What to Watch: Rei Kawakubo Strips Down Window Dressing

Rei Kawakubo’s deep thoughts about window display are a revelation.

In an email exchange with WWD, the Japanese fashion designer behind Comme des Garçons summed up why she’s no fan of standard-fare window dressing, confirming her stature as one of the industry’s most unorthodox, gutsy and indie-minded figures — and a retail trailblazer.

“Displaying clothes in a window is, for me, like saying, ‘Hey, look at me. Please buy me; I’m wonderful,’” she related. “I don’t want to beg people to buy something. My ideal is that people search for, discover and then choose the clothes they want to wear, having thought about it and felt something by themselves, on their own.”

Comme des Garçons Aoyama store window

An elephant artwork by Stephanie Quayle lorded over the entrance to the Aoyama boutique in 2011.

Courtesy of Comme des Garçons

A new 302-page book — published mainly for internal use but also offered to VIP clients and friends of the Japanese fashion firm — documents the installations Kawakubo has conceived for Comme des Garçons’ flagship store in Tokyo’s Aoyama from 1989 through to 2023.

They reflect a staggering array of moods, materials and concepts designed to challenge the eye — and the brain.

Over the years, Kawakubo has also featured artworks by the likes of Christian Marclay, Roger Ballen, Cindy Sherman, Ai Weiwei, Taro Okamoto, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Richard Prince and Gilbert & George.

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A spread from the book showing artist Steven Pippin’s multiple sliding glass doors.

Courtesy of Comme des Garçons

“I like trying to make a stimulating and interesting atmosphere around the entrance that leads you to go inside the shop where you would happen to find some clothes in the back. At the least, I want the windows or entrance of the shops to have the role of a kind of ‘press room,’” Kawakubo said, characterizing her installations as a forum for communicating ideas and messages different from her runway shows. “If after more than 40 years, people still remember something from that experience, then for me it is merit enough. I believe that, in business, you have to try things that don’t necessarily result in immediate sales.”

Kawakubo has a reputation for swimming against the tide, and constantly challenging herself to invent fashions that have never been seen before — and stores that break the mold.

Building a shop involves the same creation as making clothes,” she explained. “I like people to enter the shop with a sense of anticipation, having felt already at the entrance the shop’s concept and CDG’s way of thinking. In this respect, the image of the shop has to be on the same level as that of the clothes, so that people can encounter something stimulating, something never seen before, something new.”

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A giant orb was installed for “Red Celebration” in 2015.

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