“I never intended to start a revolution. I only came to Paris with the intention of showing what I thought was strong and beautiful. It just happened that my notion was different from everyone else’s” Rei Kawakubo
Rei Kawakubo’s clothes have consistently surprised and challenged Western ideas of beauty and femininity for over three decades. There’s a cryptic mythology that hangs like a metropolitan fog around her. This maybe because from the very beginning her clothes created a cult-like fervour. In Japan, her early followers dressed head-to-toe in black were known as “the crows”, John Waters wrote a paean to her anarchic chic aesthetic in his book Role Models
and Commes des Garçons disciples continue to flock, to collect and wear her pieces that are deliberately at odds with conventional fashion forms.
From the now infamous, Dress to Body
collection, renamed by the press, ‘lumps and bumps’ that both delighted and disconcerted in equal measure to the universally acclaimed 2005 Broken Bride
collection, and her most recent collection which Adrian Joffe, husband of Kawakubo and head of Commes des Garçons International explained her starting inspiration came from an idea that: “The only way to make something new was to start out with not wanting to make clothes.” Rebecca Lowthorpe from Elle
describes the unique experience of a Commes des Garçons show: http://youtu.be/Yoi53MAZ4Jg “People outside the fashion bubble will laugh, poke fun, roll their eyes, joke about wearing it on the number 55 bus in London (thank you Twitter), they might even get angry. And why not? It’s so easy to have a pop at fashion at the best of times, let alone when it looks like this: imagine a giant chintzy floral pink duvet, wrapped, folded, pleated, bunched up into a crazy joyful shape that swamps the model’s torso who also wears bubblegum pink tights and bright paint splashed plimsolls. On her face is smudged black lipstick and her tightly scraped back hair sprouts from the top of her head with wired plaits like radio antennae.
Photograph: Paolo Roversi Rei Kawakubo is unfathomable. And that is part of the point. We are not meant to understand. We are meant to feel. Like great art – ancient or modern – the pieces she presents us with are charged with feeling, sometimes confrontationally so; something that’s hard to appreciate when looking at pictures of Commes des Garçons online.”
Kawakubo has carefully created Commes des Garçons using her own ideas, but not her own image. As Susanne Frankel observed in 2010. “In person, the designer is as difficult to pin down as her clothes.” Intensely private, she has, since the 1990s, filtered communications through her husband Adrian Joffe, the President of Commes des Garçons International and the main spokesperson and chief interpretator for Kawakubo. Perhaps what is surprising is how happy a marriage there is between the commercial and her unconventional approach at the heart of her creativity.
Sitting alongside her quite singular high-fashion pieces are the more commercial lines like Play and Black as well as their highly successful range of fragrances and these elements are assigned just as much importance in the overall picture of the business. Kawakubo once told Suzy Menkes,
“It’s is true to say that I ‘design’ the company not just clothes. Creation does not end with just the clothes. New interesting business ideas, revolutionary retail strategies, unexpected collaborations, nuturing of in-house talent, all are examples of Commes des Garçons’ creation.” These elements have appeared in a number of ways. Commes des Garcons are credited with originating the first pop-up shops, or as they systematically named them ‘Commes des Garcons Guerrilla stores + XXX
’ with a corresponding international telephone area code. These ‘Guerilla’ stores were fleeting, ephemeral and included collaboration with all sorts of interesting, creative people that were not specifically involved in fashion. The concept was plagiarised so successfully; pop-ups are now an everyday part of retail, that Comme terminated the Guerrilla project in 2008. They replaced this project with their POCKET stores which are dedicated to Play t-shirts, leather accessories and fragrances.
Guerrilla Store + 4812 Krakow, Poland
However, perhaps the Commes retail spirit is best summed up in the form of their Dover Street Market stores. Dover Street Market in Dover Street
, London was the first to open now nearly a decade ago, then one in the Ginza district in Tokyo
in 2012. The latest outpost opened in New York
Designed by Kawakubo the key to the Dover Street Market concepts is in its collaborations from architect Arakawa and Gins staircase that’s said to resemble and birth canal and “reverse your destiny” to the invited fashion brands, both established like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Rick Owens to upcoming new talent like Lou Dalton, Phoebe English and Craig Green
that are given creative freedom to display their unique clothes within Kawakubo concept of “beautiful chaos”. Overall, it creates a glorious melting pot that throws out the established rigour of the department store cataloguing gender, size and type into neat compartments.
Prada at Dover Street Market, NYC
Simone Rocha at Dover Street Market, NYC
Phoebe English at Dover Street Market, NYC Judith Thurman i
n her 2005 New Yorker profile on Rei Kawakubo beautifully sums up her importance: “There are few women who have exerted more influence on the history of moden fashion, and the most obvious, Chanel, is in some respect her perfect foil: the racy courtesan who invent a uniform of irreproachable chic and the gnomic shaman whose anarchic chic is reproach to uniformity. The both started from an egalitarian premise: that a woman should derive from her clothes the ease and confidence a man does. But Chanel formulated a few simple and lucrative principles, from which she never wavered, that changed the way women wanted to dress, while Kawakubo, who reinvents the wheel - or tries to - every season, changed the way one thinks about what a dress is.”
************ Rei Kawakubo at a glance: 1976 First Comme des Garçons store opens in Tokyo’s Aoyama district“...Since the late Seventies and Eighties, when she opened her first then-radically minimalist boutiques - one was entirely empty, a stunt others are still repeating more than two decades later - Rei Kawakubo has been bringing both excess and formlessness to architecture.” Aric Chen to 032c magazine 1982 “Destroy” The all-black collection In Japanese tradition, clothing tended to conceal the body line rather than reveal it. Therefore Kawakubo’s treatment of the body did not shock the Japanese people. But what shocked them was her fervent and strong expression, through the dynamic volume of form intriicateness of construction and devotion to black in her clothing.” Akiko Fukai chief curator at KCI to 032c magazine.
Grace Coddington in Comme des Garçons / Comme des Garçons in Vogue 1983 1983 The first Comme des Garçons store in New York opens. 1994 Commes des Garcons launch their first perfume. “it was presented as a urine-yellow liquid in plastic bags laid out around the swimming pool at The Ritz hotel in Paris. The fragrance’s concept was “WORKS LIKE A MEDICINE, BEHAVES LIKE A DRUG.” 1997 Spring/Summer “Dress Meets Body” collection Renamed by the press ‘lumps and bumps’ it was presented at Musee d’Art Afrique et D’Oceanie in Paris and received a seven minute ovation. Kawakubo remained backstage throughout.
1997 The Merce Cunningham Dance Company premiered Scenario at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The costumes were designed by Rei Kawakubo
1999 Comme des Garçons flagship store designed by architects Future Systems opens in Tokyo’s Aoyama district
2004 Dover Street Market in London opens 2005 Broken Bride Collection “It was simply a collection about weddings, although that may have been the first word. By breaking the rules of wedding dresses, by going behind the idea, there was born the further information that marriage is not necessarily happy.” Rei K. in Suzy Menkes,”Positive Energy: Comme at 40” The NYT 8.6.09
2012 White Drama Collection