04 — Rei Kawakubo
There are few who may recognize her name, as she is mostly known for her work. However, she brought an aura of perseverance and willpower that was unseen during her time. Her tenacity and creative ethos still resonates with many, including myself. The impact she brought has been beyond significant not only to the fashion industry, but the world.
Recognized by the iconic heart logo with playful eyes, the brand took over youth around the world, but how much do we really know about it? What does the name mean? Who created the design? What makes it so special?
This week’s article is meant to provide some insight on COMME des GARCONS and Dover Street Market’s founder and creator, Rei Kawakubo.
Born on October 11th, 1942 in Tokyo, Rei was raised by her single mother. Her father restricted her mother to work and be independent, so they separated to pursue different interests. Kawakubo studied Fine Arts and Aesthetics at Keio University, and never had an official education in fashion. Her career propelled from her first job as a prop stylist, to selling her own clothes. In 1969, Rei sold items using the label “COMME des GARCON” (CDG). The name was inspired by lyrics from a song written by Francoise Hardy, translating to “like boys”, and representing clothes made for comfort rather than style. Kawakubo advocated for women to be independent, and to not wear clothes simply to seduce or impress men. This non-traditional approach appealed to women across the country, as she reversed the idea of the exposed body to represent femininity. Within four years, her first store opened in Tokyo and by 1980, she had over 150 stores across Japan.
Rei challenged the traditional image of feminine beauty. She used black clothing that did not conform to the natural human body, often over-sized or asymmetrical. Her concepts are still seen as radical, and she continues to shock the industry through her designs.
In 2004, Kawakubo stepped into the realm of high-fashion retail with the introduction of Dover Street Market’s (DSM) first store in London, England. Her idea was to create a curated showroom and invite both rising and renowned designers to reveal their work. Rei’s relationship with talented individuals would grow exponentially while inspiring many others.
*A few of her most famous pupils include: Junya Watanabe, Chitose Abe, Junichi Abe, and Gosha Rubchinskiy
Rei Kawakubo was known to be rooted in designs and concepts, rather than the clothes itself. She wanted to create with those who shared common values and not specifically similar aesthetics. Her meticulous approach would stretch beyond the fabrics, and influence the interior design of all her stores.
Rei Kawakubo continues to be one my inspirations, and I hope to share with others a little bit about her work and history. She is considered to be one of the most influential Japanese fashion designers to date, similar to Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto.
Some of the sub-labels* COMME des GARCON: Homme (menswear), Homme Deux (tailored menswear), Homme Plus (anti-fashion), PLAY (affordable streetwear), Shirt (deconstructed basics), Tricot (knitwear), Fragrance, Wallet.
Interesting fact* Rei does not speak English and relies on her French husband Adrian Joffe, CEO of CDG, to translate during her rare interviews!