Junya Watanabe On My Wrist – Kanye West’s Love of The Japanese Fashion Designer

When Kanye West, somewhat cryptically, sang “Junya Watanabe on my wrii” much of the internet, a word here used to describe, “the earth”, collectively asked the “what-the-hell-on my wha?” 

So I thought it might be fun to take a look at the connection between Junya Watanabe and Kanye West, as referenced on both “Junya” and “Junya Pt.2” the Donda album.

Junya Watanabe on my wri’, wri’

Junya Watanabe on my wri’, wri’

Tell ’em this, did he miss?

Junya Watanabe on my, mmh

I can’t really see, where did I miss? (Mmh, mmh)

Who is Junya Watanabe?

Watanabe is a fashion disruptor. He is a creator of clothing so functional it actually appears quite radical.

In his work with Japanese fashion label Commes Des Garcons he has consistently taken what he refers to as “dumb clothes”, think denim jackets, trench coats, t-shirts, and found ways to reinvent them in ways that are at once counterintuitive, but logical.

Born 1961, he attended the prestigious Bunka Fashion College where he graduated in 1984. At 23, he got an entry level job at Commes Des Garcons. 

Early on he was influenced by Pierre Cardin and Issey Miyake. Commes founder Rei Kawakubo spotted him early as having potential. 

Watanabe did so well for the fashion brand that he was able to launch his own Junya Wanabe line, under the umbrella of Commes, in 1992. Initially focused on womenswear, his materials reflected the zeitgeist of the time with flannel, tweed and plaid.

Tellingly, and amusingly in the way out world of fashion, his breakout collection in 2000 was called “Function and Practicality.” 

Indeed, in his work, fashion didn’t so much meet function as tackle it head long into the dirt. What on the surface level was easily recognisable became reversible, waterproof, recombined. 

His aesthetic was undeniable. In 2001, he was appointed designer for Comme des Garçons Homme. He debuted his men’s line. He expounded upon his themes of delivering everyday stuff with contortion. 

Examples of Junya Watanbe’s streetwear inspired clothing

We’ve also written about Junya Watanabe as part of our article on Japanese Minimalist Fashion.

How Kanye wanted something to compete with Drake’s insanely expensive Patek watch

In 2020, Drake rapped a line “Vigil got that Patek on my wrist goin’ nuts” on his track “Life Is Good”.  Sounds pretty close to Kanye’s “Junya Watanabe on my wri” right?

The Drake line is in reference to a customized version of a Patek Philippe watch that Drake had made. Not content with the Patek watches, which have a starting price in the mid $100,000s , Drake ordered his custom timepiece to be pimped out by Virgil Abloh.

And how does a trillionaire pop-icon pimp out an already exclusively priced watch? Well, by caking it in emeralds of course!

What Drakes hotted up Nautilus 5726 is worth is open to conjecture, but it is safe to assume it would have had a price tag in the millions.

So what do Drake’s watches, and his references to them, have to do with Kanye?

Well if we look at the line that follows Drake’s Patek reference in “Life is Good” we see.

“Virgil got a Patek on my wrist goin’ nuts

N****s caught me slippin once, okay so what?”

This line is a reference to a beef between Kanye and Pusha-T. Pusha and Kanye had together leaked to the world the news that Drake had a son. That’s some pretty personal info to be revealing about another person right? 

Drake was dissing Kanye saying “you may have got me with that prank, but who’s got the priceless emerald watch on his wrist now, eh?”

The deep, and deeply petty, rabbit hole of the Drake – Kanye rivalry

Now, there is a long and ongoing history here of Drake and Kanye dissing, dummy-spitting and sniping at each other here that you could go deep into if you wanted. But you come out pretty dirty when you do. The feud goes back to 2006 when Lil Wayne featured on the cover of Vibe Magazinedressed in popular Japanese streetwear brand A Bathing Ape

Pusha-T & brother Pharrel take offence because they felt A Bathing Ape was somehow “their” brand eg. they had worn it around a lot.
As a result, they released the diss song “Mr. Me Too.” This featured the watch-referencing line

“Wanna know the time? Better clock us  N**** as bite the style from the shoes to the watches,”

Lil Wayne went on to sign Drake to his music label. Almost in the way of a family feud, Drake went on to adopt the old fashioned beef with the Pusha-T crew as his own. 

Drake’s other watch-diss references

Drake also flexes on his early 2021 track “What’s Next” by saying,

“I got one, Virgil got one, and that there is the only two

Man, how many times have I shown improvement?”

This is also a reference to the emerald Nautilus 5726. He’s really emphasising that it’s only Drake and Virgil that have these watches. And not Kanye. 

This is all the more insulting to Kanye because Virgil and Kanye go back a long way.

Virgil and Kanye were friends in Chicago in the early days of their career, back before their respective careers had taken off. 

Over time Kanye and Virgil have drifted apart. During the same time, Virgil and Drake have become closer.

So the Nautilus watch, and Kanye’s reference to having “Junya Watanabe on his wrist” are ways of the two cultural icons of saying something like, 

“Oh, Virgil is my friend. No he’s mine. Well actually he made this watch for me, and he didn’t make it for you. And actually it’s the most expensive watch you could ever really imagine. But really it’s not about the watch, it’s about the fact that that guy that used to be your friend a long time ago is now my friend, and he is in my crew now. So there.”

