“I work in three shades of black.” – Rei Kawakubo, founder & head designer
Rei Kawakubo is arguably the most famous and influential designer in the world. An artistic visionary who has been a powerful topic of conversation since her opening show in Paris, 1981. I can’t think of any designer of today that hasn’t implemented direct inspiration from Rei’s Comme des Garçons brand into their design process in some way or another, it’s just not always clear to see – unless you’re a super fan of the Comme des Garçons brand – as Kawakubo is notoriously secretive about both her collections and inspirations which, for me, makes her all the more intriguing.
A designer whose ideas come from the everyday – a sight, a thought, a feeling – there seems to be no method to her creative madness and she is certainly not influenced by what’s currently happening in fashion or culture. Instead she translates her thoughts into design and the process grows from there, but with no clear outline or end. She even chose the name Comme des Garçons because she liked the way it sounded and didn’t want to name it after herself as she wasn’t planning to promote herself. So, as you’re probably starting to work out, Kawakubo is a visionary badass who gives zero expletives as to what you think and is one of the many reasons why I was drawn to the brand in the first place.
The brand revolves around what Kawakubo calls Kachikan, meaning a set of values from which everything springs and from which essentially stems the desire to create something different. These particular set of values are permeated throughout the entirety of the brand from the clothing to the collaborations and the retail strategy – all need to work beautifully in harmonious order so as not to become diluted – a key reason why this brand is so successful and an example of Kawakubo’s business savvy.
“Everyone is influenced by Comme Des Garçons” – Marc Jacobs
Commes des Garçons is a Japanese fashion label that was founded by head designer, Rei Kawakubo. The brand is based in both Tokyo and Paris, which is where they showcase their collections during fashion week and Paris fashion week men’s.
Kawakubo burst onto the Paris runway with her debut collection in the Spring of 1981 and wow was it a difference from the high end fashion muse of the time claimed by Gianni Versace who was epitomising the vision of ultimate glamour. Rei’s debut collection was employed by a firm juxtaposition to this and the Press were initially incensed by her black colour palette and seemed enraged by her defiance to conform to the status quo. Apocalyptic references were thrown about and some were even quoted to go as low as comparing it to “Hiroshima chic”. It was clear to see that the majority were assured that they would make no allowances for change and saw no way past the wild billowing silhouettes and unpractical cuts with no clarity of gender that the label had to offer but, safe to say, the show had achieved impact and their debut is now described as one of the defining moments in modern fashion which now some 30 years later has accelerated into a fashion empire.
“The fundamental human problem is that people are afraid of change.”
Monster, Not Making Clothes, Transcending Gender and Bad Taste are probably not the first words that fly to the top of your head when thinking about what to call your next fashion line but these are words that Kawakubo has entitled some of hers, giving us the briefest idea of what her design process entails and begins to give you an idea of how different and creative her shows might be and her shows are most definitely show – stopping. A theatrical delight, her shows are impressively abstract both through the clothing and their striking colour palettes, as well as her music choice – for example famously pairing classical opera with her ss15 Blood and Roses show which all plays to creating a fantastical environment.
Kawakubo’s colour is black. She’s worked with black from the very beginning deeming it a special and powerful colour, which soon transcended into her infamous monochrome palette, which she has more recently moved away from as she claims that black has lost its “specialness” as it is now consistently shown now as opposed to never when Kawakubo introduced it to the catwalks. So she has moved onto colours such as striking reds being implemented onto her designs. The label creates fashion for both men and women, but designs are seen as gender fluid, Kawakubo doesn’t see the definition between men and women in fashion – she just sees human.
Of course I can’t not mention the incredible hair stylist, Julien D’Y, the person who is responsible for the incredible abstract creations that make up so much of the iconic Comme des Garçons look.
“For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.”
In 2017, Commes des Garçons was invited to theme the iconic Met Gala, an annual fundraising ball for the benefit of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute in New York. The ball marks the grand opening of the Costume Institutes annual fashion exhibit and Rei Kawakubo was the first designer since Yves Saint Laurent in 1983 to be the sole subject of the Met’s paramount fashion exhibition.
Entitled “Art of the In-Between” the exhibition illustrated Kawakubo’s experimental yet revolutionary designs in “in – betweenness” – the space found between boundaries. Kawakubo eliminates the idea of expressing oneself within limits, showing the rest of us just how artificial and unpredictable those boundaries are.
This mind-bending exhibition boasted over 140 examples of the Commes des Garçons womenswear lines dating from the 1980s right up until Kawakubo’s most recent collection.
“It’s a Met show for Comme des Garçons, not a Comme des Garçons show at the Met.”
Commes des Garçons are absolute champions in the collaborations arena and started collaborating with heritage brands long before it became the norm. The empire now consists of an incredible 17 lines from clothing and accessories to perfume and their newest Play line featuring the now iconic heart eyes found on such items as their collaborative converse trainer line.
An ever-expanding aesthetic meaning that everyone can appreciate the Comme des Garçons brand.
The Commes des Garçons brand has been built upon a unique combination of inspired creativity and vast business knowhow, making the label one of the largest and most powerful brands in the world.
A designer who knows no bounds and doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her and who also shares my passion of dressing for oneself and not for your friends, your boyfriend, husband whatever….
How you dress is how you show yourself to the world so why would anyone else have a part in that?
“What you wear can largely govern your feelings and your emotions, and how you look influences the way people regard you. So fashion plays an important role on both the practical level and the aesthetic level of activity.”