What began as a side business making costumes for styling assignments in Tokyo in the late sixties has morphed into a fashion empire with over 200 franchises around the globe. With rustic denim womenswear inspired by Japanese peasantry, Rei Kawakubo set up over 100 Comme des Garçons (French for “like some boys”) shops across Japan in the seventies. Then, in 1981, she brought her first collection to Paris. Bathed in black, it featured strong but conflated silhouettes that honored provocation over fit.
The mystery (and the austerity) has continued with Kawakubo’s recent jones for temporary “guerilla” stores, not to mention the work of her protégé, Junya Watanabe, who presented his own womenswear line under CDG in 1992, followed by a menswear collection in 2001. Though earlier pieces bent the edge of avant-garde—think three-armed jackets, face-shielding turtlenecks, form-fitting gingham numbers stuffed with down bulges in monochrome black—recent collections have been a bit more mainstream, with suits hewn from gold- and silver-flecked tweed, Rolling Stone tongue patterns, and floral-motif dresses.