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Style Advice from Rei Kawakubo

Kawakubo is a true creative and is looked to by many in the fashion world as one of the most important contemporary designers. The Japanese designer and creator of Comme Des Garçons is responsible for some of the most sought-after pieces in the game, but all in an effortless pursuit of creation. When tapped for design inspiration and fashion advice by journalists Kawakubo’s answers are often indirect and allusive. The designer is famed for her reclusive nature after all.

When she does choose to speak out Kawakubo can often get her message across in less than a few sentences. That is, much like her clothing, she keeps it simple. But, from the few nuggets of wisdom she has shared over the years there is some serious style advice to be decrypted. So here is MenswearStyle’s take on Rei Kawakubo’s rules to dress by:

Photo: Adam Katz Sinding
Photo: Adam Katz Sinding

1. Use Space 

Kawakubo often starts her creative process by shaping the fabrics round a body or mannequin. Much like a sculptor, she uses the three-dimensional process to create form in space. For Kawakubo the use of space really is an essential part of dressing and can be used effectively to create a definitive style. The designer talks about ‘Ma’ - the Japanese word that refers to the space between two structural parts: the two structural parts being the body and the fabric of the clothing. The use of ‘Ma’ can be seen time and time again in her collections. From the ballooning trousers that billowed down the AW17 menswear runways, to the simple oversized CDG Play T-shirts that draw many a fashion-conscious shopper to Dover Street Market. Choose to make one piece in an outfit slightly oversized. Whether that’s a pair of jeans, a shirt, or even a blazer - it creates an asymmetry in the outfit that can make it look carefully put together with minimal effort.

2. Use Colour as an Accent  

Black and white play a starring role in much of Kawakubo’s work but that’s not to say the designer shies away from colour. Kawakubo uses colour to accent an outfit. The small red hearts on the CDG Play collections are a perfect example of this. Or the neon coloured bowl-cut wigs that bobbed down the runways in her most recent SS18 Homme Plus collection. Similarly, the designer has been known to use patterns to achieve the same aim in accenting an outfit with little more than some Yayoi Kusama style dots. From an easy bold striped T-shirt, to flower printed shirt-sleeves paired with dark denim bottoms, print and colour can really elevate an outfit when used in small doses.

3. Be Daring 

It can be easy to slip into a more conservative style of dressing as one matures, thinks Kawakubo. But, this habit is best avoided if we’re to follow Kawakubo’s advice. In an interview with WWD Kawakubo pointed to the media for perpetuating conservative dressing with age: “many parts of the media have created the situation where uninteresting fashion can thrive,” she said. Nonetheless, the designer is not necessarily advocating for bolder prints and more colour as we age. No, her style advice is much more nuanced than that. She implicates shape and the structure of garments as the most important feature of her creative process. Indeed, this can be seen at the forefront of many of her designs. But it is also an important stylistic feature for the designer. So for those of us who haven’t quite attained the status of fashion royalty that Kawakubo enjoys, this means having more of an awareness of shape and fit as we age. While we shouldn’t shy away from some of the more daring fits that we might have tried in our youth, there are simple ways to play with structure that don’t require devising an entirely new wardrobe akin to that of a twenty-something. The lifted collars and lapels showcased on her SS18 Homme Plus jackets are a perfect example of bolder style choices that takes little more than a structural revamp.


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