Fashion: green sleeves

Deep in the forest something is stirring ... it's a coat by Japanese designer Junya Watanabe. Photographs by Jasper James

When Rei Kawakubo of the influential Japanese label Comme des Garcons launched her ex-design assistant Junya Watanabe on an unsuspecting fashion world in 1993, people didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "The lunatics are taking over the asylum," screamed the soundtrack at his first show in Paris; and the clothes were a mix of ballgowns made out of old sweatshirts sewn together and football strips and shirt dresses that looked like they were being worn back-to- front or upside-down. After the show, I was whisked off to meet the designer, expecting to see some young kid straight out of school with lots of piercings and ripped denim. Fashion's latest rebel, however, turned out to be a very earnest and polite, not-so-young Japanese man dressed in a severe black suit. He bowed and I didn't know quite what to say.

The following season, he reinvented his collection with a mish-mash of acid-bright colours and clashing prints. The fashion pack, who hadn't been quite sure after the first collection, declared him a star. The clothes began to appear in shops such as Liberty in London, and their strangeness was their selling point. The only problem was the price. They were (and still are) ridiculously expensive. But the price you pay for experimental fashion is always high.

Five years on, Junya Watanabe's latest collection is a musing on a length of wire. He threaded lengths of fabric on to spirals of coathanger wire and produced a whole new silhouette. Pretentious codswallop, you might say, but this sort of thing has a habit of catching on several seasons down the line. His organic shapes and forms are strangely beautiful and - a rare thing in the fashion business - original, too. Here, his clothes work in gentle harmony with those of his backer and mentor, Rei Kawakubo. People laughed at her designs once, too. Tamsin Blanchard

This page Khaki ruffle collar, pounds 1,250, khaki wool skirt, pounds 220, black lace-up shoes, pounds 280, all by Junya Watanabe, from Comme des Garcons, 59 Brook Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-493 1258; and Liberty, Regent Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-734 1234.

Opposite page Khaki wool cape dress, pounds 650, by Junya Watanabe, as before

This page khaki and beige wool/cotton mix coat, pounds 985, blue polyvinyl chloride shoes, pounds 130, both Comme des Garcons, as before, also available from Pollyanna, 16 Market Hill, Barnsley, enquiries 01226 291 665.

Opposite page khaki wool sweater, pounds 440, khaki wool pleated skirt, pounds 480, black lace-up shoes, pounds 280, all Junya Watanabe, as before, grey wool/nylon socks, pounds 18, Comme des Garcons, as before.

Stylist Georgina Cortina

Make-up Ashley Ward for Trish McCoy

Hair Marcelino for the John Frieda Salon

Model Hanli at Women

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