Junya Watanabe (born Tokyo, 1961) is the much-feted protege of Rei Kawakubo. Graduating from Bunka Fashion College in 1984, he immediately joined Comme des Gargons as a pattern-cutter. By 1987 he was designing their Tricot line. He presented his first solo collection in 1992 at the Tokyo collections; a year later, he showed at Paris Fashion Week. (Although designing under his own name, he is still employed by Comme des Garcons, who fund and produce the collections.)
Despite an obvious debt to Rei Kawakubo in his work, Watanabe still stands apart from his mentor and friend with a vision that is indisputably his own. He has often used technical or functional fabrics, creating clothes that still retain a sense of calm and femininity. This was displayed most explicitly at his autumn/winter 1999 show, where the catwalk was under a constant shower of water: rain seemed to splash off the outfits, which were created in fabric by the Japanese company Toray, who develop materials for extreme conditions.
Despite the wealth of creativity on display, Watanabe's clothes were a response to more fundamental issues: a practical answer to conditions and lifestyles. In contrast to this, Watanabe's designs are also an exercise in sensitivity and, through his remarkably complex pattern-cutting, his sculptural clothing presents a virtually unrivalled delicacy.
In 2001, Watanabe presented his first menswear collection in Paris, Today, he is one of the most celebrated designers in Paris fashion.