This Exhibition Celebrates Paolo Roversi’s Collaboration With Rei Kawakubo

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Paolo Roversi: Birds
Paolo Roversi: BirdsPhotography by Paolo Roversi. Courtesy of Dallas Contemporary

As a new exhibition exploring Roversi and Kawakubo’s longstanding collaboration opens, the legendary photographer speaks to Miss Rosen about the elusive founder of Comme des Garçons

Rei Kawakubo is the living embodiment of radical fashion, her powers extending far beyond the runway. Known for her reticence to explain her masterful, mindboggling designs to the press, the founder of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market has deftly maintained her enigmatic charms for more than half a century.

A true rara avis, Kawakubo told the Guardian in 2018 that she identifies punk “as a spirit, as a way of living”. Eschewing all that is popular in favour of that which is original, rebellious and authentic, Kawakubo, now 78, is one of the greatest designers working today.

One of Kwakubo’s gifts is her ability to trust that once she has done her part, we will do ours. It is a position she extends to collaborators alike. “Rei doesn’t give any instruction or any rules,” observes Italian photographer Paolo Roversi, who has worked with Kawakubo for four decades. “She lets you do your interpretation of her ideas, and still today it is the same. She did not change.”

Roversi remembers meeting Kawakubo in 1983 when she presented her first collection in a Paris hotel. “I was a little shocked because this moment was the Vogue designers: Claude Montana and Thierry Mugler. Then Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto changed a lot of those things. Rei was even more revolutionary – there were sweaters with holes, strange shoes. You felt she was taking a risk. She was going in the direction where no one was going before. Everything was different and new.”

Together, Roversi and Kawakubo have amassed an extraordinary body of work, selections from which are presented in the upcoming exhibition Paolo Roversi: Birds, curated by Dennis Freedman and Dallas Contemporary executive director Peter Doroshenko. The exhibition, which features more than 40 images – including one shot for Another Man, styled by Katy England (see below) – illustrates how Roversi’s dreamlike imagery deftly captures the intricacies of Kawakubo’s fantastical designs.

From the very beginning, Roversi was inspired by Kawakubo’s iconoclastic approach, finding joy in the freedom of going beyond the known. “Rei is always exploring new horizons: new lines, new colors, new textures, new shapes, and very stimulating because it makes you think and look in another way and that is always exciting,” Roversi says.

“I have learned a lot from Rei. The first one is freedom and the idea of taking risks – it’s the best way to work. When you repeat yourself, and it’s always the same thing, you are dissatisfied of your system and you are lost. You are not creating.”

For Roversi and Kawakubo, there is only the thrill of daring to reinvent one’s self. “It’s never established. Every six months, Rei makes a little revolution with what she’s doing. It’s incredible,” Roversi says. “All the works by Rei inspire to me a sense of freedom, a sense of space, and they like birds flying, carried by a magic wind, making my mind and heart fly with them.”

Paolo Roversi: Birds opens at Dallas Contemporary from January 30-August 22, 2021.