ANNALISA DEL VECCHIO WRITES – Rei Kawakubo is a fashion designer with a unique approach to men’s and women’s wear, as she advocates modest dressing. The Japan-born designer focuses on exploring and communicating underlying notions of sexuality, gender, and identity through her fashion designs. Kawakubo is the founder of Comme des Garçons, which realizes a revenue of close to $280 million annually, and Dover Street Market, a multi-brand retailer originally located on Dover Street, in Mayfair, London; it now has stores in New York City, Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing and Los Angeles.
Kawakubo’s entry into the fashion world was distinctly based on the return of the color black to fashion as a symbol of both rebellion and intelligence. Her global breakthrough was a show in Paris after which, as a result, pop up shops opened with the name Comme des Garçons in various markets including Poland, London, and New York. While Kawakubo’s fashion has worked towards the build-up of in-house brands, it also collaborates with major companies, such as well-established perfume enterprises and sportswear giant Nike.
Kawakubo’s significance is due in part to promotion of the de-construction theme, which has largely influenced the clothes people wear globally — those who want comfort (rather than tightly-fitted garments) over body contours. Perhaps in part because Kawakubo’s fashion works are modest, they blur the line between both male and female forms, and concepts, as to perfect versus imperfect shapes and styles. Her influence was further underscored by her solo show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum — as the first living fashion designer to command space there.
Despite Kawabuko’s successful career, the creative designer has faced challenges, such as interference by financial backers who limit her freedom of expression. Yet Kawakubo has continued to scale the heights of fashion with innovations that make her competitive with the likes of Hiroyuki Horihata and Coco Chanel.
The latest fashion show that featured Kawabuko’s fight against gender stereotypes was the ‘Gender-bending Fashion’ exhibition this year, where she introduced what has become one of the largest in-house brands the designer has launched. Watanabe asserts that the clothes used in that last show are a work in progress, like a play, since they will be further developed into final displays which will be presented in the next shows. This collection suited the mood of today’s times by communicating gender fluidity and equality.
Kawakubo, through fashion design, works to eliminate long-held perceptions of gender. At a time when President Trump has banned transgender individuals from the US military, she tries to eradicate the usual gender binary styles. Comme’s spring/summer 2020 collection, which paid tribute to Comme des Garçons, was a perfect demonstration of this theme. For example, men modeled simple dresses with flattened chest designs and widened shoulders to convey masculinity. Why not? Women have been allowed to wear trousers for a long time.
The designer’s fight against gender stereotypes is further evident in the removal of necklines, sleeves, and waistlines from most of her creations. As a result, most of the pieces can be worn by any gender, rather than gender biased. Kawabuko’s designs have an almost healing allure, as they emphasize fusion rather than separateness.
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