Rei Kawakubo Reflects on Athleisure, the Fashion Business & Waiting in Line for Fashion

Demystifying the force that is Rei Kawakubo. That is what the New York Times’ T Magazine set out to do this weekend in a piece that looked to the Comme des Garçons mastermind’s creation of “subversive, gender-bending clothes for men,” something Japan-born, Paris and Tokyo-based Kawakubo started 40 years ago and is still doing.

Although, the article’s author, Alice Gregory, made note in her piece, entitled, Rei Kawakubo Revealed (Sort Of), that while she was seeking insight into Kawakubo’s “approach to making clothing for men, whether or not she had thoughts about the state of masculinity in 2018, how designing men’s wear is different (or similar) to creating women’s wear,” she “didn’t expect real answers” from one of fashion’s greatest minds. Ms. Kawakubo is, after all, “notorious for her gnomic pronouncements and her anachronistic, otherworldly embodiment of what it means to be a genius. Once, in response to a journalist’s question, Kawakubo drew a circle on a piece of paper and walked away.”

Below are a few interesting excerpts from the article, which can be found in its entirety here

On men’s dressing versus women: “Men seem to have more courage to try new things now, not only in Japan but all over the world,” she said, wondering aloud why women have become “so quiet,” and why, these days, it’s the men who buy and wear the showpieces. Women, comparatively, have become more conservative. “It’s a bit upsetting,” she said. “If you have an insight into that, it might help with my business.”

“There’s a tendency for men to queue up to buy things,” she said. “I wonder why women don’t do this. Why are there no women queuing up for Supreme or Nike?”

On the one fashion trend she hates: “The one thing she doesn’t like is camping clothing — you know, walking-outdoors fashion?” Adrien Joffe [Kawakubo’s husband and translator, and Comme’s president] interjected. “Athleisure, you mean?” I asked. He nodded and scribbled the word down in English on a scrap of paper for Kawakubo to read. “You know this word?” he asked. She shook her head in disdain. “The most boring fashion for her is this,” he said. “I have looked to see if there is anything interesting here and I have not found it,” Kawakubo added.

On the business of fashion: “Most businesses only think of evolution and growth in terms of the bottom line, and maybe the difference with Comme des Garçons is that it’s not necessarily what you can and can’t sell that makes the business, because the business is creation,” she said. Kawakubo admits that her venture into men’s wear was a practical decision, not an artistic one. But, she added, “I’ve often thought this is the most difficult way to do business. It’s not easy to sell only ideas and ones that people are not used to.” Every choice she makes, she said, even about corporate structuring, “is based on aesthetic values.”

On who she would most like to dress: “Is there any man you wish you could design for and haven’t?” I asked at the end of our hourlong meeting. Kawakubo shook her head. “It’s a stupid question,” she said.