From Tokyo, Junya Watanabe treated the internet to gilded draping, filmy fabrics, disrupted tailoring—and to printed collaborations with Japanese, Chinese, Nepalese, and Thai contemporary artists in Asia and around the world.
He called it “Eastern Reminiscence,” his term for his reminiscences of pre-pandemic travel. Looking through a collection of photojournalism that Jamie Hawkesworth, the British photographer captured in 2019 in Bhutan, India, and Kashmir, Watanabe “became nostalgic for Asia” and “the pure heart of people” he saw there.
One of the positive effects of working from home has been the enhanced appreciation of everything and everybody nearest to us. Watanabe’s collection seemed to spring from his emotional response to that.
While completely true to the inimitable modernist-street-romantic style that the West has embraced for so long, this was a subtle refocusing of Watanabe’s perspective on the consciousness of cross-cultural arts and traditions that belong to Asia in camaraderie with like-minded people who work in the same way.
It was all there to read in the intersections of his gently-elegant folds, layers of glimmering asymmetric drapery, brocades and the fragments of biker jackets, kilts, and men’s tailored jackets. First up: a white dress printed with a skull artwork—part punk, part Chinese porcelain—by the Chinese artist Jacky Tsai, based in London.
Watanabe had Japanese heroes working with him too: black-on-flesh-colored patterns in semi-translucent dresses almost as fine as second-skins were by the tattoo artist Nissaco, renowned for his geometric work. A dress with a psychedelic artwork of goldfish and stylized women’s heads came from a 1975 animation by Keiichi Tanaami, the legendary pop artist who has been working his hallucinatory visions since the ’60s.
Powerful hand-drawn black calligraphy by Wang Dongling, director of the Modern Calligraphy Study Center at the China National Academy of Arts, scrolled a Tang Dynasty poem over white dresses.
Ang Tsherin Sherpa, a Tibetan artist based in California, creator of modern artworks based on traditional Tibetan thangka iconography, collaborated in orange-blue-green grid patterns sliding sideways over a draped dress.
A vivid orange smock emblazoned with flowers and a painted dragon is a Thai fantasia dreamed up for Watanabe by the Bangkok-based illustrator Phannapast Taychamaythakool.
It’s obvious how much mutual respect Watanabe enjoys with his creative peers who are all exploring traditions and crafts in free-wheeling, sometimes surreal parallel. In the end, did his whole fantastically textured metallic series of evening pieces relate to Jamie Hawkesworth’s photographs of golden female temple deities? Not literally.
Maybe not at all. But, even with the limitations of digital imagery to go on, it all looked like Junya Watanabe’s most inspired collection for a long time.