6 June 2016

A Visual Alphabet of Comme des Garçons

My first encounter with Comme des Garçons was with its diffusion line, PLAY, and its cat-eyed heart logo. I must've been 15 years old when I replaced my washed-out M&S school cardigan with a swanky black CDG one bearing said cheery logo as thought it was the school crest. My interest in the brand and founder Rei Kawakubo endured but it wasn't until my trip to Japan last month that I felt I truly appreciated the brand that challenged the French Fashion Syndicate’s dominance in the industry and sparked off an electric new era of creation and brand management.


A is for Advertising
Beyond fashion, advertising is a platform that Comme des Garçons has dominated since its birth. Teaming up with talented artists and photographers, ads created are simultaneously weird, beautiful, and usually didn't show so much as a glimpse of the clothing.

B is for Bag of Bean Sprouts
This image was a dot.COMME x Phebe Schmidt collaboration shot for La Monda Magazine. The clear perspex bag holds a hearty portion of a bean sprouts - next superfood anybody?

C is for Costume
These pieces from A/W 16-17 are the perfect examples of fashion as an expressive creation as opposed to functional garment. It's all too often that a brand is one or the other and it usually works that way. If their thing if wearability then they churn out those pieces that we love love to wear while if their thing is the avant-garde then we marvel over their otherworldly designs, knowing fine well that we couldn't so much as walk in them. Comme des Garçons is all-encapsulating. It's the white shirt and the multi-textiled cocoon.

D is for Dover Street Market
The original Dover Street Market opened in September 2004 in London's Mayfair but its new Haymarket location is to opened just last month. The new DSM store is located at 18-22 Haymarket inside a Grade II-listed building erected by Burberry founder Thomas Burberry in 1912.

E is for the Elephant Man
Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes and for AW14, Julien d’ys created a warped masterpiece of oiled hair, inspired by David Lynch’s 1980 film The Elephant Man for the Homme Plus show during a menswear season dominated by slicked-back hair.

F is for Fragrance
The company released its first fragrance, Comme des Garçons, in 1994 and notably, 1998 saw the release of Comme des Garçons's first "anti-perfume" Odeur 53. A sumptuous blend of 53 non-traditional notes, the striking scent contains a whif of oxygen, flash of metal, wash drying in the wind, mineral carbon, sand dunes, nail polish, cellulose, pure air of the high mountains, burnt rubber, and flaming rock among others. Fruity.

G is for Good Design Shop
I visited this store while in Tokyo last month, initially drawn to the MOMA shop that sits above it in Shibuya. Curated by Kenmei Nagaoka, the shop features everything from chairs, storage units and cutlery to t-shirts, trainers and bags. It was probably for the best that I had to bear in mind the baggage constraints during my time there...

H is for Hiroshima Chic
1981 saw Comme des Garçons's debut show in Paris, creating a splash for its predominant use of black and distressed fabrics. A narrative of Japan’s historical tragedy and catastrophe was the only way western journalists could interpret the avant-garde designs that were dubbed the politically questionable "Hiroshima Chic".

I is for Inventive Intuition
Inventive in every form of the word; from disecting something as identifiable as the Japanese flag and reassembling it in garment form, to creating a dress out of sleeves that didn't disappoint on the spectacle-factor.

J is for Jealousy-inducing Jackets
Live Free. Die Strong. Comme des Garçons. We can just pretend that it actually rhymes.

K is for Kaleidoscopical
As a whole, the brand is continuously changing but its core aesthetic and approach remains exactly the same as it always has been. It's refreshing that CDG has ridden its soaring wave of success with an unassuming modesty and managed to keep its cool.

L is for Little Leathers
Acne isn't the sole star when it comes to these bad boys. Comme des Garçons leather coin purses are dinky and divine, coming in a variety of classic colours and seasonal patterns. There are different shapes, sizes and styles to suit anyone looking for an entry-level CDG product.

