Inspiration- Rei Kawakubo

I have a serious love affair with both the brand Comme des Garcons, and even more so it's designer, Rei Kawakubo. I think she has a stroke of genius, with a vision that is unwavering and inimitable. But aside from her creative abilities, I really appreciate Rei, from what I merely read about her, as a person. She is someone who I can identify with. Her style is rebellious and aggressive but also bittersweet and feminine. She has a reputation of being timid, intimidating and a bit dictatorial  but her close friends have said that she can be charming, congenial and super funny. What makes her laugh? According to Rei, people falling down. She is to the point, self-assured and never feels the need to explain herself. 

Anyway, I came across an archived interview from Dazed and Confused magazine. It's a really entertaining and snappy conversation between Rei Kawakubo and fellow designer, Paul Smith, who guest edited the Dazed and Confused Issue 16 in 1995. It's one of my favorite interviews with her because I think you can really feel her vibe and spirit through it. 

Rei Kawakubo is the creative director of Comme de Garcons. The label is famous for it’s shapeless shapes that never accentuate the body, the clothes were often draped around the body and featured frayed, unfinished edges, holes and asymmetrical shapes. As perfectly said by Dazed, “She sees fashion as art, and designs sculpturally, considering the fabric first. Her minimalist, asymmetric clothes are the epitome of deconstructionalism (seams raw-edged, incompatible fabrics bonded together)”. 

Comme de Garcons is also notably famous for its monochromatic palette. Some would say that Rei “invented black”. And by “some”, I mean the Harvard school of design who listed “inventing black” as one of her objective achievements when it gave her an Excellence in Design Award in 2000. Although now, as she told Interview Magazine, black is as common a denim so she needs to find what she calls “tomorrow’s black”. “Tomorrow’s black” is something that has been on my mind for awhile. Black has always been my favorite color and I have been wearing it since I could dress myself. Of course there was still a stigma attached to black when I was growing up whereas now, you could wear all black in the scorching heat of summer and not stand out in any way. I have been trying to pin a “new black” and haven’t been successful. I am curious to see what Rei comes up with.

Rei never trained to be a fashion designer but instead studied art and literature at Keio University. She worked in textiles and then as a freelance designer before she started making clothes under the label Comme Des Garcons in 1969. She incorporated the label in 1973 and showed in Paris in 1981. Rei’s aesthetic and genius has carried through over 40 years now and she is still at the forefront of fashion, still doing her thing with compromising ideals and vision. 

Rei is still the sole owner of the label which now has a dozen boutiques, some two hundred franchises on four continents and twelve lines of clothing, grossing about $200 million annually, outselling her Japanese peers, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake, two to one. But, despite her wealth, her only apparent major indulgence is a vintage car and a monster Mitsubishi from the nineteen-seventies. She isn’t interested in the lavish life but rather enjoys learning to swim, which she recently did, and taking a detour on the way to work to feed the stray cats- telling of the type of authentic life that she lives, just one of the many things I admire about her.

There are few women who have exerted their influence on fashion quite like Rei has. Chanel would be the other obvious game-changing influencer but the two can’t really be compared. Chanel created an unimpeachable uniform; while Rei’s anarchic aesthetic expresses contempt for uniformity. And I say that without putting Rei into a box, so to speak, or labeling her in such a way to say that her aesthetic is a choice rather than a pure expression of what she feels and who she is. I’m not sure Rei would ever label Comme des Garcons or her taste as anything really, and I believe her authenticity goes beyond anything that can be defined. I wanted to make that clear because Rei’s vision of truth and deep sense of self is something that I admire and I don’t want to take that from her by putting her into a box.  In fact, Rei has commented on her lack of approach, telling The New Yorker in 2005 “In terms of creation, I have never thought of suiting any system or abiding by any rules—either a long time ago or right now. In this respect I have remained free.”. She told Interview, “My approach is simple. It is nothing other than what I am thinking at the time. I make each piece of clothing, whether I think it is strong and beautiful. The result is something that other people decide.”

Rei Kawakubo has won several awards, held many exhibitions, had various books written about her and has been listed as an inspiration by the likes of John Galliano, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Helmut Lang.

