Last night Comme des Garçons and Hermès celebrated the launch of their "Comme des Carrés" collaboration. Bali Barret, Artistic Director of Hermès women's universe, contacted Comme des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo two years ago to propose the project. Since then, the two have been meeting regularly in Paris—Kawakubo visits the city regularly for the Comme des Garçons shows—to pour over the Hermès archives and discuss the fine points of silk scarf savoir faire.
Transformed by Kawakubo with layers of abstract and geometric patterns, and scrawled words, the first series of "Comme des Carrés," appropriately titled "Black and White," launches exclusively today at CDG store in New York. Another "Colour" series of six scarves will be available at Dover Street Market in London and in Tokyo. After last night's launch, it looks like "Comme des Carrés will have a very short store-shelf life.
Last night's launch fête at Comme des Garçons' Paris store, just down the street from Hermès HQ on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, drew a throng of aficionados, staff, and friends of both labels. Dummies covered in "Comme des Carrès" scarves stood in for sales staff behind and on top of the counters, while the CDG team spread the silks out on low display tables in the classic Hermès tradition.
We asked Adrian Joffe, Comme des Garçons' President, and Hermès' Bali Barrett, a few questions about the collection and what it is like to work with the mysterious Rei Kawakubo.
REBECCA VOIGHT: CDG has turned collaborations into an art form. What made Rei decide to collaborate with Hermès?
ADRIAN JOFFE: The deciding factor is always: Can we do what they do, and can they do what we do? If the answer is two "no"s, then the meeting is worth it, because then it has meaning. We like to give new life, a new way of looking, to something existing. Creating synergy is the goal, and with Hermès we believed it would be possible.
VOIGHT: Rei has said that, rather than being guided by the idea of the Hermès carré as something to wear, she was interested in it as a beautiful "tableau." So for her, the carré is like an object that can be worn.
JOFFE: Yes, this is what I mean by "new life." I don't think [Hermès Artistic Director] Pierre Alex Dumas will mind if I tell you that he confirmed tonight that Rei had given him a new way to look at the heritage of his house.
VOIGHT: Does Rei have a favorite Hermès' "tableau" scarf among the ones she chose for these two series?
JOFFE: She likes the one with the emptied-out horse and the strong black band across it. But she liked them all.
VOIGHT: The idea of two opposites coming together is very appealing—a very old house in Paris that is known for its tradition and artisanal savoir faire, and a comparatively young house from Tokyo known for breaking traditions and inventing new styles—but wouldn't you agree that Hermès and CDG also have more in common than meets the eye?
JOFFE: Yes. From the beginning we found, we found many areas of common spirit—a strong belief in creation based on a deep system of values.
VOIGHT: Why did you decide to sell "Black and White" at the CDG store in New York and Colour at Dover Street Market?
JOFFE: We wanted to have separate collections in our flagship CDG stores and our Dover Street Market stores, so two connected but different collections made sense.
VOIGHT: Business was brisk at the Paris launch. Were you surprised?
JOFFE: Yes, I was very surprised and elated. Our target was 50 carrés on the first day, but we sold over 100. The great atmosphere and exuberance was indeed very pleasing.
VOIGHT: What's next for CDG?
JOFFE: Just carry on working hard, and opening Dover Street Market in New York at the end of the year.
VOIGHT: How did this collaboration come about?
BALI BARRETT: I was discussing Hermès events in Japan with Kozo Fujimoto, our Communications Director there. We do lots of things: parties, exhibitions, pop-up stores. He asked me what I wanted to do next. I thought about it and the only thing I wanted was to do something with Comme des Garçons because Rei Kawakubo loves scarves and collaborations and I love her work. Kozo knows Adrian quite well so he called him. And within two days we had their response: "Yes, we would be delighted."
VOIGHT: How did you work together?
BARRETT: We met when Rei was here for a CDG show two years ago. The first thing she said was: "Why should this be just for Japan? I'd like to see it everywhere." And I agreed. Then I showed her everything Hermès knows how to do: the Carrés designs, printing techniques, stitching, embroidery, perforations, over-dying and washing techniques, how it can all be done large, very small or medium, in cashmere or in silk. I preselected 150 designs from the Hermès archives for her to choose from by theme and era, new ones and old ones, what I thought she would like, but also what was very Hermès. This was a real work session between designers and after that she said to me: "Well, as far as I can see, we can do anything." And a month later we received her designs for the "Black and White" and "Colour" series; the first for CDG purists and the second, a more joyful collection, for everyone else at Dover Street Market. We did the prototypes, showed them to her and that was it.
VOIGHT: What's Rei Kawakubo like?
BARRETT: She understands French and English well, but she responds almost exclusively in Japanese with a few words in English and Adrian translates. And she doesn't like questions. Once she said to me: "Oh la la! Why do journalists always ask me ‘Why?' " And so I told her she could just tell them: "We're doing this because Hermès and CDG are neighbors, we're both on the rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré, and we like each other a lot."
VOIGHT: What do Hermès and Comme des Garçons have in common?
BARRETT: I think we share the same pursuit of excellence and beauty. Both houses want to produce incredible things. I've admired Rei Kawakubo since I was a little girl. She has always inspired me.
VOIGHT: Has Hermès done other collaborations?
BARRETT: Yes. The first one was in 2009 with Liberty of London, who gave us their ground floor Scarf Room for two months. We did special carrés for that in Liberty florals, overprinted with Hermès' designs. And two years ago we collaborated with Colette on special carrés sold there in a store we staged inside an orange box .
VOIGHT: Why aren't you selling Comme des Carrés at Hermès?
BARRETT: Because Rei has a way of staging these things. She tells a story. The beauty of it isn't just the design, but the way it's presented. I wanted her to design it all.
VOIGHT: How many carrés designs does Hermès produce each year.
BARRETT: It's by season, like ready-to-wear. There's 25 new patterns per season and 25 re-editions. With the re-editions it's a question of "L'air du Temps." There's 2,500 carrés designs in Hermès' archives. So when I go through it, it's a shopping spree. I choose an era, or a drawing style. It's never random.