Born in Tokyo in 1942, Rei Kawakubo started the clothing label Comme des Garçons in 1969. The shockwaves sent in every direction by her Paris debut, in 1981, continue to rever­berate with power: every impor­tant designer of our time admits 
to her influence, and not so long ago, the critic Suzy Menkes de­clared her “one of the great fash­ion forces from the last decades of the 20th century to now.” Through it all, Kawakubo silently reigns over a business that is as meticulously crafted and complex as any garment to emerge from her famous patterning studios. In 032c’s Issue 20, we devoted a 40-­page section to Rei Kawakubo at COMME DES GARÇONS. Here, Hilton Als, of The New Yorker, writes a note on love, loss, and Comme. Next, in a candid personal essay, American filmmaker John Waters shares his life with the label and its designer. Our specially­ compiled alphabet systematically uncovers the enormous di­versity of response that Kawakubo’s work has provoked.

TO LOVE ALONE by Hilton Als

The longer you live, the more life laughs in your face. Life: that old friend and enemy who knows all your secrets and tells them to you in the most unexpected or inconvenient places: in bed, as you drift off to sleep; in the cinema, as you drift into a performer’s dream of a face; while swimming in waters thick with salt, shafts of sunlight, murkiness. Sometimes, in one’s living, fragments of a former self reappear, dressed to the nines, but always in the wrong clothes. When, in memory, do we ever look “correct”? Always, in my memory these days, I look “less” standing next to my now dead father, not that he was especially well­-dressed. What my father was: beautiful to many women, in part because he was far away from the concerns of “fashion”; in addition to having his own style – soft V-­neck cardigans, sensible shoes for the long walks he loved taking – he was immune to social life; he lived more or less by himself, even as he lived with other people. Before he died I wasn’t close to my father for many years, but I’ve generally been interested in men who represent him sartorially; that is, I’ve always been interested in men who are immune to trend, and who have the ability to treat clothes not as fashion but as an element of self­-expression, their own private language made visible.

He was the first one I knew who wore – among other things – Comme des Garçons. He was an art director at the “alternative” weekly I worked at back then; this must have been 1988 or so. Back then, I didn’t speak to my father, but I spoke to him: he of the linen Comme des Garçons jacket, and collector of Rei Kawakubo’s Six Magazine, that sharer of this hitherto unknown designer who was categorized as a “deconstructionist.” What did that mean? My now fast friend, the art director showed me what that meant when he took me, one
afternoon, to Comme des Garçons SHIRT. There was a shirt with half a collar, or a dress shirt with no collar at all. He showed me this: a shirt could mean something other than “shirt,” just as Gertrude Stein had proved that a sentence could look and feel and sound like something other than an ordinary sentence. My friend was a rose was a rose was a rose. He not only collected Gertrude Stein’s books, but the occasional Comme des Garçons “piece,” as he called Rei Kawakubo’s clothes. (Before my friend, I did not know that clothing could be art, or that an underthing could be as beautiful and necessary as a Brancusi, say.) My friend lived, at times, in Kawakubo’s black rayon knickers. Or a striped jacket with the armpits removed. In all his Comme des Garçons clothes, though (how we loved the name of Rei Kawakubo’s enterprise, especially since we didn’t want to be boys at all!) there nested, always, my friend’s smell, his unique mixture of baby oil and coffee and perspiration. His odor made his clothes his own. How we found one another, I’ll never know.

Not content with my ability to love him, and my great joy in learning from him, I shared him with a woman friend who had a great interest in Japan and design, too. one afternoon, we took her to Comme des Garçons SHIRT, where my friend photographed her wearing various Comme des Garçons shirts. In some of the pictures you can see her face – a face that had the shape and contours, some of her friends said, of the faces seen in ancient Japanese woodcuts. She died five years ago, and because my friend loved her, I haven’t seen him since she died, and that is part of his genius: to identify deeply with all manner of the living and the dead, down to their clothes.

Published in

Issue #20 — Winter 2010/2011Rei Kawakubo

“Rei, I have a wish list for you” – JOHN WATERS on Comme des Garçons, and everything else you never thought you wanted to know about designer REI KAWAKUBO in our 40-page dossier.

ARC’TERYX takes menswear to new heights of performance with its new line, Veilance; CLAUDE PARENT is rediscovered as Paris’ last supermodernist; HEDI SLIMANE does STERLING RUBY in downtown L.A.; REM KOOLHAAS discusses Moscow’s new Strelka Institute, FRANCESCO VEZZOLI gives us a look into Milan’s infamous club, Plastic, and DAVID SIMON, creator of HBO’s The Wire, talks anger and the American city in our segment on today’s unexpected places of discourse;

JOHANNESBURG provides a case study in African modernity; BJARKE INGELS is optimistic about the future thanks to artificial intelligence guru RAY KURZWEIL; TUNG WALSH captures WEISSHAAR and KRAM’s mechanical leviathan; DANKO and ANA STEINER bring on Hannelore, Tre, Sunnika, and cover-girl LAUREN SANTO DOMINGO to conclude their Manhattan trilogy;

032c’s latest SELECT presents the best of this season’s books, products, and ideas; and so much more on 264 pages …

Contributors: Hilton Als, Imran Amed, Carlo Antonelli, Shumon Basar, Tim Blanks, Lee Carter, Aric Chen, Chris Dercon, Georg Diez, Cyril Duval, Albrecht Fuchs, Vicente Gutierrez, Joerg Haentzschel, Oliver Helbig, Cathy Horyn, Charlie Koolhaas, Niklas Maak, Mert & Marcus, Steven Meisel, Steven Pulimood, Gregor Quack, Kari Rittenbach, Christopher Roth, Alex Rühle, Juergen Teller, Heji Shin, Hedi Slimane, Ana Steiner, Danko Steiner, Francesco Vezzoli, Tung Walsh, John Waters