The media-shy and reclusive Rei Kawakubo was born in Tokyo in 1942. Studying literature and the fine arts whilst at university in Keio, she worked for a large textile company for a number of years, and then as a freelance stylist from 1967.
However, it was fashion design where her passion lay, and in 1973, she started her own label called Comme des Garcons, based in Tokyo, her first boutique opening there in 1975. Men’s lines were added a few years later, and in 1982, Kawakubo opened her first Paris boutique, having recently began showcasing her designs at Paris Fashion Week.
In an industry where a formal training in fashion design is the norm, Rei Kawakubo is unusual in that she has absolutely no formal fashion design training whatsoever. This lack of a formal fashion background is perhaps the source of her success. Creating designs unlike any other, her designs have been called anti-fashion, and are often dark, unfinished and present a challenge to critics and customers alike. This deconstructional approach has gained her lots of column inches in the press, perhaps ironic giving her reclusive nature, but she continues to be radical, and today her designs may feature more colour, but they continue to ask questions and challenge the conventional assumptions of fashion.
Comme des Garcons should be seen not so much as a label, but as a single vision. Kawakubo doesn’t just focus on designing clothes and accessories, she is involved in the design of boutiques, advertising and the customer experience, and it is this attention to detail that sees the company continue to go from strength-to-strength. Working at a variety of price points, Kawakubo recently worked with H&M on a range to be sold in their stores worldwide.