Rei Kawakubo on Her Design Process: 'I Do Not Feel Happy When a Collection is Understood Too Well'

In advance of Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo receiving the CFDA's International Award this Monday (she'll accept the award in absentia), Cathy Horyn's written a great, justifiably hagiographic profile about the reclusive and enigmatic designer in today's New York Times. "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," she writes. That's high praise from Cathy Horyn. Also, true. Kawakubo has a cult following--for evidence see this charming Style.com piece about Comme devotees. And remember when Tavi Gevinson famously rapped about her? Horyn really gets to the core of why Kawakubo has garnered this cult following and why she is so compelling. "If Karl Lagerfeld is the leading talk artist of fashion, Ms. Kawakubo is the Mona Lisa," she writes. "She makes no effort to reveal her meanings, though at times she explains her methods." She asked her about her design method and reprinted her lengthy emailed answer in full because, "[i]t says everything, and it could not be said better." Here it is (and for everyone who thought her last collection was about flat fashion in the Internet age, you thought wrong):
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In advance of Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo receiving the CFDA's International Award this Monday (she'll accept the award in absentia), Cathy Horyn's written a great, justifiably hagiographic profile about the reclusive and enigmatic designer in today's New York Times. "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," she writes. That's high praise from Cathy Horyn. Also, true. Kawakubo has a cult following--for evidence see this charming Style.com piece about Comme devotees. And remember when Tavi Gevinson famously rapped about her? Horyn really gets to the core of why Kawakubo has garnered this cult following and why she is so compelling. "If Karl Lagerfeld is the leading talk artist of fashion, Ms. Kawakubo is the Mona Lisa," she writes. "She makes no effort to reveal her meanings, though at times she explains her methods." She asked her about her design method and reprinted her lengthy emailed answer in full because, "[i]t says everything, and it could not be said better." Here it is (and for everyone who thought her last collection was about flat fashion in the Internet age, you thought wrong):
Photo: Imaxtree

Photo: Imaxtree

In advance of Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo receiving the CFDA's International Award this Monday (she'll accept the award in absentia), Cathy Horyn's written a great, justifiably hagiographic profile about the reclusive and enigmatic designer in today's New York Times. "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," she writes. That's high praise from Cathy Horyn. Also, true.

Kawakubo has a cult following--for evidence see this charming Style.com piece about Comme devotees. And remember when Tavi Gevinson famously rapped about her?

Horyn really gets to the core of why Kawakubo has garnered this cult following and why she is so compelling. "If Karl Lagerfeld is the leading talk artist of fashion, Ms. Kawakubo is the Mona Lisa," she writes. "She makes no effort to reveal her meanings, though at times she explains her methods." She asked her about her design method and reprinted her lengthy emailed answer in full because, "[i]t says everything, and it could not be said better." Here it is (and for everyone who thought her last collection was about flat fashion in the Internet age, you thought wrong):

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.

Often the elements are completely disassociated in time and dimension. One might be an emotion, the next thing a pattern image, the third thing an object or a picture I have seen somewhere. I can never remember when and from where the elements come together in my head. I trust synergy and change. For fall 2012, I was thinking about no design being design, about very ordinary fabric (wool felt) being strong. Somehow, the two-dimension level of thinking became apparent.

I do not feel happy when a collection is understood too well. For me, White Drama was too easily understood, the concept too clear. I feel better about fall 2012, because it wasn’t too clear, and some people assumed things it had nothing to do with, like the Internet age.

The struggle to find something new gets more and more difficult with time and experience, so this time, for fall 2012, my feeling was to try to make a collection by doing very little.