Pretty mature right? But then, also, not without poeticism in it’s own weird way.

How did a Japanese designer become the symbol of cultural status in mainstream American in 2021?

Watanabe’s obsession with reinterpreting the everyday fitted in well with the rise of functional street wear to the level of high fashion. It also coincided with the rise of consumeristic content in street culture and music more generally. Hip hop went from being songs of the ghetto to songs of luxury and conspicuous consumption. 

All of a sudden you didn’t just want a baseball cap, you wanted a baseball lined with 24 carat gold. You wanted street cred, but you also wanted old world European prestige. You wanted high top kick boots, but they had to be the boots that no one else could buy, more expensive, more exotic, more out of reach.

Junya’s work was the ultimate mix of function, prestige and exoticism.

We’ve also written about Junya Watanabe as part of our article on Japanese Minimalist Fashion.

This in depth article from Grailed gives a lot more info on Junya if you want to go down the rabbit hole.

Where are Junya Watanabe fashion items sold?

Junya’s clothing is available for purchase from high-end retailers including Ssense’s Junya Watanabe men’s page or Junya Watanabe women’s page

Who are Commes Des Garcons?

Commes Des Garcons are one of the most recognizable Japanese fashion brands in the world today. They were started as a label in 1968 by Rei Kawakubo, originally as a women’s only high-fashion brand. Today, they are perhaps more well known for their streetwear t-shirts and jackets as worn by major American celebrities such as Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and many others.

They are one of the few Japanese brands to truly run the gamut of fashion genres from high fashion to urban clothing.

This video gives a pretty good overview of the company.

So is there a Junya Watanabe Watch?

So let’s assume that “Junya Watanabe on my wrii” means “(I’ve been wearing) Junya Watanabe on my wrist”. This has led to many people assuming that Kanye must wear Junya Watanabe watches. Junya Watanabe doesn’t have any commercially available watches bearing his name. There are rumors that Kanye is referencing an as-yet unreleased Junya Watanabe line timepiece.

Junya Watanabe does, however, already make various trendy wristwear. We would refer to them as bracelets, but then Ye would need to change the words to the song.

There are Junya wristwear in leather:

And Junya wrist wear in metal:

I couldn’t find any specific evidence of Kanye wearing Junya Watanabe wrist-wear, although there is evidence of him wearing “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets.

The reference to “Junya Watanabe on my wrii” as being about watches is strengthened by the lyric later in the song where Kanye says

God’s time can’t fit on a wrist

Amen to that.

Meaning of the Song Junya?

The song Junya is an intriguing mix of religion, braggadocio and consumerism. To paraphrase the overall vibe, it has Kanye saying “Look at me, I’ve got expensive accessories on my arms, from sophisticated artisan designers. I am chosen by God to be the leader of man”. In this way, the sentiment comes across as almost messianic.

Kanye is singing both personally to his mother:

This on Donda (Mmh, mmh), on my mama (Mmh, mmh)

Made a promise (Mmh)

and collectively to the world:

Tell ’em this, did he miss?

Even after 10 studio albums, he sounds like a man with something to prove, with a chip on his shoulder, goading both the world, and his own kin, daring people to tell him that he “has missed” in life. The argument seems to be “I’m not a loser, I’ve got a nice watch that nobody else has”. Taken in isolation, it’s a line that is so superficial that it hurts.

But taken in the context of a song that is backed by a righteous religious ferocity, in a social climate that exults the pursuit of status through consumerism and Christianity, the line has impact.

He goes on to further mix worldly, and spiritual achievement:

I won with the bucks, boy
Let me Giannis (Mmh, mmh)
I won with the bucks, boy (Mm, mm)
The spirit is on us (Mmh, mmh)
The spirit of Donda

Here Kanye delivers a clever play on words in a double meaning with “I won with the bucks” which means both that he has more money than everyone else, and that he did it like the champion Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.

But Kanye’s worldly success is not luck. The song says that his fortune was divinely preordained, that he, and his blood, are chosen with “the spirit on us, the spirit of Donda” – Kanye’s deceased mother.

He goes a step further than seizing the credit for his success. He sticks the boot into those beneath him on the social ladder.

Why can’t losers never lose in peace? (Yeah, yeah, watch it)
Ain’t nobody ’round me losing sleep

The witty play on words in “Yeah, yeah, watch it” aside, this highlights the darker implications of the neo-American ideals of self-determination and faith. If anyone can achieve anything, then the losers deserve everything they get. Or rather, failed to achieve. It is their fault.

A contradiction comes into play here when we place this beside the idea of success as being something ordained from on high. If God chose to make Kanye the king of the world, then God must also have chosen to make Everyday Joe the shitkicker. God made the losers lose.

It’s a mysterious mix of belief in self-determinism and destiny.

Strangely, Kanye chooses not to sympathise with “the loser’s” plight, seemingly pre-ordained, but tells them they should stay quiet, not complain, know their place. Such is the face of modern Christianity, fueled by love wealth, prestige and a contradictory belief in the self-made-man.

“Tell the Devil good night, go to sleep” indeed.

We’ve also written about Junya Watanabe New Balance sneakers here and Junya Watanabe denim skirts here.

Photos of Kanye wearing Junya Watanabe and Commes Des Garcons clothing

There are no shortage of pics of Kanye publicly displaying his love Junya and Commes clothing. Here are some of the shots of him taking his high streetwear, well, to the street.

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