Rei Kawakubo is an enigma. She's mysterious, unapologetically ridiculous and at the same time, a genius. Her designs are as mystifying as her. Before she came into the scene, no designer ever dared to do what she does. Parading unfinished hems, adding random bumps and lumps into silhouettes, designing clothes without armholes — these creative decisions are indeed outrageous, some might even say impractical. Who in the world would ever want to wear such comical looks?
The answer lies in a popular quote attributed to Kawakubo: “I make clothes for a woman who is not swayed by what her husband thinks." From the very beginning, her designs have been rooted in independent thought and a rebellion from the norm. Keep this in mind as we examine the brilliance of her works.
To fully understand the legacy of Kawakubo, you need to reframe the way you think about fashion. View it as more than just clothes but also as an art form. And why does art exist? To provide us with an opportunity for introspection, reexamine the conventional, push boundaries and to simply make us feel something. When you think about fashion this way, you would begin to understand that Kawakubo designs her clothes to appeal more to the soul rather than the eyes. They may not look conventionally pretty but they will surely get a strong reaction out of you — whatever that may be.
Breaking the status quo
In 1997, she released one of her most infamous collections called Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body. Models were sent down the runway in pastel-coloured gingham pieces while — wait for it — sporting random lumpy pads on their bodies. Because Kawakubo often shies away from interviews, editors and critiques were left to dissect the meaning of this seemingly absurd collection themselves.
According to Francesca Granata of The Museum of Modern Art, the collection became controversial but the press "hailed it as innovative and challenging ideals of beauty through this system of padding that made reference to body out of bounds and pregnancy." Indeed, Kawakubo has never subscribed to the ideal. Her leanings have always geared toward reshaping the body rather than maintaining the status quo of the era's ideal figure. But this notorious "disturbing" collection isn't the first time she veered away from conventional practices.