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Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons Interview
Rei Kawakubo: The Sphinx Speaks!

January 4, 2011 11:32 am

Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo was in Beijing this week to open her new store in the city’s Sanlitun retail complex. The 68-year-old designer—who apparently went completely silent when asked whether she had any plans to retire—spoke to Women’s Wear Daily about her business, her designs, and her particular shopping patterns. The entire Q&A (available here) is well worth a read, especially given how rarely Kawakubo speaks with the press, but we’ve culled some of our favorite bits below.

On the changing style in China: “When I came here 10 years ago there were no people who would wear Comme des Garçons. I was just in the towns and didn’t go to the places where fashionable people gathered, but now it is much more casual. I used to enjoy seeing people wearing communist workers’ clothes and I don’t see that anymore.”

On the changing inspiration for her line: “Do you think it’s changed? For me it hasn’t changed at all. The way I approach each collection is exactly the same…the motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn’t exist before.”

On the impact of fast fashion: “The value of creation is diminishing, and very expensive things are not interesting.”

On where she prefers to shop: “At airports, because I don’t have time to shop. I buy my cosmetics at the airport and there’s nothing else much I buy. I just don’t have time.”

Above: Comme des Garçons Spring 2011.

if anyone can post the complete interview from WWD that would be great!

thanks in advance!...

"It is not money that makes you well dressed: it is understanding."

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source |

Rei Kawakubo always aims to push the limits.

The mind behind Comme des Garçons and one of fashion's most influential and reclusive figures says that with each collection she is out to create something totally new — a goal that is becoming harder and harder the longer she is in fashion. And that is just one of the many provocative admissions Kawakubo made during a rare interview pegged to the opening of I.T Beijing Market, her new multibrand store in the Chinese capital.

The 68-year-old designer admits she is starting to ponder a succession strategy for her business and indicated that she doesn’t oppose the idea of selling her company. Surprisingly, she said she doesn’t think anyone would be interested in it. Her husband and the company’s chief executive Adrian Joffe, on hand to translate the designer’s words from Japanese to English, said half-jokingly: "We're waiting for an offer."

In another burst of humility — a rare commodity in the fashion world — Kawakubo concedes that even she has her creative limits.

"The motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn’t exist before," said the diminutive, bob-haired designer, sitting in a chandelier-lit private room in the basement of The Opposite House, a Kengo Kuma-designed boutique hotel in the Sanlitun retail complex housing her new store. "The more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to make something new. Once I’ve made something, I don’t want to do it again, so the breadth of possibility is becoming smaller."

Such a statement immediately prompts the question of whether the iconic designer could ever think about ending her career. Kawakubo, clad in a black sweater bearing the phrase "My Energy Comes From Freedom" and a pair of her signature drop-crotch trousers, went completely and awkwardly silent when asked about the prospect of retirement.

In other revelations, Kawakubo, who has collaborated with companies as diverse as Louis Vuitton and H&M in recent years, isn’t exactly showering compliments on the rest of the fashion world. For one, she isn’t all that impressed with most of the new designers out there.

"They lack discipline...They're not strict enough with themselves," she said.

Meanwhile, both Kawakubo and Joffe noted Comme des Garçons' increasing popularity with Asian consumers and its continued momentum across international markets. Joffe said 2011 sales in Asia are expected to grow 45 percent while those in Europe and Japan are forecast to increase by 8 percent and those in the U.S. are seen gaining 10 percent.

Kawakubo said she feels vindicated by such growth.

"I never thought of limiting myself just to Japan. I had my eye on the entire world, and I think that was the right thing to do," she reasoned. "My way of expressing things — not just through clothes but through direct mailings, shop design, Six magazine…I think that it’s all proved correct. For many years I wondered whether it was right or not but it seems to be that in recent years…it’s all been validated."

True to her perfectionist self, Kawakubo was adjusting the aluminum frame display cases in the Beijing store just hours before Comme des Garçons and its Hong Kong-based retail partner I.T Limited hosted last week’s opening bash. Droves of trendy Beijingers braved the arctic blasts of wind to watch a traditional lion dance performance on an outdoor stage. Inside, they wandered the 20,000-square-foot store and took in its spotted columns and whimsical artworks. Two large sculptures figure prominently: a life-size black elephant by Stephanie Quayle and a white pelican with foldable paper wings by Michael Howells.

The store, reminiscent of the brand's Dover Street Market complex in London, carries a range of apparel and accessories from various CdG lines, as well as merchandise from brands like Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Dior Homme, Ann Demeulemeester and Hussein Chalayan. The basement of the building houses a new boutique from A Bathing Ape, which connects to the I.T Beijing Market through a staircase.

Before the opening, the friendly yet serious Kawakubo — who was anxious to get back to work on her new store — sat down with WWD for a half-hour chat about fashion, China today and more.

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WWD: How do you feel about the Beijing store?

Rei Kawakubo:
Well, this isn’t about the store, but I first came to China 30, 40 years ago, and I've been here many times in the past 15 years and I have witnessed many changes. Now with fashion, at the very least you can find all the brands in Beijing and Shanghai. So I wanted to do something new…a new method or expression…with fashion and Comme des Garçons in a place that has everything. I'm very happy to have worked with I.T in order to realize that.

