Last week, the Noguchi Museum named fashion designer Rei Kawakubo as the 2019 Isamu Noguchi Award recipient. Known for her daring designs that obliterate the border between art and fashion, Kawakubo will be presented with the award on May 2 at the museum’s annual benefit.
According to a statement from the museum, the award recognizes “individuals who share Isamu Noguchi’s spirit of innovation, global consciousness, and commitment to East/West cultural exchange.”
“I am not an artist, an architect or even a product designer. I have always only been looking to make something new, which didn’t exist before, and make a business out of that,” said Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons, in a statement to ALL ARTS. “Looking to make new things, without compromise, is not that acceptable. I have to constantly fight against conservative opinion and authority.”
A revolutionary figure in the fashion world, Kawakubo launched her womenswear label Comme des Garçons in 1969 and had her breakthrough Paris debut in 1981. Since then, Comme des Garçons has gained notoriety (and a rabid following) for its monochromatic palette and cool disregard for fashion’s rules.
Kawakubo’s designs are often distinguishable by her signature trademarks: ripped, torn and deformed seams; ballooning proportions; and asymmetrical lines. In her more abstract creations, dresses bulge at the hips, shoulders and back — a silhouette that was morphed into an artistic statement in Merce Cunningham’s 1997 dance, “Scenario,” which featured the style as misshapen costumes designed by Kawakubo.
In 2017, Kawakubo was the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute exhibition. The exhibition, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” marked only the second time that a living designer (the last being Yves Saint Laurent in 1983) was chosen to be the focus of the Costume Institute’s prestigious show and gala.
The naming of Kawakubo as this year’s Isamu Noguchi Award further exemplifies the designer’s placement in both the art and fashion world. In a statement, the museum emphasized this connection: “Hailed as one of the most brilliant and innovative designers of our time, Rei Kawakubo has consistently defied notions not only of beauty, but also of what fashion can be, at once confounding our expectations for clothing and — like Noguchi — challenging the idea that design and art are inherently different endeavors. Also like Noguchi, Kawakubo celebrates not only forms but also the spaces between them.”
For Kawakubo, the connection between her work and Noguchi’s resides in their shared resistance against the status quo.
“I remember Noguchi presented something for the Osaka World Fair in 1970, which was refused because it was ‘too new’,” Kawakubo told ALL ARTS. “I know that feeling…not much has changed. I continue to fight, more and more.”
Top Image: "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Courtesy of Simplethrill.