8 May 2017

Lessons to Learn from Rei Kawakubo

Even if you do live under a rock, you probably still heard about last week's Met Ball and the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between”. Whilst the lead up to a Met exhibition in your honour would usually prompt a wave of everywhere-you-look press coverage, mountains of magazine covers and Instagram takeovers aplenty, we've been treated to little more than a whole two (hurrah) interviews this year with notorionsly press-shy Kawakubo. That said, the Japanese designer has probably only given two interviews in the five years that preceeded this one so let's not complain. I've given the "Lessons to Learn" treatment to Raf and Hedi over the past few years so it's about time that I have a little pry through the limited information we have to try and figure out what goes on in the signature bob-enveloped mind of the Comme des Garçons creator.


never let success get to your head
Being humble is easier than ever with a Kendrick-provided soundtrack but Kawakubo has always been an adovcate of genuine modesty, refusing to let success cloud her judgement or alter her intentions. Speaking to Vogue, the designer said; “I am just working day-to-day with what I believe… just dealing with my work—just like everybody else”. She even questions whether people will show up to the exhibition, suggesting that the success of “Savage Beauty” (read my interview with the Savage Beauty curator if you haven't already) was due to more people knowing of Alexander McQueen: Maybe after the Met I won’t be able to make anything? Maybe the company will go down; I’m not sure”. Bless.

          

don't limit fashion to clothes
Kawakubo doesn't make clothes — she makes works of art and the lack of wearable items are the perfect example if you even needed one. She doesn't just show a blazer, she shows an abstract vision that looks a bit like a blazer but it's inside-out with disproportionate shoulder pads chiselling their way skywards and instead of your standards sleeves, you're cocooned by vulomptous reels of fabric under which your hands and arms are deemed useless. You can't actually do much in them at all but the spectacle of it is something else – she summed up her approach in a mere sentence backstage after her AW13 show; “The only way of doing something new is not to set out to design clothes”.

     

always look forward
Continuing nicely from the previous point, the evolution of Comme over the past five years in particular has been interesting. It's always been modern, but the house has shed its skin of a numerous design elements that had become identifable as that of the brand and accelerated into an uncompormising, different kind of modernity. Kawakubo even insisted that the Costume Institute exhibition consists solely of her most recent endeavors as she seems to have adopted the approach of what's done is done. It's not just her own work from the past that she doesn't care to waste time thinking about; “I don’t look very much at magazines or go to vintage stores. I used to go a lot, but since the last change, the big shift with not making clothes [for a conventional runway show], I can’t look at anything old or preexisting.”

     

never sacrafice your vision
In the lead up to the Met expo, Kawakubo was extremely hands-on and precise with the excecution of the show and the curatorial process. "I would find it impossible to see my clothes in a space designed by someone else. My clothes and the spaces they inhabit are inseparable — they are one and the same. They convey the same vision, the same message, and the same sense of values." Speaking to Andrew Bolton in the recent FT interview, she was quite direct and slightly cutting in why she needed to be so involved; "It was very hard for me to accept your curation." Ouch. She, in the same way Margeila did recently with his exhibition, told her story the way she wanted it to be told and thought it important to maintain an element of control in the exhibition's execution.

     

black is more than a colour
While black is a constant in her own uniform, it 's been a CDG synonym since its inception. She used it so much that I swear you can actually see shades of it in the textures, shapes and nuances of her collections. When the Harvard School of Design gave Kawakubo an Excellence in Design Award in 2000, they stated that she “invented” black. While that's simply just not true, she certainly did reinvent it. Her more recent collections are quite departure with a rainbow of colour and plethora of patterns but it's always still there and she'll always be the woman who made black cool.