Chairs / Not Chairs

Rei Kawakubo's Rare Furniture Designs

Rei Kawakubo's furniture designs were first made in 1984 "to create a complete environmental setting for [her] clothes" in the Comme des Garçons stores. Her first designs were chairs made of steel and granite, made as unique examples or in limited quantities. A small number of collections were created up until 1990, when a now very rare catalog of her furniture designs was released. Around 1987, when the present lot was produced, Kawakubo had opened up a short-lived Comme des Garçons furniture store in Paris that was later made into the brand's perfume store. 

1990 Comme des Garçons furniture catalog. © Image: Idea

In 1988, Kawakubo debuted the designs in the United States for the first time at City, an avant-garde store in Chicago, as well as at the only Comme des Garçons location in the states, in San Francisco. Barry Bursak, the owner of City, remarked that "to say these chairs aren't comfortable isn't accurate...they are exquisite. When you sit in a chair and it makes you sit a certain way, it gives you a certain elegance. In that sense, these chairs are extraordinary." Kawakubo recommends, of the chairs, that they "can come to [their] true essence when placed in an environment that is not too pretentious." She insisted that for the opening, the chairs at City be displayed in a big pile.

Chair No. 1 in the 1990 Comme des Garçons furniture catalog

It is an undeniable fact that design is reflective of the designer's personality. Though I do not view myself as harsh and stark. If I must characterize the essence of my furniture design, it is: simplicity.

Rei Kawakubo

The first Comme des Garçons store in Tokyo, 1976

The present lot echoes many aesthetic and conceptual touchstones of the Comme des Garçons brand in the 1980s; while day-glo, spandex and "power dressing" dominated mainstream fashion, Kawakubo opted for a nearly all-black palette, austere and industrial textures, and forms that reconfigured the body. Kawakubo has said of her designs for Comme des Garçons: "If we say these are clothes, it's all very usual, so we said, these are not clothes. It sounds like a Zen dialogue but it is very simple." The same can be said of her chairs, which can neither be categorized as simply sculpture or furniture; these works engage with the themes Kawakubo has been working through her entire career—construction and deconstruction, the transgression of shape and material, and mu, or, "no thing," where boundaries on what something is do not exist.

Comme des Garçons collections from the 1980s