Rei Kawakubo’s Smile

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Rei Kawakubo, 1977Courtesy of High Fashion Magazine

AnOther’s Lovers brings us a rare smile from the first lady of Comme des Garçons

Rei Kawakubo is known for many things, but a cheery disposition isn’t necessarily one of them, and this unexpected picture of a young Kawakubo smiling brightened our week. Loved by Emma Hope Allwood, fashion features editor at Dazed, the photo was taken for Japanese magazine High Fashion in 1977, when Rei was 35, eight years after she’d started Comme des Garçons.

"What's really impressive about her is that she's never backed down" - Lee Alexander McQueen

Both Kawakubo herself and Comme des Garçons are regular features in the pages of AnOther Magazine. For our S/S10 issue, we asked a host of industry figures what it is that makes her just so special – and the answers flooded back. "What's really impressive about her is that she's never backed down" responded Lee Alexander McQueen, "she has definitely proved that it's possible to be that brave, that it is possible to keep one's integrity" explained Björk. Kawakubo is uncompromising and radical, her approach is feminist, anti-establishment and defiant; she’s a rule-breaker, unpredictable, and above all, she has integrity. Kawakubo eschews influences and intellectualism, maintaining that her designs are simply an expression of what she’s thinking of at the time; as Susannah Frankel explains, she is "intentionally oblivious to the preoccupations that might motivate her contemporaries."

In the same feature Kawakubo told us, “Fashion alone is so far from being the whole story. It seems that with fashion, as with art, things are getting easier in one sense but at the same time it is getting harder to be stimulated about things or excite people. Without that impetus of creation, progress is not possible. All kinds of ways of expression are spreading out all over the place, information is overflowing, and it’s harder and harder to be excited about anything.”

She continued, “This defiant mentality can also be called the fight against absurdity and injustice and the power (authority) that thrives around it (that is rampant). One cannot fight the battle without freedom. I think the best way to fight that battle, which equals the unyielding spirit, is in the realm of creation. That’s exactly why freedom and the spirit of defiance is the source (fountainhead) of my energy.”

That spirit of defiance is clear throughout her creative output, which consistently breaks rules and transgresses boundaries. If you look closely, it’s even evident in that slightly strained photo of a young, smiling Rei Kawakubo who would go on to change the world.

To get to the bottom of the enigma of Kawakubo and her general scarcity of facial expressions, we posed a few questions to Allwood, AnOther’s Lover of the week, about why a women shouldn’t have to smile for anyone, and why the perfect selfie look is always a frown.

Why did you love Rei’s smile?
I loved Rei's smile because I love her general refusal to smile, something that is often expected of women. As a New York Times feature put it in 2004, "When she wants to... Kawakubo smiles through her clothes."

What would you do with this picture if you owned it?
Display it next to a picture of her frowning. 

What do you think she’s thinking about in that picture?
Maybe she’s having a premonition about the future she’s going to have, but really I hope she was cursing the chauvinistic photographer for making her pose that way. 

What makes you smile?
Lots of things – just not people telling me to smile. 

Selfies: smile or pout?
Chronic bitch face. With the occasional Smize.

What is your favourite piece that Rei designed?
I’ve always loved the surreal quality of the hands that grasped the body in the A/W07 collection.

What was the last thing you bought?
A pair of Margiela daisy painted boots that I’m simultaneously thrilled and feeling very guilty about.