The old guard of fashion despised her; the critics never understood her. But for Rei Kawakubo, founder of the renowned fashion label Comme Des Garcons, that was always the point. For the more polarising a collection was, the more success it accrued.
Kawakubo eschewed conventional standards of beauty, ushering in a new era of anti-fashion; a deconstructed wonderland of noir, capable of creating strong, provocative pieces for women with a defiant desire to dress in a way that reflected their own unique sensibilities.
It is a desire for the unique that permeates every facet of her business. In 2004, Kawakubo, together with Joffe and Comme Des Garcons, were credited with originating the pop-up store trend, introducing the label to cities around the globe for less than a year in any given location; once the idea entered the mainstream Kawakubo denounced the idea as tired and ceased producing pop-up stores.
A 2008 collaboration with H&M produced similar results. Despite its rampant popularity – the collection produced a near-riot in Tokyo – Kawakubo is reluctant to travel the same path again, going so far as to criticise the fashion industry outright: “I don’t feel too excited about fashion today, more fearful that people don’t necessarily want or need strong new clothes, that there are not enough of us believing in the same thing, that there is kind of a burnout, that people just want cheap fast clothes and are happy to look like everyone else, that the flame of creation has gone a bit cold, that enthusiasm and passionate anger for change and rattling the status quo is weakening.”
Yet the “flame of creation,” as Kawakubo elegantly puts it, continues through the litany of high-profile designers she has influenced through her nearly five decades in fashion; European converts like John Galliano, Martin Margiela and Raf Simons – legendary designers enchanted by the anti-fashion that Kawakubo dragged into the consciousness of couture all those years ago.
Having started CDG at age 27, Kawakubo now 76 shows no sign of slowing down. The designer is still staging at every Paris fashion week presenting her unique brand of high-concept that translates into an estimated $280 million a year commercially. It is a singular dedication to “the work” as she calls it that propels her in the present, with little thought given to her posterity.
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Director: Paul G Roberts
Screenplay Adaptation: Paul G Roberts and Jess Bregenhoj
Producer: Paul G Roberts
Assistant Producer: Emily Smith
Original Story: Charlie O’Brien, Renegades of Fashion, Publisher Fashion Industry Broadcast
Narrator: Annalisa Astarita
Director of Photography: Stefan Varvaross-Abdi
Camera Operator: Jake Bugeja
Sound Recordist: Destiny Russo
Editor: Yanisa Boonyawat