All Hail Comme Des Garçons
Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum
Rei Kawakubo, from the moment that she opened her first shop in New York, electrified the world of architecture and design. It was an entirely different way of looking at things. Raw concrete, intense white neon light, and the clothes shown so sparsely that you almost felt that you were in some dystopian future, in which the few survivors of some non-specific catastrophe were fighting over the last scraps of fabric from the old world. At the time there was nothing else like it. And pretty soon it was a universal look.
In the Axis building in Tokyo she took minimalism to its 1980s extreme. She used some of the most expensive retail real estate in the world to create a shop that appeared to have nothing in it at all. The assistants would bring out items from a concealed store. She also produced a number of memorable furniture designs. There was a chair with a metal grid seat. And she gave me a piece that mixed a traditional baroque frame, painted pink, with bronze metal inserts.
Kawakubo has continually innovated, and continually moved forward. So, she found Jan Kaplický and Amanda Levete, in those days in practice as Future Systems, to make an amazing metal sculpture for her store in the New York Meatpacking District, followed by the blue glass windows at her Tokyo flagship. Later there was a perfume store in Paris by Ab Rogers, and then the utterly different approach that she took for all three Dover Street Markets.
Michelle Elie, jeweller and collector
Comme des Garçons clothes have a life of their own. One is always interacting with a piece: they generate a certain emotion, power and poetry which pushes your boundaries. My first discovery was the collection called, “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body”, spring/summer 1997. This collection changed my life. It touched a chord for me that would change my perspective on what could be fashion and what could be beauty. I bought a beautiful piece which I have not yet worn.
I buy one or two pieces a season. I like to wear them in cosmopolitan cities where fashion is appreciated and celebrated – and sometimes at home. Transporting them is becoming more and more of an issue. Whenever I join Paris Fashion Week, I drive to Paris in my car which is definitely the best option, but with anywhere else I need to ship them ahead. I always feel great, progressive, protected, fearless, forward-thinking and delightful when I am wearing pieces by Rei.
Carla Sozzani, gallerist and founder of 10 Corso Como
I think the first collection I saw was in Paris, in the early Eighties. It transformed my vision of fashion. I recognized in Rei’s work what I had been looking for, without knowing. We spent a meaningful time together in Milan around that time for the furniture fair and a dialogue opened between us that is still ongoing. A year later, we did an exhibition of her furniture pieces at Galleria Carla Sozzani. Now, I see her perhaps a few times a year, but I often think of her when I see her influence and understand how much she gives to fashion. I admire her sense of humour, and her family values. Her work is fearless and daring; she always pushes herself forward, opening a path for others. She is a very generous visionary.
John Waters, director
I modeled for Rei Kawakubo once. In Paris. In those tents outside the Louvre where collections are unveiled every year. I was really surprised to be asked but leaped at the chance for a new job. Me? A Model? I guess Rei had seen press photos of me wearing some of her outfits to openings, or maybe the salespeople told her what a fan I was. Before accepting, I begged that Comme des Garçons consider my age (forty-six at the time) and maybe let me wear some of her more conservative outfits, not the most ridiculous ones. I loved the most ridiculous, but, please, let the “real” models strut their stuff in them. However, I soon learned there were no “real models”. Rei likes her menswear modeled by amateurs – boys off the European street – who are somehow rounded up to wear her amazingly ludicrous and beautiful clothes on the runway.
Arriving backstage for rehearsal the day before the show, I realized I was the fattest model among the scrawny, gorgeous, blasé street urchin skeletons who were trying on their outfits and pointing at each other and laughing good-naturedly at their Comme des Garçons makeovers. My first outfit was a relief – a black suit with flood-length trousers and a white shirt with an exaggerated shirttail partially worn outside and hanging halfway to the knees. But then I saw the crazy hat. No man looks more stupid in a hat than I do. Oh God, I wondered, could I talk Rei Kawakubo out of the hat? When I saw her enter, I trembled in my Comme des Garçons boots. There she was – dressed all in black with that Louise Brooks bob hairdo and looking like she had been locked in a cell for months meditating on the deconstruction of the concept of hemlines. Bald-headed girls, who I think were her assistants, hovered around her. When I was introduced, I just told her how proud I was to be there and then begged her to let me not wear a hat. She frowned deeper, then without a word, switched my hat to one a little less ridiculous. Suddenly I thought, What the hell! She flew you over here first class, is paying you, giving you some free clothes. So just shut up, wear a hat, and do what you are told.
Excerpt from Role Models by John Waters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC). Reproduced by kind permission of John Waters.