Creative Industry Report: Rei Kawakubo

Who is Rei Kawakubo, emblematic figure of fashion ?

Rei Kawakubo, born in 1942. She is a Japanese fashion designer, based in Tokyo and Paris. She is the founder of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market. Kawakubo was not formally trained as a fashion designer. She took a degree in ‘the history of aesthetics’ at Keio University in Tokyo. After graduation in 1964, Kawakubo worked in the advertising department at the textile company Asahi Kasei. And in 1967, she became a freelance stylist. Two years later, when she could not find the clothes that she wanted for a photo shoot, she decided to design and make her own clothes under the label Comme des Garçons, French for “like some boys” (though she has never wanted to be like anyone). She opened her first boutique in Tokyo, 1973, setting up the brand’s non-conformist: empty shop windows, clothes at the back of the store and no mirrors at all. The message is very clear: you buy an item from Comme des Garcons for what it brings to you, not for what it makes you look like.

Who is Rei Kawakubo, emblematic figure of fashion ?

In recognition of the notable design contributions of Kawakubo, an exhibition of her designs entitled Rei Kawakubo/Commes des Garçons, Art of the In-Between opened from 4 May to 4 September 2017 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. This thematic show features approximately 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection, illustrating the designer’s revolutionary experiments in “in-betweenness”-the space between boundaries. Kawakubo’s creative pieces are always abstract, unconventional, and unpredictable-they are always beyond our expectations. As rather than respond to trends, she rooted her designs in concepts, straddling art and fashion. Because most of her works did not fit the industry’s perception of what women wanted, especially her early works, her designs were sometimes described as anti-fashion.

One of her works that left a deep impression on me is the Spring/Summer 1997 collection, she took the idea of ‘rethinking the body’ a step further and launched her famous ‘Lumps ‘n Bumps’ collection, called ‘Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress,” where the dress and the body become one: this collection integrated organic padded structures made out of goose down feathers, and completely disfigured the body. It reformed the human body and blurred the boundaries between dress and body, object and subject. It was a celebration of deformity and was challenging the normative conventions of beauty.  

“For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty… Comme des Garçons is a gift to oneself, not something to appeal or to attract the opposite sex,” Kawakubo’s iconoclastic vision made her one of the most influential designers of the late 20th century. However, her ambition was never to become a designer, she just wanted to use fashion as a material to make a business out of creation. Kawakubo likes to have input in all the various aspects of her business, instead of just focusing on clothes and accessories. She is greatly involved in graphic design, advertising, interior design and installations, believing that all these things are a part of one vision and are inextricably linked. And she does inspire me to learn to accept new things and changes; rethink about what beauty means to me and continue to push the boundaries, and eventually find out my own way of creation.



Thurman, J. (2014). The Unsettling Vision of Rei Kawakubo. Available at:

Who is Rei Kawakubo, e. (2019). Who is Rei Kawakubo, emblematic figure of fashion? | EN. Available at:

Rei Kawakubo | Biography & Facts. (2020). Available at:

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between – Rei Kawakubo – Google Arts & Culture. Available at: