The latest designer partnership to make the news isn't a mass market effort. Instead, Rei Kawakubo has channeled what she calls an "immense respect for Hermès' tradition and artisanal know-how" into two capsule collections of carrés, the French company's iconic silk scarves.
"During this joint project, rather than being guided by the idea of the scarf as it is worn, I became interested instead in the beautiful 'artworks' that the designs on Hermès carrés represent, and I sought to change them by adding elements," Kawakubo said. "By combining them with abstract images, we have transformed the carré and created a unique object."
Both collections, one featuring black and white designs and one with colorful geometric patterns, will be available in February. The five black and white scarves will retail for €380 (or $493 at current exchange) at the Comme des Garcons stores in the Aoyama neighborhood of Tokyo, and in New York and Paris. Six color scarves will range from €380 to €1,600 (about $2,076) at the Dover Street Markets in London and Tokyo.
Kawakubo is noted for a number of high-profile collaborations with brands like H&M and Louis Vuitton, but an Hermès product partnership is harder to come by. Perhaps that's changing, though: news also broke today that Hermès is lending one of its scarf designs to the French postal service's annual Valentine's Day stamp collection.
Related: A Look Back at Rei Kawakubo's Comme des Garcons
br> Photo courtesy of Comme des Garcons
"The more people that are afraid when they see new creation, the happier I am," says Rei Kawakubo in a rare new Q&A. Perhaps that's why the reclusive designer, who never makes public appearances and speaks to the press infrequently, isn't afraid to pass judgment on popular fashion.
"I think the media has some responsibility to bear for people becoming more conservative," Kawakubo told WWD. "Many parts of the media have created the situation where uninteresting fashion can thrive."
The rest of the interview is similarly blunt. Read on for more of Kawakubo's deep-cutting pronouncements.
On the inspiration for her Spring 2013 and Fall 2012 collections: "I can honestly never remember clearly what I was thinking about at the time. I was only trying to make something completely new. There is never more meaning than that. I was not thinking about the age of Internet when I was making the Fall-Winter 2012 collection."
On whether business is more important in fashion than creativity: "Yes, it's true . . . And it's weakening the power of creation. This is the worst of situations."
On her design ethos: "My intention is not to make clothes. My head would be too restricted if I only thought about making clothes."
On selling garments vs. making a statement: "Every day I think about the selling, but when doing a collection, all I want is for people to feel the power."
"Crush," said Rei Kawakubo of her Spring 2013 collection for Comme des Garcons. "Energy explosion."
The show — and the clothes themselves — seemed like a reaction to Kawakubo's last collection, which flattened its pieces to two dimensions. This season compressed different bits of clothing together to create a multilayered effect. The first looks that came down the runway were made of white muslin, at times resembling different design-room patterns for jackets stacked one on top of the other. The models — all of whom wore sculptural headpieces that appeared to be made from found objects and crushed bits of metal — in this first section of the show came down the runway at a snail's pace.
Kawakubo's energy shifted (or exploded, to use her terminology) when models wearing black dresses came down the runway at a quick trot. These pieces subscribed to the same everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality as the preceding garb, but here there were shots of red or purple velvet throughout the looks. The show ended in white-clad models walking slowly once more, but these looks had a more striking energy: the bodice of one dress seemed to be a historical survey of women's sleeves.
Comme des Garcons designer Rei Kawakubo will be honored with the International award at this Monday's CFDA Awards, and already the industry is getting a head start on celebrating.
