rei of light

Rei Kawakubo’s work at Comme des Garçons is a constant commentary on the world we live in, and the fashion industry she inhabits. After four seasons of gloom, this spring Kawakubo let the light in.

by Anders Christian Madsen
Mar 4 2016, 3:40pm

In September 2013, Rei Kawaubo told guests at her Comme des Garçons women's show that she had decided not to design clothes at all that season. Instead, she simply created. Every look was different, slowly processing down the runway each to their own soundtrack, while her audience tried to decipher the uninhibited creation unfolding before our eyes—some dress-like, some seemingly not even outfits at all. Kawakubo was liberating herself from the duties of contemporary fashion: from wearability and saleability and every other concept of commerciality self-imposed by designers and brands today. In March 2014, she called her new collection Monster. Now interpreted in knitwear and leggings, the fantastical shapes of the previous season turned monstrous: bigger, darker, and more grotesque. Kawakubo cited "the craziness of humanity, the fear we all have, the feeling of going beyond common sense, the absence of ordinariness, expressed by something extremely big, by something that could be ugly or beautiful. In other words," she wrote in a rare statement, "I wanted to question the established standards of beauty."

In September 2014, she showed an all-red and black collection she referred to simply as "roses and blood." Her super-dimensional shapes remained, but they were murderously slashed as if covered in blood, and occasionally adorned with roses. If tension had been building for a year at the shows of Comme des Garçons, this was the dramatic highlight—the fight between good and evil, and the point of no return. How would it all end? In March 2015, Kawakubo presented her Ceremony of Separation to a heartbreaking Max Richter score, leaving her audience in tears as her now veiled colossus creatures padded in white linen floated past each other, brushing against one another on the narrow runway. What were we mourning? What were we burying? For four seasons, Kawakubo had challenged her own creation, defied the commercial lifted finger of her industry, and imbued her work with as much human emotion as it could take. On the backdrop of the escalating mood for big business going on in the industry around her, her devotion to pure feeling and creation was like an alarm bell she had been ringing steadily for two years. And then her mood changed.

In September 2015, "blue witch" was what Kawakubo enigmatically told guests backstage, following an uplifting show different in sentiment to its four predecessors. Music from David Lynch's Blue Velvet set an elated tone for a collection characterized by its saturated fuzzy red wigs. Royal blue, regal feathers, louche leopard and vivacious ruffles shrouded Kawakubo's majestic titan women in mystery, but it was the encouraging kind: somehow these opulent elements were all gravitating towards the light and reflecting it in their own image. Gone was the weltschmerz of previous seasons—in its place, a careful optimism rooted in an appreciation of wonder expressed through those rich materials. In Celtic tradition, the blue witch represents patience and peace. If Kawakubo had continued her seasonal dance with a fashion world in industrial change, her steps had now changed for the gentler. And perhaps she looked back on those four seasons and on herself, and felt like one of those blue witches, dramatic in gesture but only out to do good.

A part of our fascination with Comme des Garçons' unrestrained and unapologetic creation for the past five seasons has centerd around the idea of the customer: who would finally wear these majestic colossuses so larger-than-life, in real life? In a time of fast-fashion, mass-production, and pre-collections, there's something sensational about Kawakubo's defiance. Like teenagers to a reality show, we flock to her runway to see her uncompromising theatre of creation, emotion and mystique. It's fashion outside of definition, grander than ready-to-wear showpieces and as complex as haute couture—to which you might argue it belongs. But Kawakubo's dresses haven't been made to be seen exclusively on a runway, and neither have they been made to come with a personal fitting in a Parisian atelier. They're honest dresses sold in shops alongside her more commercial lines, and available to anyone devoted enough to buy them. In these odd times where great fashion often never makes it off the runway, perhaps that's the fascination: at Comme des Garçons, the theatre actually becomes reality.


Text Anders Christian Madsen
Photography Danko Steiner 
Fashion Director Alastair McKimm 
Make-up Francelle at Art and Commerce
Nail technician Natalie Pavloski at Bridge Artists using Chanel
Photography assistance Guario Rodriguez, Dave Mould
Digital operator Rob Dowsley
Styling assistance Lauren Davis, Sydney Rose Thomas
Make-up assistance Takahiro Okada
Production Helena Martel Seward
Casting Angus Munro for AM Casting (Streeters NY)
Special thanks to Daphne Seybold 
Model Ruth Bell at The Society
Ruth wears all clothing Comme Des Garçons.  

Comme des Garçons
Rei Kawakubo
Alastair McKimm
fashion interviews
danko steiner