Comme des Garçons Protégées

Sacai Autumn/Winter 15 Backstage

The arrival of Japanese designers in Paris was radical, punk and fresh. They came at a time when the Antwerp Six were also making a name for themselves, but the propositions from the East gave a refreshing perspective on the relationship between clothing and the body. At the head of this movement was Rei Kawakubo – and Yohji Yamamoto (but that’s a separate discussion!) Founder and creative force behind Comme des Garçons, a multi-brand business that generates $220 million in revenue per year, she continues to thrive on raw creativity.

There are many discussions surrounding the discourse established by Comme and the elusive nature of Kawakubo, yet under her umbrella a number of young designers have built thriving businesses. Aside from being one of the most punk, radical fashion brands showing in Paris, with a series of international concept stores, the Comme des Garçons umbrella also operates as a visible training ground for rising stars.

Chitose Abe of Sacai is a prime example of the Comme effect. After working as a pattern cutter at Comme des Garçons for eight years, before moving to Junya Watanabe’s design team, she decided to launch her own label. Until two years ago, the Japanese line was unheard of, even though it enjoyed a cult-like status amongst the fashion insiders. Only when Abe decided to hold her first runway show in Paris in March of 2013, did people start to talk about how innovative it was. With a manifesto to create the unexpected from the expected, Karl Lagerfeld dubbed Sacai as “the most exciting brand of the moment.”

Since debuting in Paris, Sacai has gone from strength to strength; collaborating with Adidas, while spearheading a second revolution in 21st century Japanese design. Where her mentor, Rei Kawakubo focuses on the deconstruction and conception, Abe looks at cutting-edge fashions that are wearable. Not to say that Comme des Garçons, isn’t wearable but Sacai is both commercially viable and editorially intriguing. Launched in 1999, following the birth of Abe’s first child, buyers would visit her home to view her latest collection. It was here that Sacai became known for being able to take things apart while piecing them back together in innovative fabrics.

Now, Sacai is a permanent fixture of the Paris Fashion Week schedule and despite leaving the Comme des Garçons umbrella, to launch the line independently, Abe still credits Kawakubo as a driving force behind Sacai. Similarly, Junichi Abe of Kolor – the husband of Chitose Abe who works separately from his wife – also launched his line after years of working for Rei Kawakubo.

More recently, the Comme des Garcons founder has taken an interest in Russian designer, Gosha Rubchinskiy. His study of post-Soviet adolescence attracted the attention of Kawakubo and CDG president, Adrian Joffe, who support his production costs.

After years of working in the company, Rei Kawakubo invites the designers to launch their own line. The formula began as an experiment with Junya Wantanabe in 1992 and proved to be a success. Noted for his fabric manipulation and innovative use of synthetic material, Wantanabe began his design career as an apprentice pattern maker for Comme des Garçons in 1987. Given his own label in 1992, after years of helming the design direction of Tricot and designing for Comme des Garçons Homme, he became a creative force in his own right. In 2005, he launched his eponymous menswear line where he continues to explore hermetic dress codes. Others derived from the stewardship of CDG, include Tao and Ganryu. The former, headed by Central Saint Martins alumnus, Tao Kurihara, closed in 2011 but the designer is now in charge of Triot, which shows its collection in Tokyo twice a year.

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It’s hard to define each brand by an easy characterisation, as they each posses their own unique way of doing things under the guidance of Kawakubo.