WRITING ABOUT COMME DES GARÇONS IS WRITING ABOUT REI KAWAKUBO - ONE OF THE 2OTH CENTURIES MOST VISIONARY AND INLFUENTIAL DESIGNERS. AN ARTIST AT THE CORE, REI KAWAKUBO HAS WITH COMME DES GARÇONS CREATED A LABEL OF THE AVANT-GARDE THAT IS VIEWED BY MANY NOT JUST AS FASHION, BUT AS AN ART FORM.
Rei Kawakubo has been reinventing conventional ideas of wearable fashion since the late 60s, when she first launched her then Tokyo based label Comme des Garçons. She is without a doubt one of the most extravagant and innovative designers of our time and never fails to challenge established ideas of clothing. The fashion historian Kazuko Koike has described Kawakubo as “almost like the leader of a religious movement.” She herself once said in an interview with WWD, “my intention is not to make clothes. My head would be too restricted if I only thought about making clothes.“ Rei Kawakubo is an artist and the notion of her work as an art form underlies every step of the creative processes that give birth to her marvelous collections. Her modus operandi is unconventional and more familiar to conceptual art than to fashion. She works on her clothes like a sculptor would work on a sculpture, always considering the fabric first. Marc Jacobs once described Kawakubo’s collections as grafting clothes onto clothes. She constructs and deconstructs and in each process of deconstruction something new and fascinating emerges.
THE EARLY DAYS
It might come as a surprise, but Rei Kawakubo never studied fashion. She studied fine arts and literature at Keio University in Tokyo, Japan – her country of birth and the place where Comme des Garçons came to life. Nevertheless, Kawakubo’s strong creative spirit was always present and seeking an outlet. In 1967, after finishing her studies, she began working in a textile company and as a freelance stylist in Tokyo. Her profession as a stylist and the independence that came along with it, were uncommon for Japanese woman of the 60s and considered a break with Japanese tradition. Perhaps it is this confrontation she faced from early on that has given her the compulsion to continuously challenge the status quo.
When she started out, Kawakubo was disappointed with Japanese fashion and in 1969 decided to draft and implement her own designs. Already then she used the label Comme des Garçons. In 1973 the time had come and she made Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd an official enterprise. In 1976 Kawakubo opened her first flagship store in Tokyo. A small shop with a minimalist design, developed by architect Takao Kawasaki, painted entirely in white, with only a few pieces of clothing up for sale. Starting out with women's wear, Kawakubo added a men's line in 1978. Three years later, she started presenting her fashion lines in Paris each season, opening up a boutique in Paris in 1982.
To this day Kawakubo heads this extraordinary fashion house.
EAST MEETS WEST
In the 1970s, not much was known about Japanese fashion in Paris. Japan had been relatively isolated form the rest of the world and to most, fashion in Japan meant little more than the traditional kimono.
Everything changed when Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto hit the Paris fashion scene. They introduced clothes that were surprisingly unconventional and extremely creative. They challenged common understandings of wearable clothes and destroyed and reinterpreted Western conventions of the clothing system, by suggesting different and new ways of wearing a garment. Without knowing it, together they had created the Japanese avant-garde fashion phenomenon.Historically, western clothes had been fitted to underline the contours of the body – especially women’s wear. Kawakubo, Miyake and Yamamoto however, introduced loose-fitting garments, integrating kimono elements such as the wide sleeves.
Comme des Garçons has never swayed from its early interpretations of wearable clothes. Till this day, the label produces garments non-typical of fashion. As famous film director John Waters put it, “ Comme des Garçons […] specializes in clothes that are torn, crooked, permanently wrinkled, ill-ﬁtting, and expensive.”
Kawakubo has always made clothing, which initially had to be explained to customers on how they should be worn. One of her staple garments, the famous black T-shirt, that looked like it had four sleeves when laid flat, actually turned into a fabulous double tunic when worn.
Her early designs were characteristic for frayed and unfinished edges. Typical for the so-called Japanese avant-garde designers, her hand-knit sweaters often had holes and asymmetric silhouettes. At times even missing a key element such as a sleeve. Still today, this rearrangement or absence of key elements is central to her work. The Comme des Garçons Pre-Fall 2015 collection demonstrates this perfectly – an orchestra of complex silhouettes, of which the majority had no sleeves, nor openings for arms. “I think that pieces that are difficult to wear are very interesting, because if people make the effort and wear them, then they can feel a new form of energy and a certain strength. I want to give people that chance.” – Kawakubo.
Her minimalist, asymmetric clothes have inspired a wide array of designers including John Galliano, Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester.
THEN CAME COLOR
To Kawakubo, every color has meaning and so the usage of color is never arbitrary. In the early days, Comme des Garçons became famous for working with dark palettes. The collections consisted mainly of varying shades of black, dark grey and white. Quite atypical for the 1980s, where the brightest outfit gained the greatest praise. Through its minimalist usage of color, Comme des Garçons stood out from the rest, making it distinctly different and hugely popular. At her debut Paris fashion show her clothes were described as 'Hiroshima chic' amongst other things.With time, the conservative use of color changed. Kawakubo started using brighter fabrics stating that, “black is no longer strong and has become harder to us”. Modern Comme des Garçons designs often include a mix of bright and somber colors.
No matter if the colors are somber or bright, there is always a reason to the use of a particular shade, lending the garment a certain type of energy and power that makes Comme des Garçons such a stand out brand.
THE ALL ROUNDER
Every single side of business of Comme des Garçons is run and controlled by Kawakubo. Thus, she is not only the creative head of this enterprise, but also the visionary for the business side. Thus, the huge success of the company can has all been achieved under the leadership of one and the same person.
Kawakubo has won many awards for her extraordinary contribution to fashion. She has held countless exhibitions and many books have been written about her. She is a visionary, a designer not only of clothes but also of furniture, architecture, interiors, and perfumes. Her countless achievements and fascinating work have made her one of the 20th century's most important, innovative and influential designers.
Kawakubo’s garments are often draped around the body and feature frayed, unfinished edges along with holes and general asymmetrical shapes. They often times are missing key elements such as sleeves.
In the 1980s, Kawakubo’s usage of color in her collections was limited to black, dark shades of grey and white. Though she has gradually extended her color palette throughout the years, Kawakubo is still conservative when it comes to colors.
SS15 Runway Atmosphere
Rei Kawakubo and renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham collaborate in the extraordinary modern ballet project entitled Scenario.
Comme des Garcons collaborates with H&M. the collection is sold out in minutes.
Rei Kawakubo collaborates with France’s very own Hermés and designs a scarf collection entitled Comme des Carrés.
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