I.T. Beijing Market, a 19,000-square-foot emporium blending various Comme des Garçons lines with other designer brands, opened just a week ago in the Sanlitun retail development in Beijing. In a rare interview with WWD, Rei Kawakubo, discusses the opening of her new Dover Street Market retail space. The interview is brief but insightful and details some of the issues both she and the brand have faced.
WWD: What do you think of the way people dress here and their style?
R.K.: When I came here 10 years ago there were no people who would wear Comme des Garçons. I was just in the towns and didn’t go to the places where fashionable people gathered, but now it is much more casual. I used to enjoy seeing people wearing communist workers’ clothes and I don’t see that anymore.
WWD: How has the inspiration for your collections changed over the course of your career?
R.K.: Do you think it’s changed? For me it hasn’t changed at all. The way I approach each collection is exactly the same…the motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn’t exist before. The more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to make something new. Once I’ve made something, I don’t want to do it again, so the breadth of possibility is becoming smaller.
WWD: Everyone is talking about how the Japanese market for retail and luxury goods is just terrible right now. Do you think that will change? Do you think there is a way to get consumers excited again?
R.K.: Now, with fast fashion, the value of creation is diminishing, and very expensive things are not interesting.
WWD: Is there any way out of that situation?
R.K.: I always think that I’d like to do something about the situation…it’s a very profound motivation…but I don’t think it’s something that can really be changed. I’m not powerful enough. There’s a closed-mindedness that prevents movement and change. I always think that I’d like to break that, and I’ve used it [this closed-mindedness] as a theme for collections, but I just can’t seem to break it. I want to wake people up, but I don’t think I succeed in doing this as much as I would like to.
WWD: You mentioned fast fashion. That’s been a huge story and obviously you had your collaboration with H&M. Would you consider doing something like that again?
R.K.: That was a special case. They were making a new store in Japan, so it was just a short, two-week relationship. It wasn’t a big thing, but I thought it was interesting because they asked me to do all the advertising and visuals as well. H&M has a very different way of thinking and a different business model, so it was interesting to see how much of a connection we could make. But in the end I realized that there wasn’t very much in common, so I don’t think I’ll do it again.
WWD: Would you consider selling it or listing it on the stock market?
R.K.: I don’t think there’s anyone who would want to buy it. I do everything on my own, so there are very few people who could do it. Do you think there’s anyone who would buy it? [Joffe interjected half-jokingly with a laugh: “We’re waiting for an offer.”]
WWD: How do you come up with a retail concept? Where do you start?
R.K.: Firstly, I want to make a shop that’s unlike any that already exists. And then, since it’s a business, we have to be able to get back the initial investment, whether it’s ours or whether it’s the partner’s, in as short a time as possible. So I don’t like to use expensive materials. I take care to make costs reasonable. It’s very similar to the way I make clothes. I give myself limits, not only financial limits but I also limit my method of expression, and from within those limits I try to come up with something new and interesting.
WWD: Are there any young designers coming up through the ranks you’re keeping your eye on?
R.K.: There are very few. There are few people who, like us, have the values and the way of thinking to really try hard. They lack discipline. And it’s not just fashion, I think…[young people] get satisfied too easily. They’re not strict enough with themselves. They’re too soft on themselves.