Junya Watanabe was born in Fukushima, Japan in 1961. Watanabe graduated from Bunka Fashion College, Tokyo, in 1984. He began his career by working for Rei Kawakubo, owner, founder, and designer at Comme des Garçons, as a pattern maker for their knitwear line Tricot. Watanabe became design director of Tricot in 1987. Kawakubo later offered Watanabe financial backing to produce his own line, the Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons women’s collection, affording him creative independence. Watanabe presented his first collection in Tokyo in 1992, followed by a showing at Paris Fashion Week in 1993.
Watanabe released a menswear line in 2002. He has collaborated with numerous brands, including Ben Sherman, Brooks Brothers, Carhartt, Converse, Hawaiian Moon, Levi’s jeans, Loewe, Moncler, and Nike. Watanabe’s collection is sold in Comme des Garçons stores as well as its own freestanding stores, and by specialty retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, Selfridges in London, and 10 Corso Como in Italy.
Watanabe identities Rei Kawakubo as his mentor and acknowledges her great influence on his designs. It has been said that Watanabe offers less controversial designs than Kawakubo, and also interacts with the current fashion zeitgeist more greatly than his mentor. Watanabe prefers to be inspired by materiality, rather than working from a concept. The designer often experiments with textiles: laminating polyurethane on nylon tricot fabric to reproduce the look of cellophane for his fall/winter collection of 1995–1996, or creating waterproof evening gowns for his spring/summer show of 2000. He is known for employing masterful draping and cutting techniques and for designing almost paradoxical dresses that are seemingly simple in form though complex in construction.
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