Interview with Dazed- Issue 16, 1995
Paul Smith: Thanks for letting me interview you. I thought, if it is OK with you, I'd just ask questions that I wish people would ask me, not typical interview questions. Who is your favourite artist and why?

Rei Kawakubo: No one in particular. I am usually more attracted to the way they lived their lives rather than their actual works.

PS: I recently went to see Christo's wrapping in Berlin. Have you seen any of his work? Do you like his work? If so, why do you like it?

RK: I find his concept interesting. Recently I saw a documentary on Christo working on his latest piece in Berlin on BBC which, amazingly, we are now able to see in Japan.

PS: Have you wrapped anything yourself?

RK: Yes. I have wrapped everything conceivable on a body while making clothes.

PS: Do you get time to travel for pleasure and, if so, where do you enjoy the most? If you go on holiday do you prefer to relax, sunbathe, sail, walk or explore new places?

RK: I like to travel to places that stimulate me but I never have enough time.

PS: Is there anywhere in particular you'd love to go but just haven't had the time or opportunity?

RK: Uzbekistan.

PS: Do you fancy Disneyland?

RK: It is the last place on earth I want to visit.

PS: How important is music in your life? What type of music do you like? Do you listen to music while you work? Do you go to watch live bands? Do you go to concerts? Do you own a Walkman?

RK: I never listen to music while working nor do I go to concerts. I like the sound of silence.

PS: I think I'm right in saying that, like me, you're a great fan of Le Corbusier. Are there any living architects whose work you admire? If so, why?

RK: I like the simplicity and spaciousness of Le Corbusier.

PS: Do you find time to go to the cinema or watch videos/television? If so, what subjects do you prefer?

RK: I enjoy films which have strong visuals. I certainly do not watch horror, SF or comedy.

PS: Have you ever been involved in the making of a movie in any way?

RK: No.

Paul Smith: Do you fancy Disneyland?

RK: It is the last place on earth I want to visit.

PS: Do you have any plans to get involved in film in the future, or would you like to?

RK: No.

PS: What are your three favourite movies? What makes them special for you?

RK: Films by Theo Angelopoulos.

PS: Do you find time to read? Do you read Japanese or Western writers? Who is your favourite author? Did you read comics as a child?

RK: I have a tendency to buy books I want to read and they end up piling up on my desk, since I have little time to read.

PS: Do you have any sisters or brothers?

RK: Two younger brothers.

PS: Are they involved in Comme des Garçons or in fashion at all? What are their professions? Did they have an influence on your career?

RK: No, they are not involved in fashion. No, they do not influence my work.

PS: What is your earliest childhood memory? Mine was at the age of 11, incident of given bicycle.

RK: The seasons. Glaring sun and its heat. Snow piled up as high as one metre.

PS: Many people in Japan ride bicycles; do you?

RK: I prefer walking, but I have been able to ride a bicycle since I was a child.

PS: Over the years you have worked with many of the world's famous photographers. Do you take photographs? If so, do you prefer to use black and white, or colour films? Is it to record your and your friends' lives, or is it an art form?

RK: I enjoy looking at photographs but loathe being photographed. I'd rather make clothes than take photographs.

PS: Other than Japanese, what food do you enjoy?

RK: Spicy food, especially Thai.

PS: Do you cook at home?

RK: Sometimes.

PS: Have you ever eaten real English food? What do you think of it?

RK: Yes, I have eaten full English breakfast, which I like very much.

Paul Smith: Do you have any children?

Rei Kawakubo: Yes, 425. They all work at Comme des Garçons.

PS: Do you enjoy married life?

RK: I enjoy my life.

PS: Do you have any children?

RK: Yes, 425. They all work at Comme des Garçons.

PS: Are you an animal lover? What is your favourite animal? Do you have any pets? If so, what and how many?

RK: I like all animals, especially wolves.

PS: What do you fear the most?

RK: The next collection.

PS: What do you feel you'd still like to achieve in life?

RK: The next collection.

PS: What car do you drive?

RK: A big old Japanese car.

PS: What is your favourite month and why?

RK: The ones that do not have collections.

PS: What is your favourite number and why?

RK: Odd numbers, because they are asymmetric and strong.

PS: What is your lucky charm? Mine is a rabbit.

RK: I don't have one. I never even thought about it.
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