of humour. He confirmed that today when he raised the subject of New Balance's rejection of a collaboration. There were New Balance sneakers in the show, but they were rented! Cue indignation. "I'm mad," said Watanabe, through his translator. Junya angry? That's better than a dozen ordinary post-show to-and-fros.

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