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Rei Kawakubo: Like the Boys

Rei Kawakubo: Like the Boys

“Like the Boys”

March 7, 1984

That is the story of a brand new boutique on Wooster Road that looks like a cement bunker, known as Comme des Garçons, and is making a fortune. It opened at the tail end of August, the designer is Japan’s Rei Kawakubo, and the owner is Dianne Benson, former Bendel’s buyer and owner of the Dianne B. outlets on Madison Avenue and Soho’s West Broadway.

It’s not just one other boutique. The negotiations between Rei Kawakubo, 41, a unprecedented Japanese businesswoman/designer and Dianne, 38, produced an immediate, screaming success. Which is not really a shock as a result of Rei Kawakubo isn’t just another designer, but a lady with a complete aesthetic, a world view; perhaps the Chanel of the ’80s. Final summer time, her “black bag” garments seemed extraordinarily bizarre scruffling along Wooster Road on a lanky, blonde style freak. In the present day, robust skilled ladies around New York are sporting them, like Amy Levin, editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle.

Rei Kawakubo does issues in what I’m positive Diana Vreeland would name a Massive Time Approach. She’s a troublesome unbiased woman with a genius for design, an excellent sense of selling and business, a lust for management, and her very specific concept of what ladies want in 1984. She has 168 stores and boutiques within different shops; she owns about 25 of them.

Final spring Paris’s Passion magazine described Rei’s clothes as “stark, violent magnificence in sculptural type.” The Comme des Garçons boutique she opened there in 1982 was the speak of Paris. Her torn cotton knit T-shirt was selling for 600 francs.

Rei Kawakubo, it’s stated, started Comme des Garçons so she might have complete management over her life and reply to no one. In all, this can be a very feminist story. “Principally,” stated Dianne final August, “Rei’s is the most important concept round, probably the most trendy, because it’s so complete.” Rei does the whole lot, from designing the shops (stark grey cement), the surroundings — the music, pens, stationery, luggage — to the workers, directing every thing from their posture to their paper clips to their automobiles. There’s no postmodernist flip in her minimalist aesthetic. Rei acted as architect on the Soho store. Its bleak strains are virtually Joe D’Urso/black leather/hospital robe antiseptic. Whereas New York blossoms with a postmodernist pallette and the AT&T constructing sprouts Chippendale curves, Japanese architects hunker down in oriental excessive tech. Sol Le Witt’s 1968 white Modular Cube/Base illustrates Kenneth Frampton’s A New Wave of Japanese Structure; Le Witt, along with fellow minimalists Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, evokes the Japanese new wave. Whether Rei’s “Machines for Dwelling” facet will throw individuals, as did Le Corbusier’s (or Paley’s despised office decor guidelines for Black Rock, CBS headquarters) remains to be seen. She even to date, Future Shock appears to have thrown a whole lot of True Believer clients Rei’s method, into a relaxed, orderly world with few selections to be made about one of many much less essential things in life: one’s garments.

Mr. Kateyama, the enterprise director of Comme des Garçons, has an fascinating workplace in Rei’s Tokyo headquarters. Cement, like the shops. Minimal furnishings. Filing cabinets. And one complete wall coated with a map of the world. Under, a low built-in ledge holds only a tray of monotone thumbtacks. On the pace they go, they envision everyone on the planet being in their clothing. It’s an enormous wall. The island of Japan has a whole lot of tacks. New York, a number of. Philadelphia. Houston. Paris. Milan.

Is Rei a feminist? It’s onerous to determine. She seldom speaks to the press. In pictures he has a robust good-looking critical face that needs no makeup. Johanne Siff, who spent two years in Japan on a Watson Fellowship learning the emergence of girls in the modern arts, explains that there isn’t a organized feminist motion to parallel what American ladies skilled within the ’70s. “However Rei’s right on the sting,” she [says]. “Her politics are undoubtedly integrated together with her art.” Johanne, who started as a part-time weekend employee, now manages the Comme des Garçons boutique. (She couldn’t afford CDG garments when she lived in Tokyo.)

