Junya Watanabe AW16 show report Paris Menswear

Solar panels in superb coats made for a stand-out collection
© Catwalking

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Sometimes a collection deserves individual attention. For Autumn/Winter 16, Junya Watanabe showed some exceptional work, both for the cut and style of the clothes, but more importantly how they could improve the life of their wearer. Many of his slick tailored coats and backpacks came with solar panels.

Two weeks deep into the menswear season, and finally someone is thinking of real life. All this wasteful use of materials for the catwalk; the sets that get built then discarded; the fuel to transport the audience from show to show, city to city. When these shows are then of poor quality, as is so often the case, it’s also a waste of everyone’s time. What made Watanabe’s enlightened action all the more pleasing was its light, intuitive touch.

Here was a great take of the slick city coat look which has become the main story of the season. There was also neat tailoring, worn with shirt and no tie. The effect was crisp and young, with the added functional details the Watanabe customer craves. Prime of these were the solar panels, which at first looked like modernising decoration, appearing as a trim on the bottom of a black coat, or in a sleeve on the back of tailored coats.

The show started at just after 10.30am. My phone had charged to 100% overnight, but was already down to 31%. In my backpack, there are always two battery packs. It’s a drag. Backstage after the show, Watanabe got a panelled camel coat from the rail. “It was a little hard to figure out the best way for this to look cool on the coats,” he said through a member of his design team who was acting as interpreter. She then spoke of Watanabe in the third person. “If you just put the panel on the back it doesn’t look so chic or cool. He realised he wanted to make a case for the panel, and then attach it to the back of the coat.”

The panel is detachable, with a black wire that goes through a plastic eyelet into the coat itself. The battery pack is in a pocket on the sleeves, and takes five hours to charge. Aside from its obvious benefits, here the differing wings of design were married; a functional solution for an everyday problem with an unsurpassed aesthetic. Hopefully this will be more than a catwalk one-off for Wanatabe, and that solar panels in clothing will become as natural and expected as other functional details like buttons, pockets etc.

Watanabe had other things to talk about. He was very proud of a new collaboration with German shoe brand Heinrich Dinkelacker. Not really known in fashion circles, their business was founded on the footwear needs of German businessmen. Watanabe was drawn to the shoes’ simple rounded form, which he hadn’t altered in this collaboration — just choosing the leathers. He was wearing a pair backstage, and took them off so they could be appreciated. As with his solar panels, it was great to see a man who cares so passionately about what he produces. Here in Paris, he presented one of the shows of the season, and a high point in his career.

For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page on FT.com

Photograph: Catwalking.com

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