A flash of angular black hair, a steely gaze, and a commitment to all black dressing…fashion figure and design icon Rei Kawakubo looks the same in black and white photographs as she does in color ones. The godmother of high fashion minimalism, she is a compact but intimidating style genius so much more than a fashion designer, her work is a movement. The Coco Chanel of the post-modern age, her designs have influenced a range of modern designers, from Helmut Lang to her one-time apprentice Junya Watanabe.
Born in Tokyo in 1942, the untrained fashion legend studied fine arts at the impressive and illustrious Keio University before launching her career in advertising for a textile company. Two years later, the hawk eyed Kawakubo began her career as a freelance fashion stylist, styling shoots and beginning to hone her particular and severe signature style. Gaining momentum in 1973, she established her own company the famed Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd and started her first brick and mortar boutique in 1975. Subsequent years saw her showing her pieces in Paris in the early 80’s, and a cult following was born.
Rei’s unique sense for the distinctly anti-fashion and deconstructed won the hearts of fashion patrons worldwide. Her impact on how we shop for, purchase, and why we wear clothing has been nothing short of game changing. So much so that her most dedicated fans (often other bold typeface designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Phoebe Philo, and Marc Jacobs) credit her with liberating the consumer from the notion that they must buy clothing that seduces, attracts, and enhances one’s appearances. Rei Kawakubo’s designs range from plain and angular utilitarian simplistic minimalism to avant garde and often preposterous shapes and forms. We admire her for her commitment to interpretting and presenting a new kind of beauty…one that is free from outside influences, cookie cutter notions of attractiveness and adherence to standards.
Perpetually avoiding the limelight, the world renowned fashion designer rarely takes a bow after fashion shows…and hasn’t been professionally photographed in over a decade. Instead, she prefers only to meet with buyers who will select her visions to grace their showrooms and department stores. In a rare WWD interview (done solely via email) she eschews her icon status by simply saying “I am not aware I am an Icon.” Her dedication is not to fame or to be reverred, but to getting her visions out to the consumer. Rei teaches us that the greatest motivation towards success is one that is closest to your heart.