Rei, in response to her bio, was born in Tokyo in 1943. She was either three or four when the atom bombs exploded at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. She started Comme des Garçons (Just like the Boys) in 1973, displaying her first assortment two years later. The following yr she opened her Paris workplace and first abroad boutique and splashed ice water in the faces of the French.

Karen Rubin, the overall manager for all three of Dianne Benson’s stores, appeared lower than passionate about Dianne’s wild concept of opening and proudly owning a CDG boutique in Soho. In fact Dianne was the boss. “But,” she provides, “once I sat down of their workplaces in Tokyo last yr, I knew it will work. It’s probably the most critical concept around. It’s an entire way of life.” Rei’s workplaces look identical to the stores, and rumor has it that her condo does too. Rei’s office has one phone, black; 4 concrete partitions; one low black table; one black leather sofa; one intense mild. Nothing else.

Everyone who works for Rei believes in her concept. What exactly is it? Something about the whole lot for the only and purest life. How ladies ought to look and how they need to feel. Her designs have lots to do with freedom of movement, sporting flat footwear. Rei doesn’t wear make-up and tells her individuals point-blank to not put on it.

Susan Brownmiller notes in her new e-book Femininity, “Critical ladies have a troublesome time with clothes, not essentially because they lack a developed sense of favor, but because feminine clothes usually are not designed to challenge a critical demeanor.” A press release of Rei Kawakubo’s: “I have all the time felt it necessary not to be confined by tradition or customized or geography, I hope to remain free of these influences in expressing in shapes and colors and textures an concept of mobility . . . I want to design garments which the proprietor can feel assured in, and which don’t discriminate ideas of mobility — and yet remain anonymously distinctive.” (I feel by these two references to mobility she means no indications of social class.) Rei’s garments, worn as a uniform, permit the lady to overlook about her closet and get on with life. Or that’s the idea. Karen Rubin says Rei’s concept could also be so simple as the title of a current hip-hop document hit: “It’s Like That, and That’s the Approach It Is.” CDG is so distant from a Seventh Avenue operation it’s superb — Rei ships provides at her value, as a result of she needs that particular hanger design. “It’s just a entire different concept.” The People determine Rei works about 20 hours a day, operating every side of the business. Shy, intensely personal, she’s “so absorbed in what she’s doing her private contact is minimal,” says Karen. Rei’s press individual, Stella Ishi, married to an American painter, speaks good English; she’s the interface. Rei is the Sherman tank.

As Dianne Benson advised me in mid-1982, “I’m into working, being profitable, and not being confused. Getting my priorities straight. I’m into no one yelling at me.”

Dianne B. is a type of individuals who give an impression of complete chaos then pull diamond-studded rabbits out of chic prime hats. A Mike Todd sort. Her CDG retailer is a triumph of chopping by way of the normal molasses of Japanese-American enterprise negotiations. With Rei, the 2 ladies personally put collectively what Dianne described in August as “a really intriguing, smart monetary settlement which ought to attain break even in a yr.” (Her West Broadway store took 15 months, quite than the projected 12, to show a profit.)

Working together with her souped-up Radio Shack TR S-80 house pc, Dianne started negotiations lower than a yr in the past. They might Telex in the morning and speak over the telephone at night time. “Between the two of us we came up with a give and take. I wrote up the cope with a letter of intent, 4 schedules, a projection of volume, bills, and so on., after which the legal professionals came in. All the main points boiled right down to the most important legal problem: underneath which country’s regulation is that this? The legal professionals value somewhat over $12,000. We cut up it.” The deal was finished in beneath three months, the lease signed for a main 6,500 foot location at 116 Wooster Road June 1. Development began 20 days later; they opened in late August.

