It’s October 1942 – Japan is like sea that floods all neighboring countries. Manchuria, Malaysia, Singapore are all defeated. On west, Japanese are almost in India, on south there’s only Australia left. Even though it might seem not important for the whole Imperium – in October 1942 in Tokyo Rei Kawakubo was born.
Her childhood remains a mystery, as she doesn’t really reveal any information about it. This distance and reserve are complementary to her cold and raw looks. When in 1981 she arrives at Paris and presents her new collection, only one word is on everybody’s mouths: provocation. Dresses and sweaters all covered in holes, ripped, old-looking materials, Rangers shoes – eve models are shocked. France was brutal and didn’t give her even a bit of hope. Straight-cut hair, determined expression, zero makeup – Rei Kawakubo is not a person to stand this kind of treatment. She always knows where she’s going and doesn’t tolerate any resistance. In Comme des Garçons office there is no receptionist, nobody to tell you how or where to go. This could be a problem, if not the fact that nobody comes in here – no wives, no husbands, no children. Japan had this special work culture from centuries – silence is excellence and obedience is a duty. There are two key words: discipline and effectiveness.
Her journey to where she is now seems not to be marked by any kind of hesitation. After graduating from university in Keio, she sacrificed her time to designing. Still without money, she created her brand Comme des Garçons (Like boys). She proposes pieces in the colors that were reserved for nights and evenings. Black starts to attack Tokyo’s streets.Is it the end of Kawai? Add to that the fact that if she agrees to have a photo of her taken it has to be in black and only in black will she be interviewed and you understand that black is her identification mark.
New wave of anti-glamour approaches Paris, demanding banning class and elegance. Rei has to face many words of disapproval – like press calling her brand ,,Comme des clochards” and her style ,,chic from Hiroshima”. On the other side of the world, in her home country Kawakubo’s clothes are sold I over 150 stores and are applauded for being very innovative and original.
Asked about where she gets inspiration from, she says that it’s never from culture or history. Sometimes a particular key word comes to her mind and she doesn’t try to involve it in any way, instead she uses her creativity and spontaneity in order to surprise her whole audience. She hates stereotypes and being restricted.
In 1982 Rei Kawakubo presents her second collection in Paris. Her good friend, Yohji Yamamoto also shows his pieces in France. Their sense of fashion is still regarded as beggarly and is thought to be a glorification of rags. In the same year she has her first interview for Vogue and first Come des Garçons boutique in the french capital.
Her style is called new wave of beauty and it consists of unfinished garments, unreal silhouettes, disproportional sizes. Kawakubo constantly searches for something new, something beautiful in the ugliness, something revolutionary in ordinariness.
She releases a magazine, called ,,Six” and surprisingly it doesn’t concentrate solely on fashion. The name is connected to the sixth sense, intuitive knowledge. Another project that we can be grateful Rei for is concept stores. She was the first one to sell not only her own products in her stores. What’s more, she let her assistants and other coworkers start personal brands there.
The distribution of Kawaubo’s pieces was also quite unusual – she would pick the least prestigious location possible and open a boutique for no longer than one year. This shops were called guerrilla stores. She would never try to renew the local or structure it in any way – chaos was desired. That’s when shabby chic started to trend, getting rid of expensive jewelry and furs, enabling the poor to become fashion icons.
In 2012 Council of Fashion Designers of America decided to honor her work with ,,a fashion Oscar” but she didn’t show up to collect it. 2017’s MET Gala was under Comme des Garçons and Rei Kawakubo theme and it was followed by opening an exhibition -,,Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons Art of the In-Between”.