One of the distinctive features of Comme des Garçons is its asymmetric design – the short-length, left-right, and front-back asymmetry. And even though a dress is distorted and deformed, it is still wearable. Several notable collections include 1982’s ‘Holes’ featuring a cardigan with a moth-like effect and cut holes; 1997’s ‘Body Meets Dress – Dress Meets Body,’ (or ‘Lumps and Bumps’) collection, with its flexible dresses in structured, unconventional figures. 2005’s ‘Broken Bride,’ a reflection of the unhappy bride’s wedding dress. And in 2012, there was ‘2 Dimensions’ featuring the flattened dress seemingly assembled from construction paper. Also notable is the ‘Art of the In-Between,’ an exhibition of 150 works, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2017. Rei was the second designer in museum history to host the event. The first was designer Yves Saint Laurent in 1983. During this time Rei would reportedly call her husband Adrian to check how the response was, repeatedly asking “Do critics like it? and “what reaction did the audience express?” Rei’s husband, Adrian Joffe, Comme des Garçons CEO, told The New York Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman that Rei was not normally a fan of speaking up about her inspiration for each collection because she wants people to interpret it by themselves. She is a person who wants to challenge herself and remain original. Each collection is created from scratch, and she never goes back to dwell on previous works.
Today, Comme des Garçons Co., Ltd. generates nearly $300 million every year, much of which is earned from the more commercial lines like Comme des Garçons Play, and partnerships with major brands like Converse and Nike. There are also the young entrepreneurs, the new designers Rei employs to build their own brands under the Comme des Garçons umbrella, such as Junya Watanabe and Kei Ninomiya, some of which are housed in the Dover Street Market multi-brand store in Mayfair, London. Opening in 2004, Dover Street Market is a launchpad for up-and-coming labels like Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, and has not yet entered into the mainframe of department stores like Barneys or Selfridges. However, Dover Street Market designers often engage with the larger brands like Gucci for special projects. It is another way Youth Culture plays an important role in the fashion industry, in terms of trading and inspiration. There are now six flagship locations including Tokyo, Beijing, Los Angeles, Singapore, and New York.
Fashion and society are very fortunate to have a role model like Rei, whose artistic expression reveals an understanding of context and the spirit within every stitch – of tailoring, and shape, and the meaning behind each piece. She never stops, and for almost five decades, Rei has shown that ‘clothing’ is something everyone has to define for themselves, whether it be attractive or something else entirely.
Written by: Inijah Quadri