Rei Kawakubo studied fine art and literature, but after graduating started work in a textile factory. In 1967 this, now self-taught, fashion designer became a stylist and in 1969 she began making garments under her own label, Comme des Garcons. Later developing this label into a company, she started to get noticed as she challenged the ideals of beauty but never actually settling on a set style, frequently changing as fashion did and continues to do so.
Despite “Comme des Garcons” being French for “like boys” and also including left to right buttoning as well as other traditionally masculine garment features in her collections, Rei Kawakubo insists she only landed on the company and label name purely for liking the way it sounds.
Though design is not the only area of the company she works on, Rei Kawakubo also has interests in marketing, graphic design and shop layouts. Her obscure approach to fashion has not hindered the company in anyway, but in fact helped it emerge as one of the top leading inspirational fashion houses for over forty years, taking in other designers such as Junya Wantanabe and Tao Kurihara. Also a recent collaboration with H&M has extended Comme des Garcons reach and increased their price range.
Firstly attracting extravagant and artsy individuals, her approach to design and fashion changed constantly as black made way for colour and the idea of fashion made its subtle changes throughout the years. Often using frayed edges, asymmetric shapes and remnants from other garments incorporated into her designs. Her work in the eighties went against traditional fashion methods of the time and using oversized garments and draping materials she distorted and exaggerated the female form rather than accentuating it.
In 1983 she caused a scandal with her collection, aptly named “Destroy”, where models walked the runway in Frankenstein-esque clothing with mismatched pieces, e.g. shirt sleeves coming from the front of skirts, over sized coats and jumper cuffs on trouser ankles. The models themselves, wore shoes without heels and abstract make up, having lipstick askew on their cheeks. These were highly controversial features against the fashion and gender codes of that era.
One other collection for the spring/summer 1997, “body meets dress, dress meets body”, pushed the ideals of the preconceptions of how woman like to, or should, dress. Using padding in the shoulders and hips to further challenge boundaries of fashion and beauty, she shocked the fashion industry with an odd use of peculiar body shapes and garment silhouettes. This hid the traditional womanly curves and slenderness with oversized bumps and wads of stuffing, leading to the questionability of contemporary female beauty and forms.
Whilst Rei Kawakubo has been an influential designer for decades and continues to shock and inspire the fashion industry still, she is a highly private designer “this fascination with every nosy detail is astonishing. It would be much better to know someone through their work. With a singer, the best way is to listen to the song. For me, the best way to know me is to look at my clothing” (Fukai and Ince et al., 2010)
Fukai, A., Ince, C. and Nii, R. 2010. Future beauty. London: Merrell.