How ELLE Ruined a Once-in-a-Lifetime Interview with Rei Kawakubo

Jacques Hyzagi penned an interesting and down-right damning article for the Observer, entitled ELLE on Earth. Published today, the article reflects on a “once-in-a-lifetime” interview Mr. Hyzagi was commissioned to conduct with Comme des Garçons mastermind, Rei Kawakubo for ELLE magazine.

The New York-based writer sheds light on the process of organizing the interview with ELLE’s top news editor, Anne Slowey, who Hyzagi claims was on a strict mission to co-opt his article from the beginning; on meeting with Kawakubo, who has interestingly never been invited to Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour’s annual Met Gala; and on the end result of the interview.

Most interestingly, Hyzagi spoke to the power struggle in fashion, an industry struggling (particuarly when it comes to print), in flux, and where appearance is everything. Here are some of the most striking excerpts …

Kawakubo is the Bob Dylan of fashion—a designer’s designer—probably the most interesting designer alive today and she knows it. She is also the head of an empire that has never accepted outside investors and in such her independence is total.

She has her own praetorian guard in the person of her spokesperson/husband Adrian Joffe and an army of yes men and women who run away cowering at her first snap. She refuses to be photographed, has given the same bland elliptical interview every five years for the last thirty years, hates journalists and is known to answer a long, in-depth question with a lethal yes or no.

She is fiercely intelligent and has no patience for goobers. She is probably killing herself in her old age by trying to find four times a year entirely new ideas for each collection as she refuses to tap into the archives of fashion and recycle the old into the new like most designers do when they start their ersatz collections. The result is breathtaking.

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I realized that Anna Wintour had never invited Rei, the goddess of fashion, worshipped by every single designer from Karl Lagerfeld to Marc Jacobs and Alexander Wang, to her insufferable annual Ball at the Met. Had Rei refused the yearly extortion of ad buying in Anna’s September issue too many falls in a row?

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I’m sure Anne [Slowey, the news top editor for ELLE] was annoyed that her boss told her that she had accepted my interview with Rei and that she was assigned to it. Fair to bet that she thought: who is this asshole coming out of nowhere?

Although Anne had my phone she was sending these directives via CDG as if I was working for them and they were then relaying them to me by phone. I had more luck meeting that Hezbollah leader in downtown Beirut for an interview. Realizing I was dealing with a power angry maniac I called the meeting off and stood her up. Almost famous people have a tendency to act even more obnoxiously than the famous ones.

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I thought the hell with it I’ll go somewhere else but by then CDG was set on ELLE and the Guardian, the same outlets I had to work (is it clear here that it was CDG I had to convince into accepting the outlets?) hard in convincing in the first place. I understood that once you set the process forward with the egomaniac genius and precise designer, the slightest change might send the whole apparatus crashing.

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We all know most of our colleagues at work are incompetent frauds but it is the smallest unexpected change in our routines that reveal how easy it would be for our collective inefficiency to bring about destruction—how close we are from complete collapse. A box cutter brought down the World Trade Center and our air defense system with it.

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I talked to Robbie [Meyers, ELLE's editor-in-chief] and explained to her what had happened and that I couldn’t work with a power hungry flake. Ten minutes later Anne was calling me. I could tell I was on speakerphone. We decided that better than Paris, Tokyo should be the venue for the interview since Rei lives and works there.

I told Anne that I see Rei as a Romantic from early 19th century, a time when painters started depicting fires, ruins, decay and painted people from the back in a rebuke to the sickening self righteousness of the Enlightenment and by extension as a Dada trying to destroy art. That’s great I love it, she said. People are so fucking stupid nobody knows what Dada is.

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I wanted to talk about the Anna Wintour slight at the Met Ball and she told me everybody is sick and tired of fucking Anna Wintour. Let me deal with the other designers’ tributes, you do the interview and write the piece, she told me. She never did any of it, of course. My impression of Anne was that she was loud and tacky. I had heard that working with her was a mess akin to making a mule piss in a public bathroom.

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For someone of her stature to smile when I asked her if she were neurotic goes beyond the fact that no one has ever talked to her like this in 40 years. It was the moment that I could see she was playing, that it was all an act. She knows she is the most important designer alive and she plays the part down to her refusal to give interviews or have her photo taken, which I did anyway on my iPhone. Her work, even for someone like me who hates fashion, is breathtaking. A folly in the sense that Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films were follies.

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Anna Wintour herself said it recently, fashion works from the street up to designers not from the top down. The most attractive women in New York wear a leather jacket, beat up boyfriend jeans and used combat boots. Most of the clothes the best designers—mainly gay men—put on the runways are restricting, repressing camisoles that restrain women as if they were hysterics on the way to the loony bin, not to say anything of the sadistic high heels that submissive women awkwardly don, torture apparatus meant to apparently please an ethos from the worst patriarchy.

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It was a no hold barred interview. Rei opened up for the first time about the way she creates, her excitement at the punk movement in the late 70’s, her support for Hillary Clinton, her interest in the Dada movement, her disdain for feminism, the folly of her constant search for the new, her consternation at the corporatization of today’s fashion, her hatred of the jingoistic current Japanese Prime Minister, the restraints that she imposes on herself and therefore her work, the limits of freedom. None of this will make it in the interview ELLE publishes.

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The interview published in ELLE this month is surprisingly tight, concise and actually quite good. Only an eye well trained in the art of George Orwell’s double speak would be able to detect the branded content at play in full force here. It is bland, milquetoast, uninformative, safe above all, boring. An infomercial. Adrian Joffe made sure of it. It has nothing to do with the interview Rei gave us. It is marital beardy betrayal of the worst kind. Anne discarded the text I had written entirely but not before she stole its structures and plagiarized its ideas.

Because she cannot write and is not very bright she succeeded, no small feat, in making a fascinating and revolutionary person such as Rei sound mediocre. Her text is replete with platitudes and clichés, with no insight or intelligence to speak for it and now looks like a perfect Wikipedia entry. You could read these lines and rightfully find them quite presumptuous and arrogant. So you will be the judge.

When the Guardian heard about this they made sure that the British fashion magazine 10 would publish a text I would write on Rei. It is now on sale in every newsstand in New York, uncensored, unpurloined. Adrian Joffe did not content brand it. The real interview, which according to her husband was the best she had ever given? It will stay locked in a vault at ELLE and a contract signed by a broke writer will make sure that nobody ever reads it.

* Now go read the article in its entirety on the Observer