Comme des Garçons
Rei Kawakubo was punk in the truest sense of the word before punk was ever a “thing.”
Fashion designers must be innovative to get noticed, to stay relevant, and to find where they fit between high-fashion swag and street-style savvy. And there’s one designer that has defined the term innovator over her four decade career: Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Rei not only exemplifies the word through her clothing, but in all aspects of the business. Theatrical runway presentations, new retail models, and creative brand expressions through collaborations, art installations, and collections that succinctly tap into the psyche of the consumer before they even know what they are looking for.
Kawakubo comes from a traditional arts background but became a stylist in 1967 and soon after began her career as a designer. She opened the first Comme des Garcons retail boutique in Tokyo in 1975, added menswear in 1978, and debuted her first show in Paris in 1981. She hasn’t showed signs of slowing since.
People took notice early, with collections of imperfect silhouettes and patterns, tattered, loose fabrics and frayed edges that stood out in contrast at the time to the body-con, structured style of 80’s designers in Paris like Thierry Mugler. Comme des Garçons collections have continued to play with proportions, odd silhouettes, and often self-imposed restrictions, like using a single type of fabric for an entire collection. There’s often a specific theme that comes from the team’s exploration and feelings of the times; themes around love, war, technology, and even witches. Looks and styles vary greatly from collection to collection but are always distinctly touched with Kawakubo magic.
The brand’s knack for breaking the mold includes the ability to reimagine retail. In 2004, in order to sell excess product, they opened temporary “guerrilla” stores, which essentially conceived the “pop-up” store, now a mainstay in fashion retail. In 2009, a year after the worldwide financial crisis, Black Comme des Garçons, an “emergency brand,” was conceived with prices set 40 percent lower than those of her main collection. Reimagined retail is showcased in the variety of large scale spaces both futuristic and modern across Tokyo, London, Paris, New York, and over 100 other locations.
Blurring the lines of avant-garde fashion and streetwear is one of the things that makes the brand so alluring and why younger generations are taking note. In addition to the four main variations of Comme des Garçons’ collections, there are successful lines of perfumes, wallets, and numerous recent successful collaborations that have tapped into pop-culture mindsets and street style fashion. These concepts and collaborations are playful and cool, often with an element of surprise that fashion lovers are keen to play with. When Jay-Z and A$AP Rocky are dropping lines with your name, it’s official you’ve crossed over.
Comme des Garçons’ initial buy for Spring/Summer 2016 sold out in two days, and sales have skyrocketed over the last year, proving that Kawakubo and the team’s work is at the forefront of not only fashion but the reinterpretation of what the cool kids all want. Whether you fancy yourself a cool kid or not, supporting the talent and vision of a mind like Kawakubo is worth your dollars and hashtags alike.