Rei Kawakubo

Article excerpt

Byline: Robin Givhan

The CFDA fetes a fashion sphinx.

In a culture that presumes a universal addiction to fame, Comme des Garcons' Rei Kawakubo--one of the most influential designers in the industry--steadfastly abstains. She does not take a bow at the end of her shows. She does not tweet. Her public utterances are miserly at best. This elusiveness has heightened her reputation as a fashion oracle, whose clothes are like premonitions in boiled wool and nylon.

This summer, as the Council of Fashion Designers of America celebrates its 50th anniversary, it will honor Kawakubo with its International Award on June 4. Film director John Waters, an ardent admirer, will make the presentation.

Kawakubo's clothes leave fashion novices exasperated but make true believers swoon. When she debuted in Paris in 1981, during the height of the Dynasty period of ostentation, she caused a stir with a deconstructed collection called "Destroy." She has made dresses that are all front and no back, that are two-dimensional instead of three. In one of her most audacious collections, 1997's "Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress," she masterminded a series of garments fitted with padded protuberances that transformed the classic hourglass shape into something amorphous, beastly ... and mesmerizing.

"I begin every collection, every aspect of design for Comme des Garcons, from zero. I want to try to make something strong that didn't exist before," says Kawakubo through a translator. "By the very nature of how I work, I cannot be in any dialogue with the fashion industry or the public, or let myself be influenced in any way, by anyone or anything. …