Finding identity and a path to success in the fashion industry has been a lot to say these days. Due to the constant fluctuation and adaptation within the industry, there is no guaranteed formula for advancement. Designers may end up altering the DNA of their style to follow the clothes in trend, making everything, technically, old-fashioned. For this reason, Rei Kawakubo is a ‘heroine’ of the industry. She understands the need for innovation and creates multi-dimensional works that do not mold themselves after anyone. Her designs seamlessly connect art, clothing, fashion, and business – and she is the mastermind behind the success of the Comme des Garçons empire.
On October 11, 1942, Rei was born in Tokyo, Japan – the eldest of three children. Rei’s father worked as a manager at Keio University, and her mother was an English teacher. Rei describes her childhood as simple and very normal. She was a loner with two personalities – one devoted to stories, traditions, and history, and the other that wanted to break the rules and expand boundaries. In 1960, she decided to study Western / Eastern Arts and aesthetics at the same university where her father worked. Upon graduation, she moved out and spent time in Harajuku without telling anyone.
Rei’s life as a fashion designer happened after her first job in the advertising department for a textile company called Asahi Kasei where she began styling. Three years later, her friend Atsuko Kozasu, a famous fashion writer, offered her a freelance styling position. At this job, there were many occasions when Rei could not find any clothes to suit the question, and she would end up designing something herself.
In the late 1960s, Rei had amassed enough to fund a clothing line. She also hired her first team of employees, many of whom still work with her today. The initial collection was about modernity – conveying a sporty feel, and it was successful throughout the stores of Japan. In 1973 the clothing was licensed as Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd., taking its name from the song ‘Tous. les garçons et les filles’ (like a boy) by French artist Françoise Hardy.
The Comme des Garçons brand is similar to Off-White, in that fans are not just buying clothing but are also part of an interactive community, which is still growing strong today. Rei’s designs are based on the belief that women don’t have to wear fitted clothes; they do not wear high heels, and in a beauty beyond the limitations of the body.
Any fashion brand wanting to expand onto the world stage must display its works in Paris. Rei did so in 1981, along with several other Japanese designers, including Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, the latter of whom Rei was involved with in a relationship. But in 1983, Rei told Women’s Wear Daily she prefers not to be referred to as ‘another Japanese designer’ because it seems to indicate that Japanese designers are similar to one another.
When Comme des Garçons appeared on the runway in Paris, alongside fashion houses Claude Montana, Gianni Versace, and Thierry Mugler, it was rather like a strange phenomenon manifesting. Many media outlets called it ‘Anti-Fashion,’ and named her the rebel of the fashion industry. Rei is one of the few designers hailed for redefining certain fashion staples – and is said to have removed the gloom from the ‘black.’ In 2000 Rei was awarded the Excellence in Design Award granted by the Harvard School of Design. TURN PAGE >>