“I make clothes for a woman who is not swayed by what her husband thinks,” says design icon Rei Kawakubo and we love her for it. Just like Chanel, this was a woman who dared to dream up subversive, gender-bending clothes for men and women at a time when no one else was.
Interestingly, Rei Kawakubo never trained in fashion design; she studied art and literature but later took up a job in a textiles factory and then became a freelance stylist. Two years later she began making clothes under the label Comme Des Garçons, which attracted a global cult following for her spirited belief in unadulterated and raw creativity and style.
Comme Des Garçons is famous for being “anti-fashion”, a label that rebels against mainstream fashion and challenges established ideas about beauty. Kawakubo says that she “never intended to start a revolution” – she wanted to show “what I thought was strong and beautiful. It just so happened that my notion was different from everybody else’s.” This is an idea we subscribe to at YURIYASA, where we are always challenging the norm and trying to create the most unique shapes and designs.
Kawakubo changed not just the way we think about fashion but also the way fashion and thought can coexist in culture and commerce, inspiring a new generation of fashion-designers-cum-thought-leaders. The extremely successful businesswoman launched her line at the age of just 27 and had more than 100 stores in Japan selling her distinctive avant garde looks within a mere decade. She brought Comme Des Garçons to Paris fashion week in 1981, which set the global fashion industry alight, in turn sparking an empire which today turns over $220 million a year. She credits her success to taking her work seriously – “When things are too easy, you don’t think, and you don’t make progress. Not just in fashion. In everything,” she says. “The only way to hope to make something new is not to be satisfied.”
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King (Moffitt before she married Larry King) loved sports even from a tender age, and from the moment she put racquet to ball, she knew what she wanted to do with her life. “I am going to be No. 1 in the world,” the young tennis player told her mother back then, and at the age of 23, King achieved the goal she set for herself when she was ranked #1 in the world in women’s tennis, a ranking she held for five additional years. Throughout her tennis career, King won a record 39 Grand Slam titles, but her tennis championship titles are only half her story.
Off the court, Billie Jean King was a huge activist for gender equality. She became the first president of the Woman’s Tennis Association and lobbied for equal prize money for men and women to level the playing field, even threatening not to play the next year if the prize money were not equal. Her threats were clearly taken seriously – that same year, in 1973, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.
That year, King also defeated Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match – a match which had half the world tuning in thanks to Riggs claiming that the women’s game was so inferior to the men’s that even a 55-year-old like himself could beat the top female players. King said, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tennis tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”