Earlier this week, Style.com published a tribute in which notable fashionables — including Taylor Tomasi Hill, Shane Gabier, and Chris Peters — discuss their love for the avant-garde label. Then on Wednesday, Cathy Horyn offered her perspective on Kawakubo's 40-plus-year career. "No living designer, with the exception of Azzedine Alaïa, is held in higher esteem by her peers, and none has enriched our spirit in so many original and confounding ways," Horyn wrote. In an attempt to shed light on Kawakubo's creative process, Horyn also reprinted an email from the designer, an excerpt of which is below:
"My design process never starts or finishes. I am always hoping to find something through the mere act of living my daily life. I do not work from a desk, and do not have an exact starting point for any collection. There is never a mood board, I do not go through fabric swatches, I do not sketch, there is no eureka moment, there is no end to the search for something new. As I live my normal life, I hope to find something that click starts a thought, and then something totally unrelated would arise, and then maybe a third unconnected element would come from nowhere. Often in each collection, there are three or so seeds of things that come together accidentally to form what appears to everyone else as a final product, but for me it is never ending. There is never a moment when I think, 'this is working, this is clear.' If for one second I think something is finished, the next thing would be impossible to do."
Kawakubo will not be in New York to accept her award Monday, but she has asked her longtime friend filmmaker John Waters to present and accept the award on her behalf. In the slideshow, a look back at some of our favorite looks from recent Comme des Garcons collections.
All right here, in our daily news roundup.
>> Every season, there are a few collections that really make the audience stop and ponder. This season, Rei Kawakubo's Fall 2012 Comme des Garcons was one such offering. On a plywood runway and set to a soundtrack of nothing at all, the designer sent out a collection of paper-doll shapes in cartoon hues and prodigious prints. Dresses, jackets, suits, and blouses were cut in felt-like fabrics and appeared super-voluminous when seen head-on, but were actually steamroller-flat when seen from the side. It was breathtaking, surreal, and definitely a bit strange — but more importantly, what does it all mean? Is it a commentary on the shallowness of contemporary fashion? A satirical look at the flatness of the digital age? Just an imaginative essay on color and shape? "The future is two-dimensional," was the designer's only explanation.
>> In anticipation of his Lifetime Achievement Award, which he will receive during the CFDA Awards Monday, Marc Jacobs (who notes of the award, "It’s not my achievement, number one. It is Marc Jacobs as a company") sat down with WWD to wax philosophical on everything from Alexander Wang to Twitter to whether he considers himself a "great talent."
Highlights from the interview, below.
On what he did for Memorial Day: “Memorial Day? I don’t think I’ve had a Memorial Day off in 30 years. We’re all here [at the office]. The design team’s here, working through Saturday, Sunday, Monday. I’ll go to the gym every morning, but I’ll be here after the gym. It’s resort.”
On his success and being recognized in public and approached by fans: "I can’t help but remember the days when Robert [Duffy, his business partner] and I were interviewed for 48 Hours [in 1988]. Robert was building a runway. I’m vomiting in the bathroom because we hadn’t slept in three days and we were delirious and hallucinating. So none of that ever goes away."
On whether he's a "great talent": "No. I still wouldn’t say I am ... I don’t mind if you say it but I’m not going to say it myself."
On winning this year's CFDA Lifetime Achievement award: "I haven’t even sat down to write the [CFDA] speech yet but I’ve been thinking a lot about it, about what does this mean to me and what does this mean to us. I just turned 48 but I don’t feel 48. I still feel like a young person but I really see the difference in the work. I’m trying to understand what all of that means and how I feel about it."
On younger designers: "People ask me about the younger designers, Alex Wang and all of them, I think they’re great. I couldn’t do what they do. It’s not what I do. But just like in pop music and in the art world, people always want new work from the artist that they like but they also want new artists. I don’t think one changes the other. There’s always room for new designers, new musicians, new artists, new writers. Madonna, I don’t think is showing any signs of slowing down, but that doesn’t mean Lady Gaga isn’t taking over the world."
On the most recent Louis Vuitton show: "I loved the Vuitton show. I think as a show it was probably my favorite presentation we’ve ever done of a collection. I really loved it ... I’ve spent the past two weeks, which is superpremature, thinking that I don’t know what we’re going to do to top that last Vuitton show. I thought it was the most beautiful presentation. I think, 'Why am I doing this to myself?' but it’s inevitable. When I get back to Paris two weeks from now, I’m just going to be like, 'What are we going to do? What are we going to do?' The answer won’t come right away."