WWD: You mentioned that you’ve been coming here for 30 years. What kinds of changes have you witnessed in China and its consumers over that time period?

R.K.: First of all, the administration [of the country] is totally different. Now, it has become more free. I feel that people are much more free to make new things and create new business than was possible before…and there are more people who are interested in these changes and who are aspiring to participate in the changes, so from that point of view I think it has changed completely.

WWD: What do you think of the way people dress here and their style?

R.K.: When I came here 10 years ago there were no people who would wear Comme des Garçons. I was just in the towns and didn’t go to the places where fashionable people gathered, but now it is much more casual. I used to enjoy seeing people wearing communist workers' clothes and I don’t see that anymore.

WWD: How has the inspiration for your collections changed over the course of your career?

R.K.: Do you think it's changed? For me it hasn’t changed at all. The way I approach each collection is exactly the same…the motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn't exist before. The more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to make something new. Once I’ve made something, I don’t want to do it again, so the breadth of possibility is becoming smaller.

WWD: Everyone is talking about how the Japanese market for retail and luxury goods is just terrible right now. Do you think that will change? Do you think there is a way to get consumers excited again?

R.K.: Now, with fast fashion, the value of creation is diminishing, and very expensive things are not interesting.

WWD: Is there any way out of that situation?

R.K.: I always think that I'd like to do something about the’s a very profound motivation...but I don't think it's something that can really be changed. I'm not powerful enough. There's a closed-mindedness that prevents movement and change. I always think that I’d like to break that, and I've used it [this closed-mindedness] as a theme for collections, but I just can't seem to break it. I want to wake people up, but I don’t think I succeed in doing this as much as I would like to.

WWD: Do you feel like other retailers and brands are missing a trick? Maybe things aren't interesting enough?

R.K.: Definitely. But I don’t want to say, “Let's do it together,” because everyone has to do their own thing. I'm not into creating movements.

WWD: You mentioned fast fashion. That's been a huge story and obviously you had your collaboration with H&M. Would you consider doing something like that again?

R.K.: That was a special case. They were making a new store in Japan, so it was just a short, two-week relationship. It wasn't a big thing, but I thought it was interesting because they asked me to do all the advertising and visuals as well. H&M has a very different way of thinking and a different business model, so it was interesting to see how much of a connection we could make. But in the end I realized that there wasn’t very much in common, so I don’t think I'll do it again.

WWD: What do you think of Jil Sander's work with Uniqlo?

R.K.: I don't really know much about it, but each person has their own way of thinking. I haven't seen it.

WWD: Where do you like to shop?

R.K.: At airports, because I don't have time to shop. I buy my cosmetics at the airport and there's nothing else much I buy. I just don’t have time.

WWD: Where do you want to see your company in five to 10 years' time? What kind of future do you see for it?

R.K.: I just have to do the best I can do for right now.

WWD: Do you think the time will come when you don’t want to design anymore and you don't have any more ideas?

[No answer]

WWD: So, for right now you're just concentrating on your business? You're not thinking about a succession plan?

R.K.: Of course there are things to be thought about. There's nothing much I want to say now but probably the company will carry on with the staff that we have. The staff that I'm bringing up.

WWD: Would you consider selling it or listing it on the stock market?

R.K.: I don’t think there's anyone who would want to buy it. I do everything on my own, so there are very few people who could do it. Do you think there's anyone who would buy it? [Joffe interjected half-jokingly with a laugh: "We’re waiting for an offer."]

WWD: How do you come up with a retail concept? Where do you start?

R.K.: Firstly, I want to make a shop that’s unlike any that already exists. And then, since it’s a business, we have to be able to get back the initial investment, whether it's ours or whether it's the partner's, in as short a time as possible. So I don’t like to use expensive materials. I take care to make costs reasonable. It's very similar to the way I make clothes. I give myself limits, not only financial limits but I also limit my method of expression, and from within those limits I try to come up with something new and interesting.

WWD: I remember reading in one of your previous interviews that you really don't like being lumped together into a group of Japanese designers, but I wanted to ask what you thought of Yohji Yamamoto falling into bankruptcy protection. Obviously you had such strong links with him.

R.K.: I can't really comment on that. His way of doing things is very different to my way of doing things.

WWD: Are there any young designers coming up through the ranks you’re keeping your eye on?

R.K.: There are very few. There are few people who, like us, have the values and the way of thinking to really try hard. They lack discipline. And it's not just fashion, I think…[young people] get satisfied too easily. They're not strict enough with themselves. They’re too soft on themselves.

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OMG! Pearls of wisdom! Thank you thank you Soft and MMA for the article.

Im so excited about CDG carrying on! And her take on fashion NOW!

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thanks much for posting this.

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her honesty and her wisdom is very much a breath of fresh air.

thank you softie and MMA for posting this.

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Thank you both for this interview! It is always a pleasure to hear from her

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Her attitude and personality oozes from this interview. I admire her approach to things so much.

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MMA thank you so so much!

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Not that i'm dead keen on disturbing your moment of worship, but it appears that WWD twisted Rei Kawakubo's words....

