Rei Kawakubo, that riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a three-armed jacket, inspires no small degree of reverence from fashion folk. The Comme des Garçons godhead has been referred to as fashion’s “nun,” a “sphinx,” a “designer’s designer” and one of the most elusive figures in the game, but this week the proverbial veil was lifted in a rare interview with Cathy Horyn of the New York Times.
Though the Japanese designer and CFDA honoree tends to be cast as one of the most cerebral in her field, she describes a design process that is actually quite simple and straightforward, involving neither mood boards nor divine inspiration, but rather (would you know it?) living.
Horyn saw fit to print Kawakubo’s email response in full, and thus we shall do the same:
My design process never starts or finishes. I am always hoping to find something through the mere act of living my daily life. I do not work from a desk, and do not have an exact starting point for any collection. There is never a mood board, I do not go through fabric swatches, I do not sketch, there is no eureka moment, there is no end to the search for something new. As I live my normal life, I hope to find something that click starts a thought, and then something totally unrelated would arise, and then maybe a third unconnected element would come from nowhere. Often in each collection, there are three or so seeds of things that come together accidentally to form what appears to everyone else as a final product, but for me it is never ending. There is never a moment when I think, ‘this is working, this is clear.’ If for one second I think something is finished, the next thing would be impossible to do.
Often the elements are completely disassociated in time and dimension. One might be an emotion, the next thing a pattern image, the third thing an object or a picture I have seen somewhere. I can never remember when and from where the elements come together in my head. I trust synergy and change. For fall 2012, I was thinking about no design being design, about very ordinary fabric (wool felt) being strong. Somehow, the two-dimension level of thinking became apparent.
I do not feel happy when a collection is understood too well. For me, White Drama was too easily understood, the concept too clear. I feel better about fall 2012, because it wasn’t too clear, and some people assumed things it had nothing to do with, like the Internet age.
The struggle to find something new gets more and more difficult with time and experience, so this time, for fall 2012, my feeling was to try to make a collection by doing very little.