Rei Kawakubo is among the most respected and unconventional designers in contemporary fashion. As the driving force behind the fashion brand Comme des Garçons, she has continually challenged current ideals of body shape, garment construction and use of colour. Refusing to conform to conventional notions of beauty, Kawakubo creates her own statements through radical silhouette and structure. In doing so, she is credited with revolutionising fashion.
Born in Tokyo in 1942, she studied literature before working as a stylist, although never formally training in fashion design or 'clothes making' as she prefers to call it. Comme des Garçons was founded in 1969, as a way to supplement her income. A men's line was added in 1978, but it wasn't until 1981 that she sprang to fame with her first Paris presentation. A shock to the West at that time, Kawakubo's approach directly challenged the era's fixation with a commercially-conceived expression of glamour. The 1981 collection was dubbed 'Hiroshima Chic' for its black colour palette and deconstructed silhouettes and finishes. Her output is frequently described as 'anti-fashion' or 'art', owing to Kawakubo's conceptual and intellectual rigour, but this cerebral methodology hasn't stopped her building one of the biggest independent fashion empires, where she not only enjoys complete artistic freedom, but also significant financial success. Kawakubo's designs have inspired and continue to inspire younger generations of designers, including Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang and Ann Demeulemeester. She has also fostered fashion talent including Junya Wanatabe.
Kawakubo opened Dover Street Market, her first London store, in October 2004, in which she curates various labels of her own personal choosing. Dover Street Market now has additional outposts in New York, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing and Los Angeles.
Her work has featured in multiple exhibitions, including 2 Women: Gabrielle Chanel and Rei Kawakubo in Antwerp (2001) and Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2017), which became the theme of the Met Gala that year.
Kawakubo has also been honoured by the worlds of art and design, including: Mainichi Fashion Grand Prize, 1983; the Fashion Group International award, 1986; Fashion Institute of Technology, 1987; the Excellence in Design Award from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2000; and the Isamu Noguchi Award, 2019.