Rei Kawakubo born 11 October 1942 in Tokyo. She is an untrained fashion designer, but studied fine arts and literature at Keio University. After graduation, Kawakubo worked in a textile company and began working as a freelance stylist in 1967.
In 1973, she established her own company, Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd in Tokyo and opened up her first boutique in Tokyo in 1975. Starting out with women’s clothes, Kawakubo added a men’s line in 1978. Three years later, she started presenting her fashion lines in Paris each season, opening up a boutique in Paris in 1982.
Comme des Garçons specialises in anti-fashion, austere, sometimes deconstructed garments. Though originally famous for her work using dark palettes, Kawakubo later began using a brighter paint box stating, “black is no longer strong and has become harder to us”. Modern Comme des Garçons designs often include a mix of bright and sombre colours, peculiarly placed details such as pockets and exaggerated features such as elongated sleeves. Rather than echoing and emphasizing the curves of the body, Kawakubo wraps it in swathes of fabric, the voluminous forms are accessorised with flat menswear inspired shoes. She said; “I think that pieces that are difficult to wear are very interesting, because if people make the effort and wear them, then they can feel a new form of energy and a certain strength. I want to give people that chance.”
Rei likes to have input in all the various aspects of her business, rather than just focusing on clothes and accessories. She is greatly involved in graphic design, advertising, and shop interiors believing that all these things are a part of one vision and are inextricably linked. Her Aoyama, Tokyo store is known for its sloping glass facade decorated with blue dots.
This was designed in collaboration between Rei and architect Future Systems and interior designer Takao Kawasaki. Rei published her own bi-annual magazine, ‘Six’ (standing for ‘sixth sense’), in the early 1990s. It featured very little text and consisted mainly of photographs and images that she deemed inspiring. In 1996 Rei was guest editor of the high art publication Visionaire.
Rei is known to be quite reclusive and media shy, preferring her innovative creations to speak for themselves. According to Women’s Wear Daily, she is a fashion icon but, during an interview, she said she does not think of herself as an icon. Her designs have inspired many other late designers like the Belgian Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, as well as Austrian designer Helmut Lang.
Junya Watanabe, Kawakubo’s former apprentice, started his own line in the early 1990s and has attained much attention in the fashion business in his own right.
Kawakubo is a member of the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter.
Kawakubo created the 2008 autumn “guest designer” collection at H&M, designing men’s and women’s clothing along with some children’s and a unisex perfume.
Comme des Garçons have collaborated with various other labels over the years including Fred Perry, Levi’s Converse All Star, Speedo, Nike, Moncler, Lacoste, Cutler and Gross, Chrome Hearts, Hammerthor, S. N. S. Herning, Louis Vuitton, Supreme, and many others.