It is difficult to get coherent messages from the fashion industry: one day they tell you streetwear is hyper trendy, the next reports advise that tailored moods and refined elegance are back in fashion. Yet there are designers who don't seem to be troubled by this dichotomy, among them there's also Junya Watanabe.
The Japanese designer moved from duality for his S/S 19 collection, showcased during Paris Fashion Week. While for most fashion designers duality means walking the fine line between masculine and feminine codes, Watanabe kept those firmly in mind, but decided to play more with everyday streetwear codes and Haute Couture, while working with the precision of a tailor and the meticulousness of a surgeon.
He moved therefore from a rather ordinary material - denim, a fabric he also used in his A/W 2013 and S/S 2009 collections - but this time he proceeded to cut and rip it into bits and pieces, only to recombine the various parts in new and more exciting configurations.
The opening dresses and trench coats were made with square, rectangle and irregularly shaped denim patches at times decorated with lace inserts in multiple shades of blue – from faded and bleached to deep indigo.
Little by little the construction became more complicated: Watanabe started dissecting, shredding and reassembling materials combining streetwear and utilitarian moods with high fashion.
Constructions became intricately ingenious, the legs of denim trousers were for example dismembered and recombined into a trumpet skirt supported by a full underskirt in fluffy white tulle.
Duality became a stronger theme: one design featured a crinoline evening dress on the front that revealed denim trousers on the back; overalls were split, spliced and restiched together with frocks in a Frankenstein-like exercise.
In other cases a denim dress was recombined with a cotton one or a white satin ballgown from the '50s was attached to regular jeans, while a denim skirt with white tulle at the hem revealed itself as an apron matched with a pair of jeans.
Quite often the rules of Haute Couture were subverted in favour of experimental tailoring and the familiar was transformed into the unfamiliar punking up shapes reminiscent of Dior's New Look.
Watanabe played well with history as some of his patterns were clearly borrowed from different eras with a damasked denim reinterpreting the Renaissance from the point of view of workwear. At the same time the designer featured in this collection quintessentially Japanese crafts and techniques or historical garments such as cotton rag kimonos from the Meiji period in indigo blue.
Styling also revolved around the dual theme: the most elaborate looks such as mermaid denim dresses were matched with plain T-shirts or with tattoo covered nude body suits and the accessories pointed at dichotomies with vibrantly coloured wigs divided in two halves and footwear including Buffalo Boots with massive platforms or more comfortable Reebok sneakers.
The mood was punk and aggressive but sweet and romantic at the same time as proved also by the the frothy skirts matched with tour shirts of French neo-rock band Strike Back. The first khaki looks were maybe less intriguing, but when they were recombined with floral patterned pleated uniform-like skirts they provided the designer with more experimental ideas.
As a whole the collection was youthful yet mature, it retained indeed the joyful happiness of girls playing at being tomboys and the maturity of women looking for quirky frocks, but the best thing about it was that the designs revolved around the glossary of pattern making.
The runway looks will obviously be turned into their more wearable variations once the designs arrive in the stores, but Watanabe's experiments aimed at expressing "the romantic feeling in rock," as the show notes stated, can be considered as great inspirations in construction and in upcycling as well.
It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of jeans, which naturally means that upcycling denim garments would be a great option. Some ideas came out on the New York Fashion Week runways, but Junya Watanabe took the concept to a higher level. There's no reason why consumers with a passion for DIY shouldn't try and reproduce his experiments at home as well, maybe readapting and reinventing some of his looks.