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Des Garçons, Comme

clothing fashion kawakubo color

B. 1942

Birthplace: Tokyo, Japan

Awards: Mainichi Newspaper Fashion Award, 1983, 1988
         Fashion Group Night of the Stars, 1986
         Centre Georges Pompidou Exhibition: Mode et Photo, Comme des Garçons, 1986
         Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1993

Her contemporaries are Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, and, like their designers, her designs emerge from the fabric: the texture, the weave, and the natural imperfections. She considers it her job to question convention, and to take risks. Rei Kawakubo and her label, Comme des Garçons, became synonomous with all that is avant-garde and innovative in fashion, from the moment she presented her first women’s clothing line in Tokyo in 1975 and then in Paris in 1981.

She did not intend to become a fashion designer. After majoring in art at Tokyo’s Keio University, Kawakubo worked first for a company which produced man-made fibers for use in clothing and then as an independent photo stylist. After several years she grew tired of the unimaginative clothing with which she worked. By combining her interest in complex and imperfect fabrics with her original ideas regarding structure and form, Kawakubo began to create clothing based on the shapes of traditional Japanese clothing but intended to challenge fashion norms and, thereby, the wearer. Referred to as “rag-picker clothing” and “post nuclear chic,” her clothing integrates the rips, holes, and shredding found in the crumpled clothing of street people into layered and wrapped body enclosures, producing startling anti-fashion fashion. At first, her designs appear to be confusing, as they lack the symmetry one expects from clothing, but, after further examination, it becomes clear that each garment is beautifully made, highly imaginative, and definitely unlike anything that has been done before. She continuously questions fashion’s conventions with her unlikely investigations.

In 1994 Kawakubo surprised the fashion world with her first use of color, which was vibrant and dazzling. A shocking departure from the 101 shades of black which had previously dominated every one of her collections, it was a triumph. Of course, surprises have always been part of her repertoire. In 1992 she gave her assistant of eight years, Junya Watanabe, his own label under the Comme des Garçons name; since then, she has continued to encourage him as his international reputation has grown.

She was hailed by Vogue (December 1999) as making “one of the most beautiful statements on the Paris runway. Ever!” Her spring 2000 collection was charged with color; some of the pieces were dyed to turn contrasting shades. Said Kawakubo of the spring show, “The concept was force —to instill a sense of pushing the limits of what is beauty.” That is pretty much what she has always done.

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