Last week we reported on Rei Kawakubo’s eye-opening interview with WWD. She told the publication that she wasn’t into young designers and that the company could be sold. Or did she? In an interview with Hypebeast, Comme des Garcons president Adrian Joffe (who also happens to be Mr. Rei Kawakubo) claims WWD totally got their facts wrong. And he’s not afraid to call them out on it.

Joffe denies that Rei hates the youngs:

I believe you mean the interview that was published from the establishment rag known as WWD. We were rather upset if not shocked by the way they twisted the words of Rei and made it sound like she was dismissive of young designers in general. Everyone knows that Rei respects enormously all-young designers that work hard and believe in creation. COMME des GARÇONS are constantly on the lookout for creative talent to have in our multi mark shops, and anyone who knows Dover Street Market London will know we have many young designers there. She was merely making the comment about a lot of young people in general these days, not just in fashion, as they hope and expect for success too quickly and are too impatient. In her time, it took years and years before she was really able to make a proper living at making clothes. However she knows that the times are very different now and she knows how hard it is. She is in no way dismissive of young designers, as she only wants to encourage them to be strong and creative and follow their own vision. Sharing spaces with people like them is the fundamental idea behind Dover Street Market London and I.T Beijing Market.

And that she’s secretive, and that the company is up for sale:

Rei did at least ten or fifteen interviews in 2010 alone. We did five in Beijing just last week, even though WWD falsely called their particular one “rare”. What nonsense! She is not so much secretive as simply unwilling to talk about her private life and she doesn’t like being photographed. She basically doesn’t trust journalists because they often twist what she says and turn it around to make their point. She has very often been deceived by journalists in this way. The scandal mongering WWD’s article of last week is a case in point. Not only did they dare to publish a totally unauthorized photo of Rei, they also twisted many of her own words, or taking them out of context, to make them sound revelatory when they were not. For example, they made it sound that COMME des GARÇONS is for sale, which it totally isn’t. They called my 100% joke about waiting for an offer, a “half joke…”.

Yeah, Joffe is pissed. But the best part of his interview? This:

Hypebeast: It is known that Japanese designers such as herself were not happy to be branded as the “Japanese” back in the 1980s. Can you explain why this was the case? And also what is the reason behind the fascinations of death, shapes and black amongst the Japanese designers?

AJ: We cannot answer questions about the so-called “Japanese designers”. It was a mere accident that Rei was born in Japan.

WWD at its best.

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Huang Jyun of Bundpic China interviews Rei Kawakubo's husband, Adrian Joffe.
August 11, 2014

Bundpic : What will COMME des GARCONS be if you and Rei both retire from the company?
Adrian Joffe : That's a difficult question. There will be one day we have to retire, we can't always keep going. Nobody lives forever.
I think if we were both out of this company, then COMME des GARCONS will be different - the engine is gone. But we have many
talented designers, like Junya Watanabe, Tao Kurihara and Fumito Ganryu, they all have that possibility to make the group
more successful than ever.

BP : But what if there's another group calls for the acquisition?
AJ : That can be one solution too. Rei can be a consultant for the brand. Maybe the new group will change the system, we can adapt to that.

BP : Which of these 16 lines under COMME des GARCONS does the best?
AJ : The best selling lines are COMME des GARCONS, Homme Plus, Play, Junya Watanabe, Junya Watanabe Man and Tricot.
By the way, We will launch our latest line "Boy" in 2015.

BP : What are the key elements when you consider doing a collaboration with others?
AJ : Unless we can create something new together, otherwise we don't work with other brands. We've never done swimsuit, so we work
with the best Japanese swimwear manufacturer Speedo; We've never worked with fast fashion, so we chose to collab with H&M.
Many crossovers fall flat these days, that's why we are always in the search of collaborators, which we can bring value to each of us.
Our first crossover experience was with VIvienne Westwood 15 years ago. It was an opportunity of sharing the belief and creativity,
and showing the freedom of expression. We want to see unexpected results to happen.

BP : Can the business model of COMME des GARCONS be cloned to other companies?
AJ : It can be an example, I'd say. Every brand has its business model. Ours may be favored by some people, there is a chance
some others hate it. We don't have our own factory, we don't do large batch production.
What we do is to keep creating new lines, it's our way to do things.

BP : What's your relationship with Rei like in everyday life?
AdJ : Our personal relationship is separated from the work. I don't talk about our lives with others, neither does Rei.
As for work, it's just like what people can see, firm, sometimes good, or bad, ordinary.

BP : What was Rei like when you first met her?
AJ : She wore all black, very cool, with a dog barking at me. I felt this woman is full of energy.

BP : It seems Rei doesn't like to smile.
AJ : In front of the media and crowds, she is just shy. But when she is with friends she's a very interesting person.
Rei just doesn't like being taken pictures.

BP : Do you celebrate on special days?
AJ : We don't really care about that. I love her a lot, but we don't celebrate on the marriage anniversary or birthday.
Birthday is not special to us. We buy gifts for each other when we want to, not for birthdays. Rei likes traditional holidays,
like the New Year Festival. That's when we celebrate.

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