Rei Kawakubo, Rei of light

There is hardly a designer who does not respect Rei Kawakubo, the driving force behind fashion brand Comme des Garçons, the most enduringly innovative fashion brand of modern times.  Ms. Kawakubo creates conceptual, yet wearable and always one-step-further fashion, using some unique methods of fabrication, challenging the established notions of beauty over the past decades (portrait above by Irving Penn, 1993)

Ai Weiwei and Rei Kawakubo

“Collection after collection, for 40 years, all I have been doing is moving, questioning, creating a feeling never felt before” says Ms. Kawakuno “ but today I don’t feel too excited about fashion, more fearful that people don’t necessarily want or need strong new clothes, that there are not enough of us believing in the same thing, that there is a kind of burnout, that people just want cheap fast clothes and are happy to look like everyone else, that the flame of creation has gone a bit cold, that enthusiasm and passionate anger for change and rattling the status quo is weakening. But what I still love about it is that playing the fool, acting silly, showing off, being a celebrity designer are all integral and necessary parts of the fashion business. And creation excites me, because without creation there can be no progress.”

Ms. Kawakubo, catwalk backstage Paris 1987. She makes her debut in Paris for fall 1981, concurrent with Japanese design colleague Yohji Yamamoto, with whom she is then romantically involved.

“I just decided to make a company built around creation, and with creation as my sword, I could fight the battles I wanted to fight”.

rei kawakubo label

Ms. Kawakubo also designed an eponymous line in the late 1980s, labeled simply as Rei Kawakubo, now extremely rare and almost never available for purchase.

Paul van Riel—Hollandse Hoogte-Redux, Rei Kawakubo, 1982

scan from the book “New Fashion Japan.” , Rei Kawakubo.1984

comme des garcons 80's

one of the most copied -at the time- CDG items, a hand knitted jumper with holes, from 1984

S/S 1983-84, one of the first collections which drew the attention of the (body concious) Westerns to the Japanese Fashion.Photos by  Takashi Hatakeyama from KCI

A/W 1983-84

S/S 1991 photo by Irving Solero

ad from A/W 1997- 98


Details from SS 2013 collection

AW 2007/08  collection, Hilary Rhoda by Glen Luchford / Harper’s Bazaar

Stephen J Shanabrook Comme des Garçons 4

Stephen J Shanabrook Comme des Garçons2 Stephen J Shanabrook Comme des Garçons1

“Paper Surgeries”  by  artists Stephen J Shanabrook and Veronika Georgieva for Comme des Garçons

“If I do something I think is new, it will be misunderstood, but if people like it, I will be disappointed because I haven’t pushed them enough. The more people hate it, maybe the newer it is. Because the fundamental human problem is that people are afraid of change. The place I am always looking for—because in order to keep the business I need to make a little compromise between my values and customers’ values—is the place where I make something that could almost—but not quite—be understood by everyone.”

Rei Kawakubo

jacket detail winter 1998 collection, photo by Dino Dinco

detail of wraparound kilt

Short film for fragrance Wonderwood created by Brothers Quay,

S/S10 Photography by Lina Scheyniu

Ms. Kawakubo stopped appearing on her own runway long ago, though she is easily accessible backstage and in her showroom. Her husband Adrian Joffe serves as Ms. Kawakubo’s interpreter (he is fluent in several languages) and executive partner. They are still the owners of Comme des Garçons label, a small, $200 million conglomerate with a number of brands, including Junya Watanabe.

S/S 2002 photo by William Palmer

S/S 1997, photos by Naoya Hatakeyama

S/S 2011

F/W 95-96

A/W 2010-11

S/S 1997, Amy Wesson

F/W 1997/98, photo by William Palmer

wool gauze and lace dress from comme des garçons fall/winter 1997 photographed by steven meisel for vogue italia 1997

A/W 1991-92

A/W 1995  photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

 Christmas cardboard of wishes sent from Comme des Garçons at the end of 90’s

“Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress”  S/S 1997, a collection that created an huge impact throughout the fashion world. I had the privilege of being present at this show in Paris, invited by my friends Armand and Martine of L’Eclaireur.  I can still remember the few moments of total silence from the shocked/ frozen fashion crowd at the end of the show… Photos above by Takashi Hatakeyama from KCI  Nxt photo is from Paolo Roversi

S/S 2007. Photo by Anthea Simms

ad 2001

S/S 2010

Ms. Kawakubo detests stileto heels, you will never find one pair in the CDG collections.


John Waters, 2012 CFDA Fashion Awards speech:

“REI KAWAKUBO is the Saint Teresa of fashion. I always imagined her locked in a self-imposed, deconstructed cell, like, massacring hemlines for her next season’s “no-dimensional” outfits that will be mocked, brilliantly reviewed, and worn by the brave. I wear Comme des Garçons the same way Andy Warhol once wore $100,000 women’s necklaces underneath his Brooks Brothers turtlenecks — to be fashionable in secret. Only you know you spent money when you wear Rei’s creations. In fact, some of the more fashion-impaired public actually feels sorry for us! “That’s a shame about that coat,” an uninformed friend said to me once in a bar in Baltimore when I was wearing, well high fashion. “John Waters in his thrift-shop finest,” the press has written when, in fact, I was featuring a brand-new Comme des Garçons suit! Rei Kawakubo gives us undercover glamour. We know how great her clothes look, but others just think we’re poor. Her look? Disaster at the dry cleaner. “I didn’t do it!” is the usual cry. Mine has learned to read the complicated and sometimes hilarious instruction labels with courage: “Do not dry clean; do not wash; garment may fray, fade, change shape.” These pants? One hundred percent polyester, wrinkled unable to be pressed. So comfortable, so unnatural, and so expensive. “Friction may cause the flocks to rub off or a slight fuzz may develop,” one label reads. Friction? What’s that mean? Walking? Rei Kawakubo’s work is never funny, but her wit is so ferocious, so elegant, so scary, and sometimes even so ridiculous that her customers never have buyer’s remorse. How could they feel they had overspent when they look so courageous, so cult-like, superior, and even slightly insane every time they get dressed in one of her outfits? Rei’s look can never go out of style because she is either starting a new one or ruining a trend that’s not even popular yet but is about to be so. In her own words, Rei commented: “I think the world and its values are often lukewarm. I’d like to keep on trying to make it hotter.” Well, she certainly has. Beyond “hotter,” if you ask me, into spontaneous combustion! She makes pretty ugly, ugly handsome, and handsome disorienting. Rei Kawakubo is my leader. She is for many of us too.”

(J.Waters’ photo via)

The Challenge of Rei Kawakubo from David Cheung


A very rare public smile from Rei Kawakubo in an archived Japanese magazineHigh Fashion, 1977

From Adrian Joffe’S interview at businessoffashion, Oct 2014:

One of Joffe’s many tasks at the company is to act as interpreter and gatekeeper for the resolutely private Kawakubo, who speaks little English and shows no interest in making herself understood to the outside world.

“That’s the worst part of my job,” Joffe says. “It’s hard to explain her, and I don’t really want to. But I am somewhat of a realist, and for business, you have to try.” (source)

to be continued






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8 thoughts on “Rei Kawakubo, Rei of light

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