REI KAWAKUBO is the Saint Teresa of fashion. I always imagined her locked in a self-imposed, deconstructed cell, like, massacring hemlines for her next season’s “no-dimensional” outfits that will be mocked, brilliantly reviewed, and worn by the brave.
I wear Comme des Garçons the same way Andy Warhol once wore $100,000 women’s necklaces underneath his Brooks Brothers turtlenecks — to be fashionable in secret. Only you know you spent money when you wear Rei’s creations. In fact, some of the more fashion-impaired public actually feels sorry for us! “That’s a shame about that coat,” an uninformed friend said to me once in a bar in Baltimore when I was wearing, well high fashion. “John Waters in his thrift-shop finest,” the press has written when, in fact, I was featuring a brand-new Comme des Garçons suit! Rei Kawakubo gives us undercover glamour. We know how great her clothes look, but others just think we’re poor.
Her look? Disaster at the dry cleaner. “I didn’t do it!” is the usual cry. Mine has learned to read the complicated and sometimes hilarious instruction labels with courage: “Do not dry clean; do not wash; garment may fray, fade, change shape.” These pants? One hundred percent polyester, wrinkled unable to be pressed. So comfortable, so unnatural, and so expensive. “Friction may cause the flocks to rub off or a slight fuzz may develop,” one label reads. Friction? What’s that mean? Walking?
Rei Kawakubo’s work is never funny, but her wit is so ferocious, so elegant, so scary, and sometimes even so ridiculous that her customers never have buyer’s remorse. How could they feel they had overspent when they look so courageous, so cult-like, superior, and even slightly insane every time they get dressed in one of her outfits? Rei’s look can never go out of style because she is either starting a new one or ruining a trend that’s not even popular yet but is about to be so. In her own words, Rei commented: “I think the world and its values are often lukewarm. I’d like to keep on trying to make it hotter.” Well, she certainly has. Beyond “hotter,” if you ask me, into spontaneous combustion! She makes pretty ugly, ugly handsome, and handsome disorienting. Rei Kawakubo is my leader. She is for many of us too.