Rei Kawakubo probably laughs at the rest of the fashion industry. The Japanese woman is the most sought after designer, interviewee and maven in modern fashion history. Arriving on the scene in the 1970s and redefining the fashion scene with her brand of ‘anti-fashion’, Kawakubo became one of the most profound designers operating, and she still is. Along the way she’s opened department stores—Dover Street Market—in four locations London, New York, Tokyo and Beijing; designs for thirteen divisions of her label Comme des Garçons; and mentors the next wave of mavericks. Her proteges have included Junya Watanabe and more recently, Kei Ninomiya. What makes this famously elusive enigma so popular? She appears both in and out of touch with society, prefers ideas and concepts to the final product, and works in a way disparate to every other designer working.
In February and September she presents her womenswear label, Comme des Garçons. In January and June she shows her menswear, Comme des Garçons Homme Plus, a line she launched in the 1980s. Her inspiration for the Spring 2017 show was Hans Christian Andersen’s classic The Emperor’s New Clothes. The illustriously dark tales, strangely for children, are more adult in their execution and provided an unlikely source of inspiration for the cerebral Kawakubo.
The Emperor’s New Clothes follows an obnoxiously rich Emperor who is fixated by his appearance. He commissions two fraudulent characters to fashion him a suit that is invisible to anyone he considers beneath himself. The con-artists mime dressing him in his new suit and the king is naked. The interpretation of the story is about pluralistic ignorance. Pluralistic ignorance “was blamed for exacerbating support for segregation in the United States in the 1960s” and you see it today with the blind support for US presidential candidate Donald Trump.
You could comment that this is an example of Kawakubo being in touch with what’s going on around her. Usually she foregoes the tumult of the world in favour of artistically expressing emotions—anger, loss, happiness—or reinterpreting mythical figures such as witches. Pondering pluralistic ignorance in fashion facetiously turns the mirror on the pluralistically ignorant fashion crowd. I wouldn’t be surprise if that was Kawakubo’s play. She forever has her collections grossly misjudged by fashion press who are eager to establish the deeper meaning in the show. Generally, everyone arrives at their own conclusions. That happened here, with many different interpretations of thematic influences.
Nonetheless, Rei Kawakubo is still winning at her own game.
Photo Credit: voguerunway.com