Rei-trospective

Rei-trospective

In honor of Rei Kawakubo’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Stephen Gan looks back at the designer’s profound influence on this magazine, and how Comme des Garçons helped shape his own fashion philosophy.

In honor of Rei Kawakubo’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Stephen Gan looks back at the designer’s profound influence on this magazine, and how Comme des Garçons helped shape his own fashion philosophy.

Text: Stephen Gan

When I arrived in New York from the Philippines in the late 1980s, Comme des Garçons was the first fashion show I ever attended. I was 18 and saw a flyer on a bulletin board at Parsons. Comme was looking for backstage dressers, so I volunteered to help. I remember looking at all the models and thinking that everyone was so beautiful and otherworldly, but not in a way that necessarily might be described as sexy today. That feeling about her clothes has never left me.

Rei has always been a teacher in the school of fashion that’s about being extreme and quite fantastical. I don’t know if the term “avant-garde” still has the same connotation, but at the time, fashion was about the avant-garde. In a way, fashion has lost a little bit of that, in terms of a designer creating a look that no one had ever seen before. The way you hear stories about Christian Dior’s New Look in 1947, Rei is in that school, offering something completely new. How many times have you heard about so-and-so’s '70s-influenced collection? It’s a regurgitation of an idea that somebody else had spun out before. It often seems like Rei doesn’t want a visible reference—she thrives on displacement of the viewer.

Dressing in her clothes is a different story, though. In the '90s, Rei asked me to walk in a show, and I remember thinking on my way to the fitting, I’ll wear anything except shorts. Without communicating that to her, she took one look at me, turned to the racks, and pulled out a linen jacket and a pair of shorts. She had a strange kind of psychic sense: the one piece of clothing I resisted was what she honed in on, but her instinct was right. The look worked.

When I first started V in 1999, Adrian Joffe, Rei’s husband and business partner, was one of the first people I called to ask if it was a good idea. I told myself that without their endorsement, there was no use in starting a fashion magazine. Rei has always been appreciative of talent: the spawning of Junya Watanabe and the many young designers of Dover Street Market is proof of that. She’s of the mind that you craft your own art, and then support others. There’s a generosity there that’s about a true devotion to creativity and seeing a spark that doesn’t always have to be her own.

This year’s Met exhibition is truly a moment when justice prevails in fashion. My greatest hope is that it will educate a younger audience, that it will open up an 18-year-old’s eyes the way that first show I went to opened mine. It’s so important to be tapped on the shoulder and reminded of what fashion is, what fashion can be.

Click on the slideshow below to view Comme Des Garçons as it has appeared in V throughout the years.

FAENA AND STYLIST JULIA VON BOEHM SHOT GIGI HADID IN THE SPRING 2014 COLLECTION FOR V88. “THIS WAS GIGI’S VERY FIRST SET OF PHOTOGRAPHS, AND I REMEMBER THINKING THAT SHE’S NOT TYPICALLY SOMEONE WHO REI MIGHT HAVE IMAGINED IN COMME DES GARÇONS, BUT I THOUGHT IT COULD ALSO BE A GOOD COMBINATION—A COLLISION,” SAYS GAN

UP NEXT

Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, and More at the 2017 Daily Front Row Awards