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Paris Fashion Week: At Junya Watanabe, painting with scissors

Looks from the Junya Watanabe show at Paris Fashion Week.
(Zacharie Scheurer / Associated Press)

‎I’m not sure what inspired Junya Watanabe’s collection, shown Saturday morning under the graffiti-covered docks on the Seine. But what I thought of when I saw the lyrical parade of collaged shapes and eye-popping colors was Henri Matisse’s paper cut-outs, which were celebrated with a recent exhibition at the Tate in London, “Matisse: The Cut-Outs,” which has now moved to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

In the 1940s, after being diagnosed with cancer and confined to a wheelchair, Matisse turned almost exclusively to paper,‎ inaugurating one of the most creative periods of his career. And interestingly, it was his heritage (he was descended from generations of textile weavers, and he grew up in a historic center of textile production in France, Bohain-en-Vermandois) where he learned to cut, use pins, paper patterns and scissors. Matisse described what he accomplished with paper cut-outs -- including such famous works as the monumental “Swimming Pool” -- as “painting with scissors,” and that is certainly what Watanabe did with this collection.

The look: Models wore space agey-looking plastic helmets, as if they were time traveling to the past, the future, or maybe the second dimension on a flat piece of paper. They appeared in a succession of looks, starting with crude black assemblages of shapes, both shiny and matte. Then, all at once, color came into play on plastic fantastic tops and raincoats worn over shorts. The surface textures of some pieces became increasingly elaborately folded, until out came a sunshine yellow dress made of egg carton-like folds. The shapes flattened, softened and eventually approximated something more conventionally wearable, namely striped T-shirts with stiff vinyl half moon-shaped cut-outs over the sleeves, and dresses and skirts in jazzy-looking geometric prints.

The verdict: Pure joy. If only more people could see Watanabe’s creativity in motion on the runway. By the end, you can’t help but want a souvenir, which is really the point.

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