Designers seem to be less looking and more scurrying back to the fifties for inspiration for Autumn/Winter 2011. Who knows why - one of those collective, oddball moments where half-a-dozen designers the world over share the same inspirational image thumbtacked to their mood board (or possible just share the same influential stylist?). Junya Watanabe is the last person you'd expect to be plugged into that kind of stylistic current, but unlike his mentor Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanbe's ideas often intersect with those of the wider fashion community.
What's always interesting is the spin Watanabe gives to that idea - and, in fact, he's at his most skilful when expounding on a single theme and making it his own, and bizarrely, it only adds impact if you've seen it a few dozen times already. That fifties silhouette is an example - unlike so many others, Watanabe looked not only to the salon but to the street, collided couture with cuir and gave us his own take on the fifties lady, by way of the street. That was, of course, an idea Yves Saint Laurent explored in his 1960 'Beat' collection for Dior. And Dior has been on everyone's mind of late, so there's no way Watanabe was immune.
Watanabe's opening number was a dead-ringer for Dior's 1947 classic 'le Bar'. That Seine-side shot by Willy Maywald of an impossibly-elegant mannequin in knife-pleat skirt and jut-peplum jacket is one of the most indelible icons of twentieth-century fashion. Watanabe was ready to give it a run for the money, with curvy new-look takes on the Perfecto belling over A-line skirts and tights, sometimes over high-waisted leather trousers cut snug against the leg. The moulding of leather into those extreme, sculpted shapes was masterful - obviously labour-intensive, but never laboured, with an odd elegance that managed to look both classic and contemporary.
Moving away from the jacket, Watanabe also experimented with wrapping scarf-like pieces of leather around the neck, draped against the body like silk - and in a direct inversion, he cut a couple of biker jackets from crepe, elongated them into a dress and bound only the collar and cuffs in calfskin. They had the edge of the rocker but the refinement of a Chanel suit. Fundamentally, they also had humour without falling into gag.