Sunday, June 28, 2015

BEAUTY: Clothing--Junya Watanabe

Junya Watanabe's Spring Summer '16 collection at Paris Fashion Week was a tiny bit controversial. Watanabe has been partial to the idea of patchwork for quite a while, showing collections based on Depression-era suits and pants that have been patched, the traditional Japanese patchwork method called boro which is associated with peasants, and general patched-up workwear. So his current collection is true to form in that respect.

The controversy came from his choice of materials: he collaborated with Vlisco, the Dutch company that has been the major supplier of fabric to West and Central Africa since the mid-19th century. Because the fabric patterns are not authentically African, as are indigenous fabrics like kente, kuba or mud cloth (also called bògòlanfini: bow-hoe-lan-FEE-nee), Vlisco is perceived as being complicit in the oppressive Colonial cultures that ravaged Africa.

But I don't think Watanabe's intent was to invoke contentious politics at all. His use of patchwork is not limited to just the physical...the spirit of his clothing, and in a broader sense, the spirit of fashion itself is a synthesis of cultures, styles, shapes, and colors into something new and beautiful. And even though originally Vlisco fabrics arrived in Africa from Europe, it is argued that they eventually came to be associated with African style. It reminds me of other artists who have been inspired by an admired aboriginal style (whether visual, musical, or literary for example) only to be criticized for "appropriating Native culture." While this could be true of certain businesses and corporations, I find it is rarely true of artists who are drawn to elements of a Native culture and who wish to participate in it somehow because they find in it an artistic or even spiritual value.

Now that we have come full circle with that line of thought, I will say the colorful sarong-like wraps, ponchos, and scarves are all quite beautiful. It feels like a marriage of Watanabe and an element of African culture.

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