Dianne and her companions capitalized the shop with $200,000 up front to secure the lease and begin development. (They later acquired a further development mortgage from the Bank of New York.) There was no capital left to purchase merchandise, so Rei fronted the money, with a letter of credit score from Tokyo’s Fuji bank. There was $250,000 value within the first month. Dianne liked doing business with CDG. “Stella Ishi and Kateyama are Rei’s two henchmen. They’re so cool and so groovy and funky and sensible. They’re in contrast to an other Japanese businesspeople. There’s no one that comes this close. It’s a really strange and totally different group, and real sensible. And all these individuals are about 34.”

The day of the opening CDG took in $10,000. And now the story is coming in. Many New Yorkers find the CDG issues to be wearable, snug, addictive clothes. A way of life. And, the projected break-even? Not a yr. Only 4 months to show a profit. Dianne did $600,000 in retail sales by year-end. The CDG Homme menswear bought out utterly they usually needed to shut the downstairs Homme space till they might restock.

The revolutionary velocity of those negotiations are mirrored by some revolutionary management developments in the CDG store. Initially Dianne slated six salespeople, three assistants, a cashier, and so forth. The employees of 10 to 15 that advanced is described as “socialistic,” though CDG is certainly all about earning profits. The complete group, together with manager Johanne Siff, rotates jobs. “It’s sort of like overnight camp,” explains Karen, “once you had your job wheel in the bunkroom.” And all the employees, apart from Johanne, makes precisely the identical wage. There’s an awesome CDG group spirit; after six weeks, every worker will get enough of Rei’s garments to trend every week’s wardrobe. “But consider me,” explains Johanne, “it’s taken a while to instigate Dianne’s concept of management. Some individuals weren’t into it. The style freak varieties type of freaked out. Three individuals have been fired for inner stealing.” Two more left.

“Now, we work as a unit. We’re more versatile, versatile; not as inflexible and limiting as what is perhaps Rei’s hierarchy in Japan. Dianne takes Rei’s structure and softens it. And she or he’s rather more accessible.”

Dianne says “Rei’s totally radical.” However in what sense? Dianne’s a trend individual; a wonderful purveyor of words, stance, angle. Rei seems to be getting at something extra political; feminist; free; revolutionary. Numerous New Yorkers have been saying final yr that the Japanese have been stealing their concepts from the English designers. If the speak sounds comparable; the clothes are completely totally different. In the August challenge of London’s The Face, Katherine Hamnett defined why she thought a designer had energy: “I suppose it means you gown the elite . . . you’re creating their persona.” Hamnett’s fascination is with the dialectic between the clothes you put on and the attitudes you categorical. In late August, Vivienne Westwood, about Rei’s age, described her personal garments to The Guardian as “robust,” “grand,” and “free.” They then had numerous Roxy “hip­-hop” references like Smurf hats, Keith Haring graffiti prints, and triple-tongued sneakers. The enterprise impulse behind Westwood is Malcolm McLaren, purveyor of the Intercourse Pistols and Adam Ant, who noted these garments did nicely in Japan. “Japan was for therefore long an remoted island that it has by no means acquired over its hunger for the status of concepts.”

So is Rei making an English-inspired assertion? Betsey Johnson says, “London is laughing concerning the previous means with garments . . . It’s a road peoples’ musical assertion, I see Bow Wow Wow, Boy George, Dexie’s Midnight Runners, MTV.” The Japanese clothes? “A very refined, sometimes Japanese strategy to material and texture and drape. The Japanese finally as soon as and for all had to make an enormous time statement for themselves in clothing. However it’s utterly totally different — the English is from the road, the Japanese is from an expensive, refined style viewpoint.


Dianne Benson is now in Tokyo negotiating with Rei to open a Comme des Garçons on Geary Road in San Francisco. She’s in all probability sporting her CDG garments. She says they make her really feel attractive. And powerful.

And another tack will in all probability go on Mr. Kateyama’s world map. ■

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