M is for Mother Nature
For Homme A/W 2016, Rei explored the blurry borders of masculinity and humanity by presenting models wearing stunning floral headpieces created by Julien D’Ys. The vibrancy of the plants accessorised the utilitarian collection that focused on classic tailoring a biker jackets.

N is for Nailed It
Very kitsch, very Japanese, very CDG.

O is for Origami Influence
With online coverage reducing the work of designers to a sequence of head-to-toe, front-on images, it's impossible to grasp the three-dimensionality of a garment. Fall 2012 was one of many collections that stand as a nod to the oriental influence of origami and its structural allure.

P is for Play
The PLAY diffusion line was introduced in 2002; devoted to wardrobe basics with a nod to pattern, the line’s minimalist knits are always adorned with variations on its iconic bug-eyed heart logo, designed by Polish artist Filip Pagowski who first contacted Rei Kawakubo in the 1980s.

Q is for Questionable Slogans
"When you look for something, look somewhere else". It's a bit of a mind-fuck. If you look somewhere else then you're still looking so if you adhere to that then you need to look somewhere else again so it's a never-ending cycle of looking. But is it different if you're not consciously looking? Look-ception.

R is for Rei Kawakubo
Born 11 October 1942, the untrained fashion designer studied fine arts and literature at Keio University. After graduating, Kawakubo worked in the advertising department at Ashai Kasei and in 1973 she established Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd in Tokyo and opened up her first boutique there in 1975. Starting out with women's clothes, Kawakubo added a men's line in 1978 and three years later, she started presenting her fashion lines in Paris every season.

S is for Sample Sale
New York is the location for the most highly-anticipated sample sale of the season, held in May. You'd be wrong to assume that it's limited to CDG as other Dover Street Market brands featured including Miu Miu, Alaïa, Simone Rocha, Jacquemus, Valentino, Raf Simons, J.W. Anderson, Christopher Kane, Erdem...You can watch the cool seep out of even the calmest of characters as they lose it over the last pair of size 6 heels and strategically elbow their way to the back-pack of the season that's in their parallel vision. If the 80% mark-down doesn't incentivise you enough, maybe the live DJ set, catering from Rose Bakery and the people watching will float your boat.

T is for Tokyo
The imprint of Kawakubo is especially visible at the Comme des Garçons Tokyo flagship store in Toyama, which features beautiful sloping glass decorated with little blue dots. There's 3 stand-alone stores in Japan's capital but you'll find it in department stores, vintage shops or in pop-up form.

U is for Understanding Gender
Before the genderless wave of Gucci, Kawakubo's CDG designs were rid of any gender-specificity; more a characteristic of Western clothes. From kimono's to a plain black trouser, Comme des Garçons made its name creating fluid garments that aren't limited to something as perceptive as gender. Perhaps that's where its allure lay and how it's been allowed to explode while remaining within its niche. After all, Comme des Garçons quite literally translates to "like the boys".

V is for Vintage Edition
The magical vintage book of 1975-1982. This extremely rare publication documents the rise of CDG, assembling a comprehensive set of images from the seminal label's early campaigns, featuring works from the likes of Peter Lindbergh, Deborah Turbeville and Bruce Weber.

W is for Wigs
Because what's a Comme des Garçons show without some hair-raising head pieces?

X is for X-ray Vision
In 2009, CGD released a series of shoes with a love-it or hate-it toe print. I reside more on the hate side myself, which is a rarity with the brand. In addition to this white pair, the gold and black versions too have red nails so at least you don't have to worry about getting a pedicure.

Y is for Youthful
A favourite among street stylers, CDG pieces command attention, even in their simplest form with the wearers oozing a sense of careless youth and dynamism.

Z is for Zzzz
Pictured left, Comme des Garcons F/W17. Pictured right Hussain Chalayan S/S10. Despite leading the way with shape-shifting, transformative garments (how can you forget that table skirt of A/W 2000?!) Chalayan is one of many who turns to CDG for inspiration. It's increasingly difficult to know where inspiration loses its intention and becomes plan plagiarism.