Junya Watanabe: A delicate subject

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

He is not the only designer to use lace this spring – but his modern take defies expectations, says Susannah Frankel

The fact that haute couture – from fabric and trim to fabrication – is the single most prevalent reference of the spring season might seem somewhat perverse given the economic climate. This, after all, is fashion at its most elevated – and, it almost goes without saying, expensive – for which each and every garment is hand-cut, sewn, embroidered, over-embroidered then hand-fitted to suit madam's every curve.

The simplest piece may cost upwards of £10,000. For more elaborate designs, meanwhile, the sky's the limit. And who, in their right mind, and in this day and age, is prepared to invest in that? On the other hand, one might not unreasonably argue that, given the circumstances, such attention to detail is just the thing the discerning fashion follower is looking for: garments that can be worn and loved season after season, year in year out, and then passed down to a daughter or grand-daughter like a fashion heirloom.

Haute couture equals quality, the story goes, and there is no arguing with that, which is why, presumably, so many ready-to-wear designers have turned to it for inspiration. Despite the fact that their fashions are for the most part machine-made, the spirit of hand-craftsmanship has been reinvigorated and, in at least some cases, the finishing touches executed by hand.

Junya Watanabe's treatment of lace – the most classic and resonant of all the haute couture fabrics – is far from predictable or banal. Lace, of course, carries with it a symbolism that is unparalleled – lace for christenings, lace for weddings, funereal black lace. It is an important addition, then, to any woman's wardrobe and even life.

Conventionally, however, lace is frilled and stereotypically feminine, sewn in delicate pale colours and fit for a fairytale princess. Watanabe is not one for conservative treatments of heritage clothing. In fact, if there is a single unifying feature to his brilliantly diverse body of work it is his combination of a profound respect for timeless fashions coupled with an inventiveness, imagination and technical expertise that is second to none.

The designer has in the past applied this to everything from tartans, tweeds and bouclé wool – another haute couture stalwart, incidentally, thanks to Gabrielle ("Coco") Chanel. He has worked frequently with denim – patch-worked, fused with vibrant African inspired prints – and collaborated with Levi's, in the first instance, to make jeans under a joint imprint and now under his own name.

In Watanabe's hands, the trench coat becomes a thing of great beauty and any trace of fustiness is overthrown. As for Savile Row inspired suiting... Suffice it to say that Watanabe is probably the most inspiring tailor of the ear – particularly where taking menswear and adapting it to fit the female form is concerned.

Watanabe's lace dresses are cut in the type of slightly stiffened and proudly acrylic threads that is also an integral part of his handwriting, and that would doubtless make the lacemakers at Chantilly, say, drop their thimbles in horror. For the most part following a sportswear-inspired line, with not a flounce or furbelow to be seen, in some instances black opaque panels and more intricate patterns make an appearance, although there is nothing trussed-up or old-fashioned to be seen.

This is lace, then, that retains all the sweet romance of the original but with a freshness and ease that is all new. It has also been vibrantly recoloured: there's not a cliched Miss Havisham shade of ivory or cream to be seen. Instead, choose from gunmetal grey, leaf green and rose and, pictured here, very slightly hyped-up violet, lilac and candyfloss.

The woman who wears these clothes won't be accessorising her lace dress with talon heels. That would be too obvious – too jolie madame – by far. Watanabe's signature take on footwear is, almost invariably, studiously heavy and flat, and this season's robust handling of the archetypal schoolgirl Mary Jane is no exception. Under-cutting any trace of woman as trophy still further, meanwhile, the powers that be at Junya Watanabe insist that all dresses be photographed with accompanying and decidedly demure cotton slips worn beneath them. No flashing of flesh required.

While other designers' takes on lace have been less extreme, and simpler to boot, Miuccia Prada's ultra-cute A-line dresses for Miu Miu are similarly stiff – even stiffer – and cast in strong block hues not normally associated with the fabric – plum and tomato layered over pale yellow and beige included. For Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs' lace designs are more retro in their unabashed pastel coloured prettiness and the attention to embroideries and finish are nothing short of extraordinary. Given that this remains the wealthiest designer brand of the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) stable, Jacobs has all the skills of the Paris ateliers which execute haute couture proper at his fingertips and that shows.

There is, by contrast, a slightly distressed look to Peter Copping's patch-worked treatment of lace at Nina Ricci, which embraces the haute couture tradition wholeheartedly while subtly subverting it. Finally, the great Roman couturier, Valentino Garavani, was always a lace lover par excellence and throughout his long and grand career was known for his relatively restrained handling of this delicately beautiful material. His successors – Pier Paolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri – are similarly enamoured but there is a clean-cut modernity to their no-frills variation on an age-old theme that will suit a younger customer in search of some of the most exclusive ready-to-wear available down to the ground.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Operations / Transport & Logistics Assistant

    £16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This highly regarded industry l...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Team Leader

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for a Compa...

    Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an innovative a...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower