AI WEI WEI’S CHILDREN OF THE COMME
AI WEIWEI’S CHILDREN OF THE COMME
PHOTOGRAPHY AI WEIWEI
TEXT PATRIK SANDBERG
IN A SPECIAL CREATIVE COLLABORATION WITH V MAGAZINE AND DOVER STREET MARKET, AI WEIWEI TAKES THE NEXT GENERATION OF FASHION DESIGN INTO BRIGHT NEW TERRITORY. SEE THE NEXT WAVE OF DESIGN IN LIVING COLOR
“There is no model and no system.”
It’s days away from the latest Comme des Garçons show, for Spring/Summer 2015, when Adrian Joffe sends an e-mail from Paris. “We have always been interested in creative synergy,” he writes. The president of Comme des Garçons International and co-founder of the enchanting Dover Street Market department store chain, Joffe is responding to a query sent regarding the Comme des Garçons philosophy on supporting young talent.
“When we started collaborations so many years ago, it was about this,” he elaborates, “the idea that one plus one equals three or more.” Joffe and Rei Kawakubo form the nucleus of Comme des Garçons, which Kawakubo started in 1969 (it became a limited company in 1973) and Joffe joined as commercial director in 1987. (Joffe would become president in 1993, the same year he and Kawakubo were married.) It may have been unorthodox when the brand first produced a namesake label, that of in-house designer Junya Watanabe, in 1992, but in the 20-plus years since that collection first hit the catwalk, designers Tao Kurihara, Kei Ninomiya, and Fumito Ganryu have launched their own labels under Comme’s umbrella (Tao Comme des Garçons, Noir Kei Ninomiya, and Ganryu, respectively). CDG has also launched unique collaborations with Peggy Moffitt, Daphne Guinness, Stephen Jones, Colette, Fred Perry, Speedo, H&M, Supreme, Moncler, and many others, ranging from the worlds of streetwear to swimwear to fine fragrance. And with each opening of a Dover Street Market, in London, Japan, Beijing, and now New York, Joffe and Kawakubo have seized the opportunity to support an emerging designer, be it through production, installation, or by merely stocking a line.
“[We] buy their clothes, give spaces for events and installations, do collaborations, and with some, like Gosha Rubchinskiy and Andre Walker, help with production and distribution,” Joffe says. “I think we encourage creation and emerging talent simply by being who we are, by example. We prove that by working hard and believing in creation, you can succeed. With DSM, we have been able to give something concrete by giving space to young designers to express themselves and buying young designer collections.”
Craig Green, a London-based menswear designer who stunned fashion cognoscenti with a breakout collection in June, is one such beneficiary of the duo’s multipronged guidance. “They’re really like no other company,” Green says. “They are incredibly open to suggestion and encourage things to be as pushed and as extreme as possible. It’s a huge pleasure to work on any project with Dover Street Market, and massively liberating to work without constraint. It’s always been a dream store for me. It was a big thing when I found out my collection would be supported there.”
At a time when there are more prizes for young designers than ever before—the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, LVMH Prize, ANDAM, the International Woolmark Prize, and new Swarovski Collective Prize for Innovation, to name only a handful—Joffe and Kawakubo’s intuitive and less rigid approach offers a refreshing alternative to what has become a competitive climate in the industry. “There is no grand plan with us,” Joffe says. “There are no ground rules. Something comes along, it feels right, and we do it if we can. Each time is different.”
The community that has formed as a result of this unconventional strategy goes back to a belief long held by the duo in the “interdependence of fashion.” Joffe explains: “We are nothing alone; it’s all connected. The way our company has evolved, in a way, shows this. We have little shops, big shops, permanent and temporary, small concepts and big concepts. Maybe we show that there are many ways to succeed and they are all connected under one overriding philosophy. That perhaps shows, by example, the various paths that are possible if you stick to your values.”
Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is no stranger to the wonderful world of Kawakubo and Joffe, having previously collaborated with Comme des Garçons many times, most recently on the design of the brand’s store in Aoyama, Tokyo, and on a backpack inspired by the children who perished in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. “It has always been an interesting and exciting experience,” Weiwei writes from Beijing, where he remains all but imprisoned by travel restrictions and under government surveillance for his criticism and beliefs. “Rei Kawakubo is a person who has always supported and fostered unique ideas.” When the idea came to feature the current generation of CDG-approved talents, Weiwei was an ideal choice to interpret their work. Soon enough, garments by 14 designers were on their way to Beijing.
“I was very impressed by the pieces sent to us by the designers,” the artist says. Craig Green, Ganryu, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Hood By Air, Jacquemus, KTZ, Lee Roach, Melitta Baumeister, Noir, Phoebe English, Proper Gang, Shaun Samson, Sibling, and 1205 were each tapped for inclusion. “I think all of the designers hold very unique perspectives, and it was interesting to see the different approaches to the human form.” Casting his own studio personnel and friends as models, the artist was inspired to reference his 2006 Colored Vases sculptures. “I treated Neolithic and Han Dynasty–era vases as ready-made objects and painted them so they existed in a contradictory condition,” he explains. Shot in a metal-casting factory in Songzhuang, on the outskirts of Beijing, the resulting images (shown here) pay homage to each garment’s silhouette.
“Pouring a color on an outfit creates a new condition for the design,” Weiwei says. “It creates a midpoint between two conflicting ideas. Gravity and the shape of the clothes combine to create a unique moment. Using these cultural products as ready-mades celebrates and reinterprets the intention of creativity. I think this act shows my respect toward their creativity.” Incidentally, this project mirrors its forebear in at least one unplanned way: “For the last ten years, these 14 colors have existed in our studio color chart for the production of Colored Vases,” he explains. “It’s a complete coincidence that we had these 14 colors for exactly 14 outfits.”
Given creative carte blanche, Weiwei and his studio executed the project in confidence, and revealed it to Dover Street Market and V as a surprise. Thankfully, the designers were thrilled by what transpired in China, and the pieces will be shown, in their newly painted form, in an exhibition at Dover Street Market this month. As Joffe suggests, the experience aptly reflects the spirit of Comme des Garçons. His statement on the artist could easily be applied to each designer in the mix: “True iconoclast. Fuck the world. Punk. Rebel. So much shared spirit.”