For half a century, Rei Kawakubo has subverted and reinvented the ideas of fashion and retail through her artistic and conceptual creativity. For a woman who barely speaks to the press, she has said everything we need to know through her work.
The brand was started 1969 and established as a company in 1973 during a time period that’s considered graphic, colourful and feminine – this is when Kawakubo entered the landscape of fashion and made her impact by being the persona non grata from Japan. Her 1981 debut collection in Paris was widely criticised by the fashion press for her use of ravaged fabrics – furrowed finishing was not something the world had seen before – yet, being the rebel she is, Kawakubo followed her artistic trajectory, quickly attaining a global following of ‘black crows’, as people called them back then.
During her breakthrough into the global fashion market, the standards for tailoring were entrenched in a Miami Vice meets Wall Street-style silhouette. Tailoring, or at least the idea of it, holds a vital place in the CDG repertoire. It’s the official Comme des Garçons uniform, the modus operandi, either through a pinafore dress, a style that has been with the company for decades or two-piece suits with irregular seams and applique in boiled polyester.
Throughout history, Comme des Garçons has juxtaposed the wearables and non-wearables as they went from disrupting the rules of tailoring to exhibiting abstract form in 1997. The SS97 ‘Lumps and Bumps’ collection often goes down as the holy grail of Comme des Garçons for collectors worldwide. The show set the paradigm for what would be a pivotal part of Comme des Garçons’ execution for the next two decades. In 1997, Aqua’s ‘Barbie’ track reigned on top of the charts and plastic surgery was on the rise – Kawakubo, contrarily, stuffed the dresses of her models with foam to distort their proportions and the idea of the female form. This collection changed the tropes of Comme des Garçons forever, transcending the brand into producing more sculptural and space-demanding structures of couture-like creatures. In an interview with Vogue in 1997 after her Lumps and Bumps show Rei Kawakubo said, “It’s our job to question convention, if we don’t take risks, then who will?”
In 2012 the world saw an increasing interest in modern technologies like 3D printing and 3D innovation, the same year Rei Kawakubo addressed the future as a 2D concept. Her AW12 collection, which featured two-dimensional clothing in paper doll-like contours, were translated into wearable tops, shirts, trousers and skirts in toned-down, yet visible, 2D outlines.
From recontextualised tailoring to extremist sculptural clothing, Adrian Joffe sent out an email ahead of their SS19 show to inform that after 10 seasons, Rei Kawakubo was not showing her collection in abstract form, and had returned to presenting more wearable clothes. The SS19 collection again, much like her previous work, presented ideas of social commentary by looking at femininity, pregnancy and body dysmorphia with references to her 1997 ‘Lumps and Bumps’ collection, paralleled with her archetypical memories of tailoring. By 2019 Rei Kawakubo had created a full circle on what had been a journey from normal, to abnormal, and back – whilst never caving into trends, nor the system.
The monumental impact Comme des Garçons has had on the industry of fashion is indisputable. However, the most substantial, and the one that seems to go unnoticed, is the way Rei Kawakubo challenged and changed the ideas of a feminine wardrobe, through connecting art and fashion on a more tangible level – whilst producing wearable clothing that travels beyond gender, norm and social statue.
Written by Madeleine Holth for LOVE Magazine