"Born in Japan in 1942, Rei Kawakubo studied philosophy with a specialization in eastern and western aesthetics. She entered the fashion world as a free-lancer, launched her label, Comme des Garçons, in 1969, and in 1973 established her company in Tokyo. Kawakubo rocked the fashion establishment with the controversial collection she presented in Paris in 1981, and has been creating shock waves ever since. Her irreverent interrogation of convention has left the western world piqued and perplexed, yet fascinated by the seemingly distorted mirror in which she reflects its mores.
Kawakubo believes that beautiful clothes do not need to be pretty. She creates distressed, broken, missaligned shapes expressive of anarchy. Challenging our complacency, she attacks, one by one, the manifestations of good grooming that simulate incorruptibility. Sweaters with holes, padded distorted garments and mismatched fabrics suggest that beauty may not necessarily reside in the places our culture believes. Kawakubo's adventurous and cerebral approach to clothing can be disturbing to eyes trained in the western tradition to see beauty in classical harmony and completeness.
The eastern viewpoint is different. In Japan the search for shibusa, ultimate beauty, embraces imperfection as a measure of perfection in creative endeavors. Torn or broken shapes in nature inspire a special affection. A rusted iron kettle, lichens on rocks or fallen blossom have sabi, the mark of wear and tear left randomly by time on objects. The reverent contemplation of sabi evokes wabi, a humble, melancholic repose. Wabi is permeated with the sad recognition that with the achievement of perfection comes the beginning of decline and decay.
The love of the worn and ragged contained in sabi and wabi inform Kawakubo's world. Her work introduces Japanese concepts unfamiliar to European aesthetics. In the west, this approach has been labeled "deconstructive" because it parallels a trend in intellectual discourse that has surfaced in last few decades. Kawakubo takes clothing apart to renew it. With boldness and an inquisitive eye, she continues her quest to dismantle the tyrannical rules of fashion and to unleash the imagination. "
Kent State University Museum: Japanese by Design exhibition
Anne Bissonnette, curator
Hope I didn't just bore you with this long article on the Japanese fashion master Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons (love the name- it means 'like the boys' in French). If, like in art, one were to define an avant-garde in the fashion world, it'd have to be the Japanese designers like Rei (a woman), Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Kenzo Takada who emerged in the 80s with their brand of subversive clothing. I think the article explains really well why their designs (or sometimes NONdesigns- they deconstructed garments and dismantled the usual notions of clothing) were so groundbreaking. The Japanese designers are pure genius both conceptually and technically. The few photos above are testament to that. Rei for example uses a combination of tailoring and draping techniques. They have a flair for drama, and I find it interesting that their work can look both fashion-forward and primitive simultaneously. I think their work looks as contemporary now as it did then.
The photos I posted are just a sampling of the work I have saved in my folders. I keep an eye on their proteges, Junya Watanabe and Tao Kurihara, as well. Tao did a FANTASTIC collection for fall 2008. Perhaps you'll see more Comme des Garcons stuff on this blog soon. Another Japanese designer worth noting is Tsumori Chisato, which is more quirky and has nice prints. It seems to be that Rick Owens' work has some resemblance to the Japanese masters' in the cutting. Well, I'm starting to really appreciate Owens' work too. Some things need time to grow on you.
And, Rei studied philosophy with specialization in eastern and western aesthetics! How cool is that? Those Japanese concepts of beauty mentioned in the article are fascinating.