WORDS BY JOSEPH FURNESS
On 22nd July 2021, one Mr Kanye West threw a listening party for his latest album, Donda, at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. The rapper wore a skin-colored mask over his entire face, a blood-red Yeezy x Gap get-up (seemingly inspired by cult-classic anime Akira) and a pair of yet-to-be-released adidas Yeezy 1020v boots. The music played, the crowd went wild and millions worldwide streamed the event on Apple Music. And once the event was over, many viewers took to the internet to ask a very unexpected question – Who is Junya Watanabe? Allow us to explain.
One of Donda’s earliest tracks – literally titled Junya (ft. Playboi Carti) – centres around the Japanese designer that West manifestly has a fondness for. Within the track, the rapper seemingly connotes the idea that wearing the luxe label is a symbol of status; only the savviest mondains are in the know about Watanabe.
Here, we provide insight into the designer and his namesake label, and spotlight sought-after Junya Watanabe pieces available on FARFETCH.
Who is Junya Watanabe?
Junya Watanabe is a Japanese fashion designer known for his advanced approach to design and avant-garde aesthetic and for being the protegé of Comme des Garçons founder, Rei Kawakubo.
Born in 1961 in Fukushima, Japan, Watanabe has always pursued a career in fashion. After graduating from Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College in 1984, the aspiring designer was hired as an apprentice pattern-maker at Comme des Garçons. By 1987, Watanabe had cut his teeth and was appointed the chief designer of CDG’s Tricot knitwear line.
During the early 90s – 1992, to be precise – Junya Watanabe decided it was time to set up a namesake label under mentor Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons umbrella. Just one year later, the designer earned critical acclaim after presenting his womenswear collection in Paris.
By the new millennium, Watanabe’s eponymous label was a major player in the womenswear field, and the designer felt it was time to branch out into menswear. Junya Watanabe MAN launched in 2001 under the aforementioned CDG umbrella, and the designer has consistently helmed both brands ever since.
How to Pronounce Junya Watanabe
Junya Watanabe is pronounced ‘joon'ya wa'ta'na'bey’. Junya is a word that roughly translates to ‘pure’ or ‘purity’. Watanabe is the fifth most common surname and translates to ‘ferryside’.
Junya Watanabe is a space for the designer to bring his forward-thinking ideas to life. Unexpected cuts and asymmetrical silhouettes are enhanced with sultry leather, patchwork designs, punchy denim embellishments and other off the wall details and materials. From each season, one can expect edgy aesthetics to amalgamate with the craftsmanship of haute couture.
Junya Watanabe MAN
Junya Watanabe MAN is primarily concerned with creating simple yet intricately detailed apparel that’s smart, functional and timeless. The designer’s 20-year-old label seeks inspiration from different facets of menswear – from traditional military uniforms to late 20th-century workwear – to create pieces to be worn ad infinitum; in short, they’re the kind of garms you’ll be passing down to your children and your children’s children.
Junya Watanabe Collaborations
Junya Watanabe MAN x New Balance
Circa 2019, New Balance made a huge comeback – ever since, the brand has been collaborating with the hottest brands on the planet, including Junya Watanabe MAN. The Junya Watanabe MAN x New Balance collection takes frill-free models from the sneaker brand’s back catalogue and breathes new life into them using premium materials, a suave color palette and text graphics.
Junya Watanabe MAN x Levi’s
Junya Watanabe’s affinity for denim is well documented, thus, the Junya Watanabe MAN x Levi’s collaboration is one of the most organic fashion collabs of the 21st Century. Over the past few years, the Japanese designer has transformed a variety of Levi’s silhouettes into luxe pieces to appeal to his staunch customer base. Key pieces to come from the collab thus far include pairs of patchwork-patterned denim jeans, paint-splattered denim jackets and Southern America-inspired flannel overshirts.
Junya Watanabe MAN x Canada Goose
During the late 2010s, Junya Watanabe teamed up with legendary outwear brand Canada Goose to create a collection of winter-ready coats and jackets. Watanabe took some of the brand’s most popular pieces and added practical adornments and intricate details to create looks that appeal to both brands’ cult followers.
Junya Watanabe MAN x Carhartt
Junya Watanabe MAN is largely concerned with converting classical workwear conventions into contemporary wear; bearing this in mind, it seems fitting for the brand to work alongside stalwart workwear brand Carhartt.
The Junya Watanabe MAN x Carhartt collaboration merges the codes of the two brands to create industrial looks for the modish metropolitan gentleman. Where else could you find a well-groomed wool jacket offset by rough and ready canvas panelling? To our knowledge, nowhere.
Junya Watanabe: Wishlist Pieces
Junya Watanabe Spike-Stud Chain Necklace
The Junya Watanabe spike-stud chain necklace is edgy and rebellious: it’s the perfect accessory for the contemporary glam rocker. Yes, Miley Cyrus, we’re looking at you.
Junya Watanabe Patchwork Straight Leg Jeans
Patchwork jeans are the quintessential Junya Watanabe piece. This pair, in particular, is adorned with three carefully placed patches that add character to the simple silhouette.
Junya Watanabe Sequin-Embellished Shirt Jacket
The Junya Watanabe sequin-embellished shirt jacket makes a case for the ‘more is more’ aphorism. The Japanese designer has revitalized the classic buttoned shirt jacket with black sequin embellishments that adds a touch of glitz to any ensemble.
Junya Watanabe MAN Graphic Print Wool Blazer
Enigmatic prints are of supreme importance to Junya Watanabe and his brands. For example, this graphic print wool blazer from Junya Watanabe MAN is plastered with Basquiat-esque designs that look as though they’ve come straight from the designer’s imagination.
Junya Watanabe MAN Paint Splatter Jeans
Junya Watanabe MAN specializes in creating personality pieces that are conspicuous but never obnoxious – take these paint splatter jeans, for instance. Loose and light in color, these trousers are sure to add a little flavour to your denim collection.
Junya Watanabe MAN Long Sleeve Patchwork Jumper
You simply can’t go wrong with the Junya Watanabe MAN long sleeve patchwork jumper; the 100% wool knit is distinguished by its homestyle patchwork print that’s sure to catch the eye of style mavens – especially CDG superfans.