Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons speaks!

05 January 2011

Wow! She’s one of the most respected of the world’s designers, but not one who enjoys basking in the glare of publicity or taking time out from running her business empire to give press interviews, but Rei Kawakubo of Commes Des Garcons has granted a rare chat to WWD.  The occasion? the opening of her new shop in Beijing. Described as a "multibrand store" we imagine it as a new version of Dover St Market, the ground-breaking retail space in London. Indeed, it’ll stock pieces by Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Dior Homme, Ann Demeulemeester and Hussein Chalayan. The basement of the building houses a new boutique from A Bathing Ape, which is another cult Japanese brand. Rei explained what she aims for when creating such an emporium; ‘Firstly, I want to make a shop that’s unlike any that already exists. And then, since it’s a business, we have to be able to get back the initial investment, whether it's ours or whether it's the partner's, in as short a time as possible. So I don’t like to use expensive materials. I take care to make costs reasonable. It's very similar to the way I make clothes. I give myself limits,’ Dover St is also pleasingly basic, with the three and four figure goods hanging nonchalantly against brick walls and a concrete floor.

The new shop, I.T Beijing Market, which opens this week

Rei told the story of how she had been visiting China regularly over the last 40 years, and how she had seen the country change, from the days when she used to see ‘people wearing their communist worker clothes’ in the street, to the present day, where opening a shop of various luxury brands has become viable. She also spoke of her inspiration, and what drives her to continue to design after so many years, ‘The way I approach each collection is exactly the same…the motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn't exist before. The more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to make something new. Once I’ve made something, I don’t want to do it again, so the breadth of possibility is becoming smaller.’ Which is an unusual admission for a designer to make, especially one with such standing and mythology as Ms Kawakubo. Most would rather expound on how their inspiration is limitless and how they have no need to recycle their work.

The Comme Des Garcons S/S '11 show in Paris

Comme Des Garcons remains successful and innovative to this day with more than a cult following around the world. Over its lifetime of more than 30 years, it has revolutionised fashion and the possibilities of what clothes can be. Unconcerned as Rei was with traditional garments and the form of the body, Comme’s signature look was one of deconstructed pieces and abstract shapes, disregarding conventions, and largely doing away with colour, sticking to black and grey instead and accessorizing with big army boots. Her work has inspired a generation of fashion designers, especially those to have come out of Antwerp, like Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester. She was also liberated enough to try new concepts, like the brand's magazine, six, and was one of the first very high end designers to work with H&M on one of their collaborations.  

If you are up for a bit more delving into the wonders of the great Japanese designers, like a whole afternoon of it, you should make your way to London’s Barbican, where an exhibition; Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion is on until Febuary 6. It includes pieces from Yohji Yamamoto, as well as Rei Kawakubo herself,  Kenzo Takada and Issey Miyake and puts their work into context as well as telling their story.

- Naomi Attwood


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