Leave it to Junya Watanabe to take a generic utility garment—in this case, a chill-blocking down jacket—and elevate it to an incredible level of romantic imagination. "Feathers and air" were in his mind when he began work with the tubular components of a puffer and then started treating it to myriad turns of construction that lifted it far away from its casual origins. It's a Junya-ism to transform almost any material that comes his way into an Edwardian riding coat, but that was just the warm-up. To the strains of arias from Puccini's Madame Butterfly and Tosca, he made concentric circles of padded nylon serially assume the characteristics of Poiret cocoons, cloaks, capes, stoles, peplum jackets, peacoats. After an interlude in which Watanabe gathered in thoughts about draping (a few black asymmetric tunics worn over leggings) and veiled gold lamé, the process took off again as an increasingly free-form exercise in soft sculpture. By the end, gilded chains were encircling the poufy forms, now reconfigured as dresses and wraps.
Still, as ingenious and dramatic as it was, this latest work is only a continuation of Watanabe's signature knack of performing context-shifting tweaks and hybridization procedures on the "found" materials of commonplace clothing—African batiks, denim, Liberty prints, the stuff of military uniforms, and Chanel-ish tweeds, to list only a few. In one way, it always gives the sense of watching a master class in conceptual Japanese thinking, but in another, it's better than that. Watanabe's real talent is his humility. He never allows himself to run so far into the outer reaches of theory that the practical value of the original article is lost. In this collection, suffice to say, there are warm winter coats that are just warm winter coats, and those will sell as functional classics.