The enigmatic Rei Kawakubo speaks to WWD in a very rare interview. Without doubt one of the most influential people in fashion over the past 2 decades, this is a small glimpse into the way she thinks…
WWD: You often say your mission is to create clothes that never existed. Do you ever feel you are exhausting the possibilities?
Rei Kawakubo: “As the weight of experience piles up, it has become increasingly difficult to find yet new ways of thinking and to make new things.”
WWD: Many people become more conservative, less daring, as they get older. How about you?
R.K.: “I think the media has some responsibility to bear for people becoming more conservative. Many parts of the media have created the situation where uninteresting fashion can thrive.”
WWD: Are your collections personal—about what you want to wear, or how you are feeling? Where does the impulse come from?
R.K.: “My intention is not to make clothes. My head would be too restricted if I only thought about making clothes.”
WWD: Was “Crush” any commentary on your flat, two-dimensional fall collection? Or did the idea come from somewhere else?
R.K.: “I can honestly never remember clearly what I was thinking about at the time. I was only trying to make something completely new. There is never more meaning than that. I was not thinking about the age of Internet when I was making the fall-winter 2012 collection.”
WWD: Surely it’s not possible to produce a collection like “Crush” by sketching. Do you always drape, always sketch, a combo of the two, or some other approach?
R.K.: “Yes, you’re right. I made this collection on a table, and worked on the clothes like a sculptor would work on a sculpture. It was all made by hand.”
WWD: If you could have invented one garment, what would it be, and why?
R.K.: “I would have liked to invent the plain white shirt, with a skirt and pants to go with it.”
WWD: Fashion today seems to be more about big business and profits than pure creative expression. Do you agree, and if so, how do you feel about it?
R.K.: “Yes, it’s true.…And it’s weakening the power of creation. This is the worst of situations.”
WWD: You helped popularize design collaborations. Is it still a stimulating and fruitful path for you?
R.K.: “I am always thinking that some interesting possibility, some accidental synergy could occur in a collaboration, and people seem to like it. Even though it is difficult, it is easier for me to make my own things, by myself.”
WWD: You’ve also become a global, multibrand retailer with Dover Street Market. Has this shaped your approach to design?
R.K.: “I run a business as well, so we need ways to grow and develop, but this has not changed the way I approach design in any way whatsoever. My sense of values has not wavered since I founded the company 43 years ago.”
WWD: Do you ever worry about designing a collection that won’t sell, or that is difficult to sell?
R.K.: “Every day I think about the selling, but when doing a collection, all I want is for people to feel the power.”