The fashion industry is no stranger to superlatives. Critics often rave about certain designers one season only to shun them the next, should the new collection not convince. With this in mind, phrases such as "king of eveningwear" or "master of purism" should be treated with caution: they may be out of date before you know it.
But alas, as is so often the case: exceptions prove the rule. Rai Kawakubo is one such exception. For years, she has been consistently referred to as the "high priestess of avant-garde fashion" or even as the "Mona Lisa of fashion". This is no accident. Time and time again, Kawakubo has shocked the masses with her label Comme des Garcons, only to then be referenced (in a slightly more accessible way, of course) by many other labels.
Few designers have had a greater influence on fashion trends in recent decades. In terms of colour, season after season, CdG’s motto has been: black is the new black. The brand’s distinctive look can be identified by the deconstructivist highlighting of seams and hems, by the use of multiple layers of fabric, by asymmetric shirt or jacket lengths and by deliberately old or old-looking fabrics.
In autumn/winter 2015-16, for example, Comme des Garcons showed (with their puffed-up down dresses and coats with more fabric cut out than was left in) that fashion is a game for them, and the aim of the game is to break all the rules. The reclusive Rai Kawakubo is repeatedly quoted as saying one particular sentence - probably because there are so few interviews with her:
“I started with the same desire to make something that didn’t exist before.“
However subjective taste may be, even the toughest critic could not deny that this sounds just like something she would say. Typically, it was not the visionary designs of the main line which led to commercial breakthrough for the Comme des Garcons house, but rather those of a gentler, more wearable second line: Play.
Designed by New York-based graphic designer Filip Pagowski, the brand’s logo, a heart with eyes, has already achieved cult status, even though the sub-line was only founded in 2002. The same is true of Comme des Garçons wallets, which have become ubiquitous in the urban creative scene and which sell in their millions.
Scents are another important product for the company. All intended as unisex perfumes, many of them have also become iconic very quickly. They stand out because of their intellectual creativity: every Comme des Garçons fragrance seems, for example, to tell its own story. Wonderwood, released in 2010, is a tribute to a haunted forest. The brief given to parfumier Antoine Lie was to only work with authentic wood aromas – according to him, a real challenge – and until now a unique undertaking. The result is a symphony of cedar, cypress and sandalwood, dry and manly. In addition to the clear instructions given by Rai Kawakubo to her parfumier, he says, it was her consistent willingness to give him complete access to the very best raw materials which really impressed him.
The house’s newest fragrance, Floriental, is also anything but an ordinary perfume. For this scent, they have collaborated with parfumier Emilie Coppermann, who was commissioned to put together a fragrance in honour of the rockrose: a somewhat unusual commission, since the flower is virtually odourless. The shrub’s resin, Labdanum, is well known in the fragrance world, however, so this has become the base note of Floriental. Star photographer Nick Knight has created an art film for the scent as mystically beautiful as the perfume itself.