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Rei Kawakubo

Updated: Jan 13


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The term anti-fashion, often used to describe Comme des Garçons, only applies if one considers fashion to be categorically pretty. In reality, it’s not so much against fashion as beyond it. Collections, shown under mottos ranging from to “White Drama” to “Invisible Clothes,” question some of the most basic tenets of designing, making, marketing, selling and wearing clothes. Rei Kawakubo isn’t in the business of creating flattering or fashionable outfits. Instead, she examines and dismantles garments, as if trying to capture their essence by the very act of questioning their intended function. In past collections, this has led to three-armed jackets, baroque quilted armour, and peekaboo winter coats. No matter how deconstructed, these items are rich in context, alluding to fashion history, but also the current state of fashion.

The translation of the label’s name – like boys – is only the most obvious indicator that Comme des Garçons has little use for gender conventions. Although there is a women’s- and menswear line, each features garments more traditionally associated with the other, such as the skirts that are a recurring feature of the menswear shows. However, Kawakubo’s gender-equalising philosophy runs a lot deeper than that. The designer never tires of reiterating that her clothes are designed to make their wearers feel – rather than look – a certain way. In fact, legend has it that her first boutique in Tokyo didn’t even have mirrors. By exaggerating the female form, hiding the body beneath layers of fabric and ultimately rendering its actual physical attributes all but meaningless, her designs challenge conventional beauty standards and deflect the male gaze. Men are equally liberated from the narrow confines of shapes and garments available to them and offered a broader, more playful range of fashion statements to choose from.

Last but not least, the fact that Kawakubo remains in control of the company she founded, refusing all offers from outside investors, speaks volumes in a fashion landscape where women are not always in charge creatively, even less financially. Supporting Comme des Garçons financially can, in and of itself, be understood as a feminist fashion statement.

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