FOUNDER, COMME DES GARÇONS
“Fashion’s most celebrated contrarian has attracted a global cult following for her spirited belief in unadulterated creation.”
Although Rei Kawakubo is an untrained fashion designer she actually studied fine arts and literature at Keio University. After she graduated she worked in a textile company and moved on to being a freelance stylist in 1967.
After establishing her own company Comme des Garcons Co. Ltd in Tokyo in 1973 which now turns over $220 million a year, she opened her first boutique of women’s clothes there in 1975. In 1978 Kawakubo added a men’s line. Just three short years later she began presenting her fashion lines every season in Paris and in1982 opened a boutique there as well.
Her aesthetic specialises in anti-Fashion, austere and sometimes deconstructed garments. Throughout the 80’s Kawakubo’s garments were predominantly black, white or dark grey and the material was often frayed with raw, frayed edges with holes, draped around the body in a general asymmetrical shape. Kawakubo challenged the stereotypical notions of beauty by creating an uproar at her debut fashion show in Paris where critics and journalists called her clothes ‘Hiroshima Chic’. Her colour palette has changed a little since the 80’s.
“With ‘as never seen before’ silhouettes – shapeless shapes for her simplistic tent-like shrouds poised in black austerity, her clothes are never about accentuating or revealing the body, but allowing the wearer to be who they are.”
She always un-prettified her models who walked down the catwalk in a sombre fashion. They wore clothes that had to be explained how they should be worn. Like the notorious black T-shirt that seemed to have four sleeves when laying flat, but turned into a chic double tunic when placed on the body. The hand-knit sweaters full of holes were almost punk and came across anarchistic at the time of 80s power-dressing. Kawakubo sees fashion as art, and designs sculpturally, considering the fabric first. Her minimalistic, asymmetric clothes are the epitome of deconstructionalism with seams raw-edged and incompatible fabrics bonded together. She has inspired a lot of European designers but most notably John Galliano.
Rei prefers to have input in all the various aspects of her business. She is greatly involved in graphic design, advertising, and shop interiors believing that all these things are a part of one vision and are inextricably linked. Her Aoyama, Tokyo store is known for its sloping glass facade decorated with blue dots. This was designed in collaboration between Rei and architect Future Systems and interior designer Takao Kawasaki. She published her own bi-annual magazine, ‘Six’ (standing for ‘sixth sense’), in the early 1990s. It featured very little text and was made up of mainly photographs and images that she deemed inspiring. In 1996 Rei was guest editor of the high art publication Visionaire.
Rei is known to be quite reclusive and media shy, preferring her innovative creations to speak for themselves
Junya Watanabe, Kawakubo’s former apprentice, started his own line in the early 1990s and has attained much attention in the fashion business in his own right.
Kawakubo created the 2008 autumn “guest designer” collection at H&M, designing men’s and women’s clothing along with some children’s and a unisex perfume
Kawakubo has always run the business side of Comme des Garçons and outsells either of her Japanese peers Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto by two to one. She has won several awards, held many exhibitions and had various books written about her. Her futuristic vision, her designs for ‘a way of life’ through clothes, furniture, architecture, interiors and perfume, the former Comme des Garçons magazine Six, (which always overlooked her clothes, in favour of features, such as a ten page piece on Gilbert and George), have all established her as one of the 20th century’s most important, innovative and influential designers. I am personally inspired by her all-round approach to creativity and individuality and how she expresses it. It’s very raw, real and unassuming and I hope to bring some of that to my design aesthetic in the future.