In the world of fashion, COMME des GARÇONS (コム・デ・ギャルソン) is unique: having recently celebrated its fortieth year in business, it remains one of the world’s most avant-garde fashion houses and continues to innovate in its approach to the design, marketing and selling of its creations: like its brilliant creator Rei Kawakubo (川久保 玲), it lives by its own rules.

comme des garcons aoyama

cdg trading museum

Spotlight

  • 1942: Rei Kawakubo was born in Tokyo
  • 1964: she graduated in fine arts and literature from prestigious Keio University
  • 1967: she began work as a freelance fashion stylist, having previously worked in the advertising department of a company that developed synthetic textiles
  • 1969: Kawakubo established COMME des GARÇONS as a fashion label
  • 1973: the business was incorporated as Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd; Kawakubo created the first COMME des GARÇONS women’s collection
  • 1975: Kawakubo showed her first collection in Tokyo; she opened her first boutique, designed by architect Takao Kawasaki, in Tokyo’s Minami-Aoyama district, selling women’s clothing
  • 1978: she designed the first collection of menswear, COMME des GARÇONS HOMME
  • 1981: she presented her collection – dubbed ‘Hiroshima chic’ – at the Paris couture shows for the first time together with an equally unknown Yohji Yamamoto
  • 1982: the first COMME des GARÇONS boutique outside Japan wass opened in Paris
  • 1983: a COMME des GARÇONS furniture collection, manufactured by the Italian company Pallucco, was introduced
  • 1984: Junya Watanabe joined the company as an apprentice patternmaker, having graduated from Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion College
  • 1988: launched the first edition of COMME des GARÇONS Six, a biennial art/photo magazine – publication of the magazine ended in 1991
  • 1989: COMME des GARÇONS Aoyama flagship store opened in Tokyo with its iconic undulating glass facade
  • 1993: launch of the JUNYA WATANABE COMME des GARÇONS womenswear label; Watanabe’s first showing in Paris; Kawakubo was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France’s Ministry of Culture
  • 1994: the unisex COMME des GARÇONS Eau de Parfum, the company’s first fragrance was introduced in its revolutionary packaging
  • 1997: Tao Kurihara, a graduate of London’s Central St Martins College of Art and Design joined the company to work as Junya Watnabe’s assistant; Kawakubo designed the set and costumes for legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham’s production Scenario
  • 2001: launch of Watanabe’s menswer label, COMME des GARÇONS JUNYA WATANABE MAN
  • 2003: PLAY COMME des GARÇONS line was introduced, featuring the iconic red heart with eyes logo by artist Filip Pagowski
  • 2004: opened the first short-lease COMME des GARÇONS  GUERILLA STORE in Berlin
  • 2005: launch of Kurihara’s TAO COMME des GARÇONS womenswear label; opening of the DOVER STREET MARKET (DSM) concept store, featuring CdG lines and those of other invited designers, in London
  • 2008: Kawakubo designed a ‘guest designer’ collection for Swedish high street retail giant H&M
  • 2009: launch of the temporary all black BLACK COMME des GARÇONS line, inspired by the H&M collaboration, sold in BLACK pop up kiosks initially within Tokyo department stores Isetan, Mitsukoshi and Parco; a bag collaboration with The Beatles was launched along with the opening of the innovative Trading Museum in the Gyre building in Harajuku’s Omotesando

Comme des Garçons has always traveled at its own pace and will continue to do so.

Rei Kawakubo, 2010

Rei Kawakubo’s decision in 1969 to use COMME des GARÇONS as the name of her clothing label was an apt choice as its meaning – like, or similar to, boys – alluded to the asexual, androgynous styling of the women’s clothes that Kawakubo originally created. The message was, then, that this was a label that would live by its own rules.

The fact that Kawakubo had not formally trained in pattern-making, traditional clothing styling and other aspects of fashion design, allowed her the freedom to approach clothing without restrictions. Her innate fashion sense together with early exposure to the processes of advertising and textile creation and an uncanny business sense were the tools she used to successfully used to transform the international fashion landscape.

Though Kawakubo had been refining her fashion experimentation throughout the 1970s in Japan, COMME des GARÇONS famously entered the international consciousness and lexicon in 1981, when Kawakubo’s dramatic, inventive, somber 1981 collection of sculpted and deconstructed garments, distressed fabrics and noir color palette reverberated through the Parisian salons and media and beyond. The fashion press termed the clothing Hiroshima chic and the appearance of her debut European collection, akin to a conceptual avant-garde art exhibition, in Paris had a seismic impact on the world of fashion.

Kawakubo’s intellectual approach to design, her experimentation with fabric and form and her marketing and merchandising genius have seen her label grow into a huge global business with a portfolio of inventive labels, licensing deals and collaborations, a stable of brilliant designers and a collection of groundbreaking retail spaces.

Designing under the CdG umbrella, the master’s apprentices Tao Kurihara and in particular Junya Watanabe create signature collections that are as revered and sought after by young fashionistas around the globe as the earlier creations of Kawakubo were by their parents. In nurturing, then giving free reign to and supporting the talents of her proteges, Kawakubo has allowed the CdG brand to remain vital, innovative and relevant to today’s fashion consumers and media. Watanabe, with his fascination for synthetic fabrics continues the company’s explorations into clothing textiles, Kurihara expanding the vocabulary of natural fibers, both designers’ collections show inventive reworkings of wardrobe staples, an adventurous use of color and patterns, experiments with shape and dramatic catwalk styling. At the other end of the spectrum, the PLAY label takes an anti-design approach, centering on design classics – the T-shirt, Polo shirt, and so on – and mixing them up with the Japanese kawaii spirit in the form of the label’s cute, childlike heart logo; it is perfectly pitched at the young clientele who wear it like a badge of honor.

In its choice of collaborations, COMME des GARÇONS has made unconventional decisions. Aside from Kawakubo’s own past artistic collaborations, her furniture designs produced by Pellucco and her sellout range for H&M, the company has also produced footwear with punk icon Dr. Martens and ballet supplier Repetto, sneakers with classic labels Converse and Superga, outerware with Moncler and The North Face, sportswear with Fred Perry and Speedo, fragrances with publisher Tyle Brûlé’s Monocle and designer Jun Takahashi’s Undercover label, and bags with Louis Vuitton and the Beatles. There’s even a CdG Barbie doll!

Beyond the clothes and accessories, Kawakubo has also ignored the accepted practices to reinvent the shopping experience, first with her industrial, bunker-like shop spaces, to the dramatically carved spaces exemplified by the Aoyama flagship store, on which she collaborated with long time contributing architect Takao Kawasaki and artists Christian Astugevieille and Sophie Smallhorn on the interiors and Future Systems, who were responsible for the store’s iconic undulating glass façade. Her Guerilla store concept when introduced was a new idea for high fashion as was her theme park approach to London’s Dover Street Market, which she decided to share with other designers whose work she likes. Most recently, the Trading Museum puts the emphasis on browsing rather than buying, the modest space offering a mixture of surreal sculptures, exquisite Victorian era cabinets (on loan from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum), typically dramatic clothing and pop merchandise.

At 68, like any great artist, Kawakubo appears to still be pushing the boundaries of her medium, and COMME des GARÇONS looks set to continue surprising and delighting its followers.

In terms of creation, I have never thought of suiting any system or abiding by any rules, either a long time ago or right now. In this respect I have remained free.

Rei Kawakubo, 2010

dover street market cdg aoyama flagship


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