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Design recluse shares views

THE mind behind Comme des Garcons and one of fashion's most influential and reclusive figures says that with each collection she is out to create something totally new - a goal that is becoming harder and harder the longer she is in fashion. And that is just one of the many provocative admissions Kawakubo made during a rare interview pegged to the opening of I.T Beijing Market, her new multibrand store in the Chinese capital.

The 68-year-old designer admits she is starting to ponder a succession strategy for her business and indicated that she doesn't oppose the idea of selling her company. Surprisingly, she said she doesn't think anyone would be interested in it. Her husband and the company's chief executive, Adrian Joffe, on hand to translate the designer's words from Japanese to English, said half-jokingly: "We're waiting for an offer."

In other revelations, Kawakubo, who has collaborated with companies as diverse as Louis Vuitton and H&M in recent years, isn't exactly showering compliments on the rest of the fashion world. For one, she isn't all that impressed with most of the new designers out there.

"They lack discipline. ... They're not strict enough with themselves," she said.

Meanwhile, both Kawakubo and Joffe noted Comme des Garcons' increasing popularity with Asian consumers and its continued momentum across international markets. The new store, reminiscent of the brand's Dover Street Market complex in London, carries a range of apparel and accessories from various CdG lines, as well as merchandise from brands like Maison Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Dior Homme, Ann Demeulemeester and Hussein Chalayan. The basement of the building houses a new boutique from A Bathing Ape, which connects to the I.T Beijing Market through a staircase.

Before the opening, Kawakubo sat down to chat about fashion, China today and more.

Q: How do you feel about the Beijing store?

A: Well, this isn't about the store, but I first came to China 30, 40 years ago, and I've been here many times in the past 15 years and I have witnessed many changes. Now with fashion, at the very least you can find all the brands in Beijing and Shanghai. So I wanted to do something new ... a new method or expression ... with fashion and Comme des Garcons in a place that has everything. I'm very happy to have worked with I.T in order to realize that.

Q: What kinds of changes have you witnessed in China and its consumers over 30 years of visits?

A: First of all, the administration (of the country) is totally different. Now, it has become more free. I feel that people are much more free to make new things and create new business than was possible before ... and there are more people who are interested in these changes and who are aspiring to participate in the changes, so from that point of view I think it has changed completely.

Q: What do you think of fashion and style here?

A: When I came here 10 years ago there were no people who would wear Comme des Garcons. 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 workers' clothes and I don't see that anymore.

Q: How has your inspiration changed over the course of your career?

A: 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.

Q: Fast fashion has been a huge story and obviously you had your collaboration with H&M. Would you consider doing something like that again?

A: 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.

Q: How do you come up with a retail concept? Where do you start?

A: 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.


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