Brands of all kinds know only too well that creating a successful product takes massive amounts of time and effort. Then they have to convince people to buy it. But what if brands could build products so remarkable they sold themselves, and because of this, others would clamor sell for them?
Rei Kawakubo, founder of the unorthodox Japanese fashion brand, Comme des Garçons, has done nothing but that her entire career. For the past forty years, she’s invested unprecedented amounts of time and effort into designing the most extraordinary and unconventional collections the fashion industry has seen. However, as the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (Met), Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, has shown, it’s not only the fashion crowds that have been flocking to the Met’s architecturally-impressive gallery space, but enthusiasts of all kinds. It’s the first exhibition honouring a living designer the Met has ever done. What’s more, it’s featuring a visionary renowned for defying the most fundamental of conventions: “If we say, ‘these are clothes’, it’s all very usual, so we said ‘these are not clothes.’ It sounds like a Zen dialogue, but it is very simple,” says Kawakubo.
Naturally, Comme des Garçons is about more than clothing. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the brand has captivated people across such varied demographics. One may argue it’s Kawakubo’s philosophy that sets the brand apart and attracts a spectrum of devotees. Or perhaps it’s her inherent need to keep challenging every assumption there is about clothing: “Is it strong or not? That’s the only question. I need to create something new, something unlike anything seen before. If a lot of people praise what I’ve made, it must have been just ordinary,” asserts Kawakubo.
Despite its edgy, artistic status, Comme des Garçons has become one of the most desirable brands for fashion retailers to carry. The brand is a draw for design-conscious locals and tourists alike; a worthwhile stop to check out Comme des Garçons’ greatest and latest. For a retailer, carrying Comme des Garçons is often seen as an honour that must be earned. That’s the power of a brand that has built products so exceptional, others consider it a privilege to sell them.
Now, imagine if more companies, not just fashion brands followed Kawakubo’s enterprising steps and developed products that were at least slightly ahead of the curve? For a number of brands, collaborating with cutting edge designers or artists would be an easy first step in challenging their own status quo, and ultimately capturing a creative edge the marketplace is eagerly waiting for.
The exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons Art of the In-Between, runs at the Met until September 4, 2017. It features about 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons from 1980’s to present. It also includes one of Kawakubo’s dearest, her art collaboration with the American avant-garde dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, titled Scenario.