If celebs really stick with the theme when they get dressed for tonight’s Met Gala, this might be the most divisive red carpet of all time. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is celebrating the work of mysterious Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo this spring, displaying 150 pieces of mind-expanding Comme des Garçons womenswear. Rei’s been shocking the fashion world since 1982, when her “Destroy” collection hit the Parisian runway with models dressed in tattered black clothing, which some critics called "bag lady" chic.
Rei’s designs reinvent silhouettes, turn holes into “lace”, and subvert the entire idea of clothing as we know it. “As long as I'm attempting to make something that never existed before, an end is out of the question,” Rei told Interview magazine in 2015. Here are seven things to know about the unknowable Rei Kawakubo and her famous bob haircut, before we see what avant-garde, punky looks grace the Met Gala red carpet.
1. She's a Living Treasure
Rei is only the second living fashion designer to be honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a retrospective. The first was Yves Saint Laurent in 1983. The time was right to showcase Rei’s work, said Andrew Bolton, the chief curator of the Met's Costume Institute. He told Vogue: “I think what it is with Rei is that she’s taught us that the body has no bounds and that fashion itself is boundless, limitless. She’s not only the most influential and important, she’s also the most inspiring designer for that reason.”
2. She's Self-Taught
Rei has no formal fashion design training. The New Yorker describes her rise like this: Rei began her career in the ad department of a Japanese textile manufacturer, then she started designing her own clothes while working as a freelance stylist. That’s how Comme des Garçons began in 1969 (the label’s name is from a Francoise Hardy lyric which translates “like some boys”).
3. She's The New Black
She’s behind fashion’s most iconic phrase. Rei would declare that various colors from brown to lime green to red were “the new black,” according to ID. What about orange?
4. She's Notoriously Press-Shy
The designer avoids the press as much as possible. She rarely gives interviews and often avoids bowing after her runway shows. When Rei showed up in the audience at Gosha Rubchinskiy’s Fall 2016 collection, Vogue’s Steff Yotka wrote that attendees were “sharing photos or videos of Kawakubo with the evangelical vigor of a religious group that had just seen their god.”
5. Her Clothes Are a New Kind of Body-Con
Rei’s clothes famously distort the body. In 1997, she unveiled a series of gingham clothes with tumor-like protrusions, forever dubbed the Lumps and Bumps collection. She once said in an interview, Quartz reports, that she “thought she couldn’t do new clothes, so she did new bodies.”
6. There's a Training Process to Wear Her Clothes
You have to learn how to wear Comme des Garçons. The clothing is so complicated, it requires training, according to a Racked piece. “Salespeople and buyers really had to be trained to be able to explain Comme des Garçons,” Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, told Racked. “To explain, ‘Well, this doesn't have to be buttoned, you don’t use this sleeve, it’s actually supposed to be this size.’”
7. She Rules an Empire
Comme des Garçons is truly an empire. Even though the main line is so experimental, Rei built up a “multi-tentacled business,” as Business of Fashion puts it, that brings in revenues of over $280 million a year. That includes the museum-like Dover Street Market boutiques across the globe, and those adorable Comme des Garçons x Converse sneakers and classic T-shirts. No fashion lessons needed to pull those off.
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