Reiwa pt3: Rei Kawakubo

The founder and creative director of Commes des Garçons once said: “I work in three shades of black”. Long may she reign; Rei Kawakubo.

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The founder and creative director of Commes des Garçons once said: “I work in three shades of black”. Long may she reign; Rei Kawakubo.

Media shy and very reclusive, she prefers her innovative creations to speak for themselves. Rei Kawakubo was born in 1942 in Tokyo, she studied art and literature and went on to work in advertising and as a freelance stylist. In the early 1970s she started making clothes and, in 1973, founded her brand, Commes des Garçons. The company is named after the famous song written by French singer Françoise Hardy.

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“For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty” -Rei Kawakubo.
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Rei Kawakubo´s design is avantgarde, often asymmetrical and androgynous. Her work has always aimed to challenge the established notions of what beauty is. “You can tell if it’s a good collection if people are afraid of it. In ten years, everyone will love it” she has said.

You can tell if it’s a good collection if people are afraid of it. In ten years, everyone will love it.

Rei Kawakubo

In the 1980s she was one of the Japanese designers developing the deconstruction concept. It meant, in short, to deconstruct garments, put them back together and create something new. “To start from zero”, in Kawakubo´s own words. Her garments were primarily in black, dark grey or white. The emphasis on black clothing led to the Japanese press describing Kawakubo and her followers as The Crows. The materials were often draped around the body and featured frayed, unfinished edges and holes.

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Photo Paolo Roversi.
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Photo Paolo Roversi.

Countless creatives in all areas of design have been inspired and influenced by her work, Belgian Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, as well as Austrian designer Helmut Lang to name a few. She continues, at age 77, to create clothes and fashion shows as well as being involved in the graphic design, advertising and design of Commes des Garçons stores. Rei Kawakubo still lives in Tokyo but travels frequently to Paris where the head office of Commes des Garçons is located.

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In 2017 Vogue magazine and the Metropolitan Museum in New York created an exhibition dedicated to Rei Kawakubo.

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Commes des Garçons at The Met 2017.
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Rei Kawakubo about today´s fashion business: “I don’t feel too excited about fashion today. People just want cheap fast clothes and are happy to look like everyone else.”