Junya Watanabe’s strength is in the relentless reiteration of a single notion or motif, stuttering through synonyms for a particular term in fashion’s vocabulary. It’s an idea he often turns to in his shows—taking an archetypal item or technique, and then exhausting it. Minimum input, maximum impact. So it was interesting when he said that his Fall 2016 collection was about what to wear outside. “This is not a deeper remark on the elements or state of dressing,” Watanabe stated.
What it was, rather, was an exploration of men’s coating and tailoring, spinning the simple notion through a multiplicity of fabrications, interpretations, and conjugations. Suits were tightly packed against the body, cut slender and minimally detailed; there was a skinny mood of mod precision, underscored by the models’ graphic bowl cuts and often underpinned by skinny cropped-ankle trousers. (Granted, Watanabe did wide, too.) But the coat, here, was king. If you’re looking for a perfect update of any classic style you can tug from the dictionary of fashion, Watanabe’s your go-to.
As these were clothes for the outside, Watanabe bonded and coated the fabrics to protect his wearers against the elements, retaining heat and resisting water. A bunch of the techniques came from the military, but it was the practical ethos rather than anything aggressive or armed that drew them to Watanabe’s attention. Likewise the inclusion of solar panels in many of the garments, plasticized strips whose purpose was betrayed only by snaking wires coiling into the garment they were attached to—clipped into the back of a tailored Crombie, beneath a storm flap, or patched into the chest of a reefer coat.
You hope those styles can be commercialized, with circuitry included: It’s a smart, unobtrusive idea that, despite Watanabe’s assertion, feels like it connects to the way people want to live today. Namely, like super-speed snails—moving fast but carrying pretty much everything you need on your back. These were predominantly utilitarian garments, peppered with pockets ripe for stuffing with gratuitous gewgaws, in hardy, hard-wearing tweeds and wools; the solar panels added an extra level of use. They not only keep you warm, they’ll charge your phone. How clever.
They were clever because they were, at base, basic. Everyone needs a coat—especially in the current bitter snap of cold engulfing the Northern Hemisphere. (Crude oil prices have risen 5 percent this week as a result of the heating demands.) Watanabe often offers a compartmentalized wardrobe for his man this season: Alongside collaborations with Tricker’s (which makes his great brogues) and Levi’s (which makes his great jeans), he worked on a range of heavy, hardy shoes with Heinrich Dinkelacker. The coats, though, were all Watanabe’s own.
Some designers take tackling those meat and potatoes of dressing as an excuse for slacking off, producing commercial but creatively anodyne basics. Not Watanabe. After all, isn’t steak and frites just meat and potatoes, except more expertly handled, served up better?