On the Eve of Its Own Comme des Garçons Show, Resurrection’s Katy Rodriguez Explains How the Brand Changed the Way We Define and Buy Vintage.
BY LAIRD BORRELLI-PERSSON
April 14, 2017
Photos: Courtesy of Resurrection
Comme des Garçons, “Round Rubber,” Spring 1984 As a teenager, it was impossible to escape those Peter Lindbergh photos—everybody wanted to be that girl. Everything was oversized and had those cool elastic bands. I have many pieces from this collection, but the jumpsuit was my favorite then and now.
“I don’t know where else you’re going to go where you can see 100 pieces of Comme des Garçons that you can try on," says Katy Rodriguez, co-founder of vintage mecca Resurrection, in reference to an in-store exhibition opening April 18 at the company’s newish outpost on Great Jones Street. Timed to capitalize on the CDG mania sparked by the Met’s upcoming exhibit, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” Resurrection’s display will include looks by Junya Watanabe and Tao Kurihara, who have worked under the larger Comme des Garçons umbrella, in addition to displaying for-sale pieces designed by Kawakubo between the 1980s and today. “There’s some really great stuff,” says Rodriguez, “so we said, ‘You know what? Let’s just do it all.’ ”
Rodriguez has been buying Comme des Garçons—for business and pleasure—since 1996 when she and Mark Haddawy founded Resurrection. (Evidently, it was a good year: Rodriguez considers “Flowering Clothes,” Kawakubo’s Fall 1996 outing, a “perfect” collection.) “It’s just one of those things,” muses the buyer. “I guess I just liked it from the time I was a kid. I grew up in San Francisco, and at that time, that type of dressing was really popular. The Japanese thing really hit California—both San Francisco and Los Angeles—in a major way. I think a lot of Hollywood people and a lot of arty people gravitated to it; it fit that West Coast vibe.”
In fact, the market has not only shown that Comme des Garçons has a wide appeal but, unlike many brands that emerged in the 1980s, it has been able to stand the test of time in a changing vintage industry. Here, Rodriguez shares her unique perspective on that business, the role Kawakubo has played in altering the collectible clothing market, and how Comme des Garçons has changed in the 21 years she’s been buying it.
On museums versus archives . . .
We work with the Met; we love them. When the curators come to Resurrection, they bring their gloves and the whole thing. The presentations they do are the best; they’re stunning. Something about seeing the clothes like that, and the grandeur of it is obviously exciting, but there’s also something really fun about being able to interact with the clothes, to be able try them on, turn them inside out and see how they were constructed, and potentially buy them. If you’re clothes geeks, like we are, that’s exciting.
On the ways Comme des Garçons has changed the historic and collectible clothing industry . . .
Comme des Garçons is one of the few brands that we consistently buy. I don’t care when it’s from; it doesn’t have to be 10 years old, or 20 years old, any of those old signifiers. . . . It’s weird at this point to say that what we do is vintage in the traditional sense because the connotation is completely inaccurate. Buying Comme des Garçons allowed me, as a buyer, to jump off script of, “This what vintage people do. This is what a vintage store looks like.” We could see the value and importance of Comme des Garçons before it was deemed vintage. It was so obvious. We would see glove collection pieces and it was like, Duh! We’re just going to buy now because everybody’s going to want this next year—and every year after that.
On Rei Kawakubo . . .
In 21 years, I’ve met everybody, but I’ve never met Rei. She’s such an enigma. I don’t really hear a lot of backstory about what happens at Comme des Garçons, like I hear what’s going on at every other house because of my job. I don’t know how involved she is; I just know that it’s still so progressive. Most people just rest on their laurels; they get that signature thing. That’s the whole point, right? Design things that everybody wants and then make it over and over for 800 years, tweak it a little bit, and that’s how we make money. That’s really how the business of fashion operates, so it’s pretty astonishing what Kawakubo’s done. There are so few brands—designers, houses, whatever—where there’s total integrity.
We look at clothes that are offered to us, and every once in a while there’s something new. You see it and go, “Oh, okay, now that’s important. I can see that everybody’s going to want that in 10 years.” Comme des Garçons consistently provokes that emotion. That’s a very Japanese thing: The future, the past, it’s all built into one. I think that’s something Kawakubo—really everyone under the Comme des Garçons label—does really well. It’s an inherent part of their designs and they really do stand alone. Even more so with the later Comme des Garçons collections where a lot of it seems not so wearable and designed for the runway. It doesn’t feel like many other big designers are producing concepts that won’t easily sell to the masses. But 10 years from now, people will be able to see the clothes in a completely different way.
On how Comme des Garçons has changed over the years . . .
For me, the most obvious change right off the bat is the materials. The technology of fabric has really changed. The early stuff is way more natural; now it’s more about plastic and polyesters. At this point, it seems like Kawakubo is really challenging the idea of wearability. In the 1980s Kawakubo’s designs were more personal. They would challenge the individual to wear something different, unusual, unconventional—all of that stuff. Today, I feel Comme challenges the world at large.
On how vintage is bought today . . .
It’s been really interesting how our industry has changed over 21 years. People just want something great. I don’t think they really care if it’s 30 years old or 40 years old; they just care that it has some sort of iconic weight and that it’s good design. Right now younger people are not doing classic vintage; they don’t see vintage in an old-fashion way, and I think it’s really cool. I think our industry needed that.
You can still go to a mom-and-pop vintage store, and it can still be cool and fun in that way that it’s always been—kind of like going into an old book store—but young people are looking at totally different designers. They’re looking at Raf Simons and Helmut Lang and Comme des Garçons and Ann Demeulemeester, as opposed to looking at Versace, Mugler, Alaïa. They don’t even bother with that. I would say that Comme des Garçons is definitely a designer, a house—at least from our perspective—that broke that barrier because it was timeless in an unconventional way, and you could see its importance in its moment.