Studying fine arts and literature at Keio University in Tokyo, Rei Kawakubo graduated in 1964 and soon entered the fashion industry through a job at a textile factory. It did not take long for her to ascend to a position at the top of the fashion industry; she worked as a freelance stylist, began making clothes a few years later, and consequentially founded a world-renowned label Comme des Garçons. All attained within several years, these achievements are indeed an attestation to her sheer independence and stand as the beginnings of an iconoclastic legacy.

Kawakubo and her works under the label Comme des Garçons empower their wearers through challenging widely-accepted, preconceived notions in both fashion and society alike, rooted so profoundly in mainstream Western fashion during the 70s and 80s. Widely known by both journalists and fashion enthusiasts alike, her standoffishness and dismissive aplomb: a demeanor that transcends her individual, and finds its place in her work.

In a rare interview with Jess Cartner-Morley of The Guardian, conducted in the fall of 2018, Kawakubo engages in a disjointed dialogue between her, her English speaking husband of 25 years, Adrian Joffe who doubles as her translator to a non-Japanese speaking world as well as president of Comme Des Garçons, and the interviewer, Cartner-Morley. The interview was conducted behind the long, white, and altar-like desk of a personal studio, nestled behind a large glass wall and above a narrow showroom in the Comme des Garçons HQ in Paris, mirroring the ethos of design by its owner, Kawakubo herself. Jess, with a few carefully considered questions, tried to succeed where many others had failed: to seek to take a peek of the creative genius locked inside the mind of one of a master at her craft.

“What does Comme des Garçons tell us about you?” elicited a different, but essential and somewhat expected answer. Kawakubo explains through Joffe that the question is merely irrelevant; “the way you live and the way you get energy is different from what you have to do to make a collection…there is no connection between the way she lives and the way she makes clothes.”. The sentiment expressed in this one statement is enough to generalize to the claim mentioned above about how she challenges the mundane, routine elements of normality. She does not see herself as the “feminist heroine” or “avant-garde designer” that many deem her to be, but instead something different and entirely removed. “The woman’s body,” Joffe translates later in the interview, “is no relation to what she tries to do. There is no challenge to vanity or beauty; she is not interested.” It is Rei Kawakubo, whose natural defiance, a term one could attribute to her without hesitation (as she explicitly refers to herself as a “punk”), serves as an inspiration to those who wish to follow in her footsteps, both creatively and commercially, and promotes a new way of thought; disconnected codependency of theory, design and culture. In this sense, disconnectedness contradicts its traditional definition and negativity associations, in that one can enjoy living in discomfort from prejudice or injustice through ideals on polarizing subjects, such as sexuality or war, when woven into a fabric.

Written by Justin Donnelly

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