When Rei Kawakubo opened her first Comme des Garçons boutique in Tokyo in 1973, the revolutionary retail space – where collections were stored unseen in a backroom – did not contain a single mirror. "You just had to feel confident and had to learn about the way the clothes felt on you," explains Octavius la Rosa, the founder of the Melbourne-based vintage boutique dot COMME, which specialises in museum-worthy archival pieces by Comme des Garçons, Junya Watanabe, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Bernhard Willhelm and Walter Van Beirendonck. "It was so radical." Now, after a decade of sourcing rare Comme des Garçons designs – from silhouette distorting pieces from the seminal womens S/S97 Lumps and Bumps collection, to mens pixelated camo and plaid dip-dyed suits – la Rosa has transported 350 pieces from his store above a Subway sandwich shop in Australia, to Paris, where Comme des Garçons has shown its runway show since 1981. "There is only one mirror, and a red light which pays homage to the Comme des Garçons store at the rue Saint-Honoré," explains Theodoros Genitsakis, who art directed the space.
An archival odyssey spanning 1991-2001, and documenting not only Kawakubo’s subversive design aesthetic but also her retail past, here la Rosa reveals his six favourite pieces available to purchase...
Lumps and Bumps Jacket and Matching Double Layered Dress – S/S97
"From what is, in my opinion, the most iconic Comme des Garçons collection (though it was a commercial failure); I love this collection because it pushed the boundaries of what were considered acceptable silhouettes, and were perhaps even a pre-cursor to Rei’s more current collections which consider clothing as sculpture for the body."
Patchwork Tapestry Dress Suit – S/S00
"I bought this suit from another collector; it’s part of a collection considered by a lot of Comme des Garçons fans to be one of the true masterpieces of menswear. It included the sort of fabrics you'd expect to see in 18th-century aristocratic costume cut up and patched in peasantry style, and every piece is individually patched and different to the next."
Silk Velvet Flocked Dress with Quilted Underlayer Dress – A/W96
"My favourite collection; I love the cuts, the fabrics, the styling – everything is perfect! This piece feels like something from a twisted fairytale. I found the blanket dress locally and the upper is from Italy."
Velvet Psychedelic Suit – A/W01
"Inspired by the psychedelic period, I love all the fabrics from this collection; there are lots of amazing colours and patterns! I bought the pants in Tokyo and later found the matching jacket in Italy."
Velveteen Floral Suit with Mesh Panels – A/W01
"This collection showed lingerie as outerwear; totally weird, but I love the combination of colours, the general level of distastefulness, and the use of fabrics considered cheap attached to those considered luxurious. The pants I found locally, and the jacket I found in Osaka. The styling was very much what you might see in a fashion show today – so relevant!"
Silk Tartan Jacket – A/W99
"I got this jacket from a customer in London. It has a silk scarf print with a gilt border and a thick knitted lining; other jackets from this collection were lined with a silk scarf fabric. This was also the first collection to introduce the super low drop crotch into menswear, which is now a staple of Comme des Garçons."
1991-2001 The Odyssey of Comme des Garçons runs at 10 Rue de la Paix until October 6, 2016.