The Full Story: Comme des Garçons by Nick Knight

The fusion of 18th century and punk may seem unlikely, but “I suppose there was punk spirit in every age,” Rei Kawakubo says. “I was thinking that there had to be women in the 18th century who wanted to live strongly. So I designed what I imagined this type of woman would have worn, and called it ‘18th-Century Punk’.” Dig deeper and the 18th century was indeed an era associated with both revolution and change. And that applies to France and Paris in particular. The otherwise Tokyo-based designer has chosen to show in that city since the early 1980s. With that in mind, it is impossible not to see the influence of Les Incroyables – and their female counterparts, Les Merveilleuses – at play here. It might be argued that this collective of purposefully decadent and outlandishly dressed aristocrats were the original fashion agitators, deliberately provoking outrage and even outright scandal throughout the 20-year French Directory period (1795-1799).

Today, Kawakubo is quite possibly the greatest fashion agitator of them all. Famously averse to attaching any political meaning to her work, all the willfully elusive creator will say on that subject is, “I have always only done what I first set out to do, never wavering from the Comme des Garçons values, and irrespective of what is going on anywhere else in the fashion world.” That mindset has paid dividends. Kawakubo’s passionate belief in independence and her refusal to compromise those values has resulted in her being perhaps the most influential fashion designer in the world, with a business empire that is the envy of her contemporaries – not to mention the generations that have followed. via Another