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.

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
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

    English Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + Pay between ?110 - ?130 Day: Randstad Education Cardiff:...

    SAP Deployment Manager

    £480 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Deployment Manager-Ta...

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

    Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game