Comme des Garcons: Fashion as Art
Comme des Garcon is French for “Like Boys”, a unique name for a unique company. Its founder is a singular person as well – the visionary Rei Kawakubo. The brand has headquarters in both Tokyo and Paris, but there are stores around the world selling clothing, accessories, and fragrances that cannot be found anywhere else.
The Vision of Rei Kawakubo
Comme des Garcon began with Rei Kawakubo, a native of Tokyo. She attended Keio University in her home city to study philosophy, but her real passion was design. Because she had no training in designing fashion, she fell back on studies in art and literature and verbally conveyed what she wanted to patternmakers, who would then draw up her designs to her specifications.
After graduation, she went to work in textiles, and soon became a freelance stylist. In 1967, she had her own label, selling her own unique style to the public. This label would officially become Comme des Garcons in 1973.
At first, the company’s clothing was only for women, but Rei Kawakubo was never one to let anything constrain her vision. In 1978, men’s clothing was introduced, and a few short years later, in 1981, Comme des Garcons was introduced to Western fashion markets, causing quite a stir.
During that period of time, fashion tended toward brighter colors. Kawakubo’s fashions, on the other hand, were dubbed ‘Hiroshima chic’, because of the somber and dark hues, which included a lot of black. This was not the only way Comme des Garcons turned conventional fashion its head. Pockets were turned inside out, as were entire articles of clothing. Shoulders were de-emphasized and strategic rips and tears were placed into garments.
These designs were works of art as much as they were articles of fashion, which earned her a number of awards, including the grand prize for Mainichi Fashion in 1983. She was recognized as one of the leading women in 20th century design by the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1987.
While it is her fashions that have made her famous, Rei Kawakubo is known for designing many things, from architecture to interior design to packaging – even the perfumes are distinctly Comme des Garcons.
Agendered Scents and Anti-Perfumes
Comme des Garcons fragrances are just as unconventional as the clothing they produce. The first created by the label was known simply as Comme des Garcons, released in 1994. It was not a scent for men or women – it was for everyone. Instead of the usual base notes, top notes, and middle notes, this fragrance had its own original composition of beats, a profusion of spicy scents that was an experience all its own. Several iterations of the Comme des Garcons fragrance would come later, recognizing that no one scent can be for everyone.
Odeur 53 arrived in 1998, billed as an “anti-perfume”. As the name implies, it was a combination of 53 notes, many of them never put into a perfume before, blended into something entirely new. Flash of metal, sand dunes, high mountain air, burnt rubber, mineral carbon, and even wash drying in the wind are all part of the 53 aromas that comprise Odeur 53.
The Beat of Its Own Drum
Whether fragrances, or clothing, or accessories, Commes des Garcons’s singular style has led to collaboration with a number of other major labels, all of whom want a bit of that vision that drives the company forward. Celebrities from Usher to Kanye West to Tilda Swinton to Selma Blair, and many others, have been seen wearing clothing from one of this company’s lines.
It isn’t just design that makes Comme des Garcons different, but marketing. One concept that caused quite a buzz was the opening if the first ‘guerilla’ store in Berlin in 2004. These stores would remain open for exactly one year, spending as little money on interior design as possible. They would also be established in non-fashionable districts, avoiding the usual places fashion stores are normally built. Since that first opening, these stores have been opened in Warsaw, Helsinki, Stockholm, Singapore, Athens, and many other great cities around the world – including one in Beirut, Lebanon. The first U.S. guerilla store came to downtown Los Angeles.
Year by year, Comme des Garcons continues to open stores everywhere around the world, exposing more people to the vision of Rei Kawakubo, showing everyone that fashion and fragrance can be high art.