The cultural avant-garde are the true innovators of their craft. They live to rebel against the status-quo, no matter how limited their appeal may be. In 1969, the freelance stylist Rei Kawakubo started her own brand, called Comme des Garçons (from a French soldier’s song meaning Like the Boys). Her mission was simply to ‘make a business out of creation.’ But what emerged from her studio in the years to follow was nothing short of a fashion revolution: black, baggy, distressed clothing that questioned long-held assumptions in the western world about sexuality identity and the human figure. 40 years later, the brand continues to define the term avant-garde in fashion – not only for it’s radical approach to clothing, but for it’s innovative retail architecture and design as well. Recent projects with mainstream brands like H&M and Converse have made the brand a little less exclusive, but Kawakubo and her collaborators never fail to surprise (and occasionally shock) at every level, year after year, with their fearless creativity.
When Kawakubo brought her ready-to-wear collection to Paris in 1981, she already had a loyal following in Japan. The international press was shocked to see Rei’s models marching down the runway in tatters. They had ever never seen anything like it, calling it Hiroshima Chic or The Boro Look. Her alternative approach to personal style, shared by her then-boyfriend Yohji Yamamoto, expressed power and confidence through artistic savvy instead of sexuality, and quickly gained a small, but highly committed client base internationally. Since then, Rei’s company has expanded to include many sub-brands, 12 independent boutiques, and hundreds of merchants around the world, with up to $180M in annual revenue (a drop in the bucket compared to many mainstream fashion labels). But what she has added to the history of fashion for the last 40 years is beyond measure – “If my ultimate goal was to achieve financial success, I would have done things differently, but I want to create something new. I want to suggest to people different aesthetics and values. I want to question their being.” – Rei Kawakubo #donjiroban