On designers he admires: "I think the greatest contributors to fashion are women. Chanel, Vionnet. I think Vivienne Westwood; I think Miuccia Prada; Schiaparelli, Rei Kawakubo ... The one that I probably feel the most strongly about is Miuccia, because of the aesthetic and the mood. There’s something so shocking and so tender about it, and it’s also very real ... There’s an eccentricity but there’s also a chic old world sophistication, but it’s so new. It’s young but never vulgar. There’s a sex appeal that’s kind of naïve. It’s all the things I love."
On working for Bernard Arnault: "I meet with Mr. Arnault every time I’m in Paris. He’s such a hands-on sort of guy. He goes to every store in every country and he discusses things with me ... He was thrilled with the last [Vuitton] show. He felt that one and the one around the fountain were how he would like women to see Vuitton’s image as a fashion brand. He’s very up front and honest with me about what he likes and what he doesn’t like, what he thinks works and also what he thinks works in other places. Not that he’s asking me to do what someone else does, but to look at the success of certain things."
On the resources available to him at Louis Vuitton: "If you look at our first Vuitton show, we wanted to send out a nice collection of simple clothes with all the logos on the inside and one single bag on Kirsten Owen. It has evolved into, ‘OK, this is Paris. Let’s have three elevators.’ I asked for six; I got three. So we’re like, ‘Let’s get Kate Moss, Naomi [Campbell]. Let’s fly in Stella [Tennant]. Let’s fly in Carolyn [Murphy] and Amber [Valletta].’ You want a show? Okay guys, I’ll give you a show."
On critics: "You are dealing with a whole lot of highly sensitive people who [will react] depending on their mood and how they’re feeling that day or what they did or didn’t eat for lunch. I have no problem going on record with this and probably have gone on record with this before, there aren’t that many people who I respect. There just aren’t. I think journalists have the right to their opinions but I think their opinions should be based on history and what they see, not what they feel, how long they’ve been waiting or whether it’s raining or it’s snowing or whatever."
On whether traditional media matters anymore: "I’m not sure it does as much as it used to, and I’m not sure how much it ever did ... [But] I feel like it affects the energy of all of us. In fashion we all gossip about it because within our community it’s extremely important. I think it breaks momentum or a sort of energy when there’s harsh criticism, and I think when the critique is positive, we all feel quite robust and we’re out there. In that way, it has an effect. But in another, I think a woman’s going to go into a shop to find a coat or a jacket and I just don’t think she’s not going to go into a shop because of a bad review she probably didn’t even read."
On joining Twitter: "I’ve got better things to do. I don’t need to talk to like schoolteachers from New Jersey about what was valid [in a collection] and what was invalid and what was derivative and what was referencing. I mean, I’ve just got work to do. I really don’t care to argue with you."
>> The rumor has been confirmed: Manish Arora is the new creative director of Paco Rabanne, and will show his first collection for the label in October during Paris Fashion Week — for Spring 2012. He will also continue his colorful signature collection, which is also shown in Paris but sells mostly in his native India.
The founding designer Rabanne has been consulting on the relaunch, which was kickstarted last month with the reissuing of the brand's iconic 1969 chain-mail bag, done in collaboration with Comme des Garcons's Rei Kawakubo. Those collaborations are expected to continue — next up is Judy Blame, who in March will unveil a collection of jewelry and his take on the chain-mail bag for the brand.
Vincent Thilloy, Puig VP overseeing Rabanne, said that the founder is looking to “transmit this brand to a new generation,” adding: “I think people are looking for brands with great heritage — and stories to tell. It’s a perfect time to come back.” And Arora, who is charged with bringing fashion back to the brand that shuttered ready-to-wear in 2006, says he is committed to Rabanne's heritage: "It’s very easy to use unorthodox materials, but not to do it with this kind of workmanship."