Designer File: Comme des Garçons

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Last week it was announced that the theme for Vogue’s 2017 Met Gala will be Rei Kawakubo, the founder and creative director of Comme des Garçons. In recent years, Met Gala themes have been as broad as technology and China. The breadth of these themes in comparison to the work of a single designer proves the prestige of the Comme des Garçons brand. 
Kawakubo founded Commes des Garçons in Tokyo in 1969, gaining popularity across Japan throughout the 1970s. It was not until 1981 that Rei Kawakubo took Comme des Garçons to Paris Fashion Week, where the first show shocked the Paris fashion set with radically thought provoking clothes. Being used to traditional notions of chic, the first collection shown at Paris Fashion Week outraged many French fashionistas and international fashion editors at the time.
The deconstructed anti-fashion look was so paradoxical to the neat suits at Chanel and the pretty dresses at Dior. Its very existence contradicted what fashion had been trying to do up until that time. As her designs were criticised for being ugly and unwearable, Kawakubo responded, “for something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.” It is this philosophy that drives Comme des Garçons and its wonderfully confusing collections. In the early 1980s, clothes were expected to accentuate the female body, not cover it or disfigure it like Kawakubo’s designs did.
Critics labelled the first Paris collection “Hiroshima chic” for its destroyed look. Little did they know that it would go on to revolutionise how we think about fashion. Comme des Garçons went from strength to strength throughout the ‘80s and Kawakubo globalised the Japanese brand by opening boutiques in both Paris and New York. Her designs appeal to those who look for art within fashion. These are not clothes to be worn to the supermarket. They are high fashion statements, bait for street style photographers at Fashion Week and, for the brave, red carpet attention grabbers.

Rei Kawakubo

Kawakubo is famously reclusive and rarely does interviews, something that only adds to her brand’s artistic intrigue. As fashion becomes increasingly involved in celebrity culture, with designers themselves becoming more famous than their clothes, Kawakubo prefers to let the clothes speak for themselves. She very rarely does interviews and never appears on the catwalk after her shows, leaving her audience and customers to interpret the ambiguity of the clothes themselves.
Comme des Garçons is reasonably unknown compared to more conventional designer brands. Most people will probably only associate it with the Comme des Fuckdown parodies. However, Comme des Garçons pieces are easy to identify. Kawakubo tends to work with the colours red, white and black. She uses simple fabric to create eccentric shapes that take up space and work in ways that redefine fashion. Think dresses that are also circles and accessories that obscure facial features. When so much of fashion is to do with beautifying and sexualising women, it is refreshing to see a collection that is not interested in that, but
interested in pushing the boundaries of fashion as we know it.
Comme des Garçons has come a long way since its contraversially avant-garde beginnings. Kawakubo has managed to fully immerse it into the fashion world, without sacrificing any of her artistic vision. Her clothes are conceptual works of art and there are few designers today who do not greatly admire the mostly reclusive, boundlessly creative Rei Kawakubo.
Words by Sophie Wilson 

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