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Thoughts on Rei Kawakubo becoming a person of cultural merit

@Comme des Garcons, Photo: yoshie tominaga
Rei Kawakubo

The government has designated fashion design icon Rei Kawakubo as a person of cultural merit.

Following the Oct. 20 announcement, Kawakubo, 81, released a statement saying, “This honor was made possible by the support I received from many people, including my staff and those who work in material manufacturing and sewing factories, all of whom work hard have strived to help me make clothes; I would like to thank everyone again.

“[With the award]the government has recognized fashion as a cultural entity and is promoting academic studies and creative writing,” Kawakubo continued. “This is very encouraging and will lead to future developments in these areas. Although I have no power to influence the current social climate and the atrocities taking place around the world, I would like to continue working with the belief that making clothes – while seeking new forms of expression in my own way – is a form of peace. ”

Kawakubo has long struck me as someone who defies prevailing trends and follows her own, often rebellious, path. As such, receiving a ribbon or medal seems somewhat at odds with her image.

Not long ago, the late Kenzaburo Oe declined to become a Person of Cultural Merit and receive the Order of Culture shortly after becoming a Nobel Prize laureate in literature. It’s likely that many of Kawakubo’s fans wish she had done the same.

However, Kawakubo has never hesitated to receive awards or accolades: I feel like she acts out of respect for her employees rather than for herself. Some employees’ parents still cling to the outdated idea that fashion is “for women and children.” But according to an executive at Kawakubo’s company, Comme des Garcons Co., every time the president receives awards and accolades goes a long way toward allaying the concerns of parents whose children work in the fashion industry.

The Order of Culture is the highest secular honor that can be awarded to a person in Japan. To receive that honor, recipients must initially be designated as a Person of Cultural Merit. I believe that Kawakubo will become a recipient of the Order of Culture in the near future. If that happens, she will be the third fashion designer to be designated as such, after Hanae Mori in 1996 and Issey Miyake in 2010. These three designers have helped spread Japanese fashion around the world.

Both Mori and Miyake created fashion that is easy to understand in different ways, based on the idea that clothes are meant to be worn. However, Kawakubo’s creations take no such idea into account and exist almost entirely within the realm of art; you could even call her work avant-garde.

It’s amazing that she has been active for more than half a century. After the departure of Martin Margiela from the fashion industry, Kawakubo can be seen as the only pioneer in the field of cutting-edge fashion. Her creative attitude has long been praised by fellow designers. Kawakubo is seen as one of the few designers who can match the legacy of Coco Chanel.

Interestingly enough, it was Kawakubo who came up with the idea of ​​Play Comme des Garcons, a sub-brand that grew into Comme des Garcons’ largest and best-known line. Kawakubo touched on her philosophy, saying, “I don’t just design clothes, I also design companies.”

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Photo by Akira Miura
Outfits are on display at the Comme des Garcons spring-summer 2024 women’s exhibition.

Comme des Garcons, which became a public limited company in 1973, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Expecting to find a festive atmosphere, I visited the company on the opening day of the brand’s spring-summer 2024 women’s exhibition in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo, on October 24. However, to my surprise, the event felt like previous editions.

But then I remembered what Kawakubo told me repeatedly during previous interviews: “I don’t pay lip service [to such matters]”. For Kawakubo, the 50th anniversary probably felt no different than other events.

In this context, I can think of a well-known saying: ‘Tadorikite imada sanroku’ (you can go on a long journey, but you will still be at the foot of the mountain), which means that Kawakubo has come a long way, but still has a lot to offer. to go on.

The Comme des Garcons spring-summer event functioned not as a catwalk show per se, but rather as an exhibition-style event, where people could watch a parade of clothes – an amazing experience given the rich flood of color that felt like an avant-garde ikebana- flower arrangement.

“People can feel depressed in gloomy situations, but I used that show to express expectations for a bright future,” Kawakubo said.

Can fashion reflect today’s dark times? Kawakubo’s rebellious and distinctive use of black, infused with rivers of color, would suggest an affirmative answer.

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Akira Miura

Miura is a journalist and former editor-in-chief of WWD JAPAN.



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