Rei Kawakubo: the first lady of fashion

Ahead of Comme des Garçons AW14, we uncover an archive interview with the designer from Dazed & Confused issue 16, 1995

Comme X Cindy Sherman cover

In anticipation of the Comme des Garçons AW14 show on the 1st March this Paris Fashion Week, we look back at an interview Rei Kawakubo did with fellow fashion designer Paul Smith, in a special issue Smith guest edited. Never before published on Dazed Digital, the 'interview' is a snappy back-and-forth conversation between contemporaries, underpinned by Smith's clear admiration for the avant-garde designer – and Kawakubo's dry humour.

Taken from Dazed & Confused issue 16, 1995.

Kawakubo's international label Comme des Garçons, formed in Tokyo in 1973, is notably famous for setting the monochromatic style and changing the face of fashion in the early 80s. With "as never seen before" silhouettes – shapeless shapes for her simplistic tent-like shrouds poised in black austerity, her clothes are never about accentuating or revealing the body, but allowing the wearer to be who they are.

Kawakubo has always de-prettified the models who have stomped down the catwalk in a sombre wake, wearing clothes which initially had to be explained to customers on how they should be worn. The notorious black T-shirt, for example, which appeared to have four sleeves when placed flat, yet turned into a chic double tunic when worn. Comme des Garçons' hand-knit sweaters full of holes came close to punk, and appeared anarchistic at the time of 80s retentive power-dressing. She sees fashion as art, and designs sculpturally, considering the fabric first. Her minimalist, asymmetric clothes are the epitome of deconstructionalism (seams raw-edged, incompatible fabrics bonded together), inspiring a host of European designers, most notably John Galliano, Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester.

Comme des Garçons' kaleidoscopically-themed women's collection for Spring Summer 96 maintains Rei Kawakubo's position at the forefront of sensationalism. Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss and Nadja Auermann wore Ronald McDonald crazy-colour, candy-floss wigs and neon knitwear on the catwalk.

Kawakubo has always run the business side of Comme des Garçons and outsells either of her Japanese peers Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto by two to one. She has won several awards, held many exhibitions and had various books written about her. Her futuristic vision; her designs for "a way of life" through clothes, furniture, architecture, interiors and perfume and the former Comme des Garçons magazine Six, (which always overlooked her clothes, in favour of features, such as a ten page piece on Gilbert and George), have all established her as one of the 20th century's most important, innovative and influential designers.

Paul Smith: Thanks for letting me interview you. I thought, if it is OK with you, I'd just ask questions that I wish people would ask me, not typical interview questions. Who is your favourite artist and why?

Rei Kawakubo: No one in particular. I am usually more attracted to the way they lived their lives rather than their actual works.

PS: I recently went to see Christo's wrapping in Berlin. Have you seen any of his work? Do you like his work? If so, why do you like it?

RK: I find his concept interesting. Recently I saw a documentary on Christo working on his latest piece in Berlin on BBC which, amazingly, we are now able to see in Japan.

PS: Have you wrapped anything yourself?

RK: Yes. I have wrapped everything conceivable on a body while making clothes.

PS: Do you get time to travel for pleasure and, if so, where do you enjoy the most? If you go on holiday do you prefer to relax, sunbathe, sail, walk or explore new places?

RK: I like to travel to places that stimulate me but I never have enough time.

Comme embed 1
From Dazed & Confused issue 16, 1995

PS: Is there anywhere in particular you'd love to go but just haven't had the time or opportunity?

RK: Uzbekistan.

PS: Do you fancy Disneyland?

RK: It is the last place on earth I want to visit.

PS: How important is music in your life? What type of music do you like? Do you listen to music while you work? Do you go to watch live bands? Do you go to concerts? Do you own a Walkman?

RK: I never listen to music while working nor do I go to concerts. I like the sound of silence.

PS: I think I'm right in saying that, like me, you're a great fan of Le Corbusier. Are there any living architects whose work you admire? If so, why?

RK: I like the simplicity and spaciousness of Le Corbusier.

PS: Do you find time to go to the cinema or watch videos/television? If so, what subjects do you prefer?

RK: I enjoy films which have strong visuals. I certainly do not watch horror, SF or comedy.

PS: Have you ever been involved in the making of a movie in any way?

RK: No.

Paul Smith: Do you fancy Disneyland?
Rei Kawakubo: It is the last place on earth I want to visit.

PS: Do you have any plans to get involved in film in the future, or would you like to?

RK: No.

PS: What are your three favourite movies? What makes them special for you?

RK: Films by Theo Angelopoulos.

PS: Do you find time to read? Do you read Japanese or Western writers? Who is your favourite author? Did you read comics as a child?

RK: I have a tendency to buy books I want to read and they end up piling up on my desk, since I have little time to read.

PS: Do you have any sisters or brothers?

RK: Two younger brothers.

PS: Are they involved in Comme des Garçons or in fashion at all? What are their professions? Did they have an influence on your career?

RK: No, they are not involved in fashion. No, they do not influence my work.

Comme embed 2
From Dazed & Confused issue 16, 1995

PS: What is your earliest childhood memory? Mine was at the age of 11, incident of given bicycle.

RK: The seasons. Glaring sun and its heat. Snow piled up as high as one metre.

PS: Many people in Japan ride bicycles; do you?

RK: I prefer walking, but I have been able to ride a bicycle since I was a child.

PS: Over the years you have worked with many of the world's famous photographers. Do you take photographs? If so, do you prefer to use black and white, or colour films? Is it to record your and your friends' lives, or is it an art form?

RK: I enjoy looking at photographs but loathe being photographed. I'd rather make clothes than take photographs.

PS: Other than Japanese, what food do you enjoy?

RK: Spicy food, especially Thai.

PS: Do you cook at home?

RK: Sometimes.

PS: Have you ever eaten real English food? What do you think of it?

RK: Yes, I have eaten full English breakfast, which I like very much.

Paul Smith: Do you have any children?
Rei Kawakubo: Yes, 425. They all work at Comme des Garçons.

PS: Do you enjoy married life?

RK: I enjoy my life.

PS: Do you have any children?

RK: Yes, 425. They all work at Comme des Garçons.

PS: Are you an animal lover? What is your favourite animal? Do you have any pets? If so, what and how many?

RK: I like all animals, especially wolves.

PS: What do you fear the most?

RK: The next collection.

PS: What do you feel you'd still like to achieve in life?

RK: The next collection.

PS: What car do you drive?

RK: A big old Japanese car.

PS: What is your favourite month and why?

RK: The ones that do not have collections.

PS: What is your favourite number and why?

RK: Odd numbers, because they are asymmetric and strong.

PS: What is your lucky charm? Mine is a rabbit.

RK: I don't have one. I never even thought about it.

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