Rei Kawakubo

When you put on clothes that are fighting against something, you can feel your courage grow. Clothing can set you free. Rei Kawakubo 

From the very creation of her line Comme des Garçons in 1969, the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo has upended, reimagined, and revolutionized the codes and concepts of what fashion is and what it can be. Now 73, Kawakubo is no less visionary, still “drowning in the dark,” as she describes it, in search of something new. 

TELL US ABOUT THE THEME OF THE FALL COLLECTION: I called it the Ceremony of Separation. It’s about how the beauty and power of ceremony can alleviate the pain of separating, for the one departing as well as for the one saying goodbye.

HOW DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO FEEL WHEN THEY WEAR COMME DES GARCONS? What someone wears is an expression of oneself. When you’re just comfortable with what you’re wearing, you don’t have new thoughts. I want people to feel something and think about who they are. You can’t become truly free if you no longer think about clothes. You need to occasionally wear something strong, and that can feel strange. It makes you aware of your existence and can reaffirm your relationship with society. I think people feel a minute current running through them as they come into contact with something made by someone exploring the limits. When you put on clothes that are fighting against something, you can feel your courage grow. Clothing can set you free.

WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS I’m always looking to make something that didn’t exist before, fumbling about in the dark, not just while making a collection. The search for something new is a constant in my everyday life. But constantly searching for something new is like looking for a well in a desert. It is like drowning in the dark, but creation is what I built Comme des Garçons on. For a collection, I need to push myself into a corner and find a way to get over the walls. The ideas are born disconnectedly, incoherently, and slowly, slowly, a final image emerges.

IS FASHION AN ART FORM? When fashion is driven by creation, I suppose it can be called an art form. But I have no concept of art in my work. Clothes are only completed when somebody actually wears them. If they were art, they could be more abstract. As long as something is new and has never been seen before, I don’t mind if people call it art. Wear them if you dare.

HOW DO YOU BALANCE ART AND COMMERCE? Comme des Garçons is a company founded on creation, but the link to business cannot be ignored. As the designer who is also head of the company, I have been able to “design” the company based on these same values. I want to take ultimate responsibility for the things I make and follow through everything right up to the end. What emerged, therefore, was a single decisive and coherent idea. Creation is our business.

DO YOU HAVE AN ULTIMATE GOAL? There is no end and no goal. As long as I’m attempting to make something that never existed before, an end is out of the question.

HOW IMPORTANT IS VISUAL COMMUNICATION? Extremely. I don’t trust words.

WHAT IS BEAUTY? Beauty should bring excitement.