Taking the Unconventional Road to the Fashion Industry: Rei Kawakubo

Taking the Unconventional Road to the Fashion Industry: Rei Kawakubo

Maybe it’s because Rei is the eldest daughter, or because, despite being one of fashion’s biggest designers, she never had any official training in design. Still, I deeply relate to Kawakubo, her life path, and her creative choices. Trying to work yourself into and be a part of the fashion community is intimidating and daunting. Fashion is a competitive industry, with a plethora of contenders waiting to get a chance to showcase their work and ideas. Solely relying on creativity and taste can quickly get unprofessional or boring if not executed properly. Although education, experience, and training are crucial to the growth and development of any person wanting to work in fashion, inherent taste, creativity, and ideas will triumph over formal preparation, and these characteristics cannot be taught through work or school.

Kawakubo pursued secondary education and received a degree in the history of aesthetics; after that, she worked in the advertising industry. Although Rei received a degree, she never went to any fashion institutes, and her fashion background comes from personal creativity and practice. The combination of the skills taught in university, like critical thinking, her experience in the advertising industry, and instinctual taste, created a strong enough foundation for Rei to be successful in fashion.

Kawakubo is the most notable example of a person who has built their career on her ability to think of and conceptually create fashion silhouettes without physically bringing them to life. The path she took to end up working in fashion is unorthodox, and “as a result of this, Kawakubo has always followed the beat of her own drum, both commercially and creatively.” Her success made her "an icon of modernity who continues to make ripples across the fashion industry” (2019).

An eccentric feature of Rei’s designs is their longevity. Figure 1 depicts a 2004 Comme Des Garçons top, a simple black t-shirt silhouette with monochromatic, asymmetrically placed bows. An almost 20-year-old shirt continues to be considered stylish and avant-garde, as asymmetry, bows, and monochromatic themes are still cultivating mass appeal.


Figure 1. 2004 Comme Des G arçons Bow T-Shirt

Some aspects of a career in fashion cannot be obtained through experience. People like Rei Kawakubo succeed in this industry because they have unique creative visions, drive, and a passion for design. Of course, her life experience, including school and work, helped her get to where she is today. However, she never had any official fashion education or prior knowledge in the field, and her inherent characteristics of immaculate taste and ingenuity were the needed tools to develop her fashion empire, Comme Des Garçons. My main takeaway is to embrace your differences and have your own way of getting things done. Our lives constantly revolve around order, and fashion is an industry that breaks some of those barriers. Not following traditional pathways can still lead to success. The biggest limitations to succeeding in fashion would be personal doubts and fears. This industry embraces and seeks out individuals who know what they want even without the necessary or perfect background, just like Kawakubo.

“Rei Kawakubo Is Part of the BoF 500.” The Business of Fashion, 14 Aug. 2019, www.businessoffashion.com/community/people/rei-kawakubo.

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