Chaos Theory

Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons says she isn't out to break the rules. That doesn't mean she hasn't left plenty of them crumbled in her wake

Published April 04, 2013
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MS: Do you believe there are rules in fashion? Do you consider yourself to be a rule breaker?

RK: I'm not interested in rules, or whether they are there or not. I do not consciously set out to break rules. I only make clothes that I myself feel are beautiful or good-looking. People maybe say that this way of feeling is against the rules.

MS: You've spoken occasionally about the constant need for newness in your work. Is newness the ultimate goal of design? How would you rank it relative to function and beauty?

RK: What new means to me is something that doesn't exist already and that I haven't seen before. The image I have made once is already no longer new to me, so you could say the goal is not to be found in eternity. Beauty and function are different things, but luckily they have a mutual connection. But the fundamental values around which I built CDG, i.e., creation and new, have no connection to beauty and function.

MS: Do you feel that the fashion industry has become too corporate?

RK: The corporateness of the fashion industry tends to take away or distort the freedom of creation.

MS: Comme des Garçons is an independent exception. What are the benefits of independence? What are the downsides?

RK: The benefit is that I am free, and I don't take notice of the downsides.

MS: Given the state of the fashion world today, do you think a designer could start out independently, as you did, and maintain that independence even while growing to a global scale? Is the world today as hospitable to designers as it was when you began?

RK: I think the fashion world has never been a comfortable, easy place to be in. I mean, in terms of always having to fight to be free to make what one wants.

MS: Where do you see the next great designer coming from?

RK: ???

MS: When you first decided to show in Paris, were you apprehensive about what the reaction would be? Did the reaction you received surprise you?

RK: I always had good reactions from people with a good eye and a vision…and very terrible reactions from those who are afraid of people who are different to others—at the beginning and even now. I have never worried about it too much.

MS: You are one of a handful of designers who generally prefer not to give interviews. Does fashion—either all fashion or your own fashion—lose something in the explanation?

RK: I don't like to explain the clothes, how I made them, the theme, et cetera. It's because the clothes are just as you see them and feel them. That's what I want…just see and feel them. How I thought about them, where any idea came from, what the process is, is not something I like talking about to people.

MS: You have a reputation for seriousness, but in private, I've heard it said that you are very funny. And your collections are distinguished in part by their wit. Is humor an important component of your work and your process?

RK: Nothing to do with the work. The path to making things is tough. The process allows no margin for being funny. It is like a hand-to-mouth world.

MS: You come to New York rarely, but you'll be traveling here more this year to design and then to unveil the newest Dover Street Market. What are your impressions of the city so far, relative to Tokyo or Paris?

RK: Nothing special. Wherever I go, my work is one…the same.

MS: At your Dover Street Market stores, you showcase the work of other designers as well as your own. Why is that important to you?

RK: I have always liked the idea of synergy and accident…the idea of sharing space with other creative people or people who have something to say. We call it beautiful chaos…anything can happen, nothing is decided.

MS: Fashion is taking another look at punk this year, as the subject of the annual Costume Institute exhibition. What does punk mean to you?

RK: The spirit of punk lies in not ingratiating oneself to preordained values nor accepting standard authority.

MS: Some have complained that fashion has stagnated; you yourself have said that the media has enabled uninteresting fashion to thrive. Can this situation change? What would allow that to happen?

RK: I doubt the situation can change. It's because in the world where money rules, the appreciation of the value of true creation is low.

MS: Are advertisers too powerful now in the way that they dictate fashion coverage?

RK: Yes.

MS: Your Fall 2012 "flat" collection has been incredibly influential, and many are noting elements of it reverberating through several Fall '13 collections. Are you aware of this borrowing? Do you consider imitation the sincerest form of flattery, or disappointing?

RK: I am not really aware of this and not too interested either.

MS: How would you like to be remembered?

RK: I want to be forgotten.

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