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The Interior Design of Comme des Garçons | From "Surface" to "Interface"

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The Interior Design of Comme des Garçons | From "Surface" to "Interface"

Post by xyz on Thu Jun 06, 2013 11:23 pm

The Interior Design of Comme des Garçons

From "Surface" to "Interface"


Yoshihide Asaco | Translated by Ko Ransom

1 Omotesando 1999: A Manifesto

Omotesando in 1999, just a few months before the new millennium. These days, this street is a concentrated zone of leading global brands, lined with sumptuous brand buildings. However, at the time, most of the international brands currently present here did not even have a small branch in the area. On a weekday, the number of people walking on the street was sparse. In addition, on the site where Omotesando Hills now covers most of the street, the Aoyama Dojunkai Apartment building still stood, 80 years since its construction in 1926, and so the area still had a subdued atmosphere.

Of course, some brands had already opened stores here, making it one of the major streets in the country. However, cases of a single brand setting out to construct an entire building were rare, and the competition between most brands to present their worlds only took place within show windows located on the first floor of office buildings.

The store presented by Comme des Garçons, which will be analyzed below, also took a form which reflected the surrounding environment, with its tense art-gallery-like space completely covered in glass windows, and its interior highly transparent and uniformly white.

The glass-covered space, however, suddenly vanished one day behind walls. And, on the white temporary walls that indicated that construction work was being performed inside, a manifesto presenting the brand’s vision was written in enormous black letters. It was the end of the century. A strange atmosphere filled the area, due also in part to the expectation that the new store just might sweep away the feeling of stagnation that characterized the ’90s, the heyday of minimalism.

As it is widely known, the fashion industry underwent an intense period of change in the decade since then. First, iconic buildings born out of collaborations between fashion brands and renowned architects began to sprout like mushrooms one after another, but the global recession then caused fast fashion to take the world by storm. Naturally, Comme des Garçons was also subjected to severe changes during those ten years.

The analysis below is one that focuses on the ten years of change, as well as the decade that preceded it, in the environment where clothes are displayed that is Comme des Garçons, or more specifically, its interior design. However, some may question whether or not there is a need to go so far as to analyze the interior design of fashion brands. These people might maintain that these stores’ interior design is merely superficial, an outer layer created through the lavish spending of fashion brands for solely commercial and promotional purposes.

However, I believe that such an analysis is justified precisely because these interior designs are superficial and commercial. This is because commercial spaces contain regulations and patterns that normally go unnoticed, and because there exists a kind of design generated by those regulations at least in the case of Comme des Garçons. To put it in even stronger terms, there is no other field in spatial design that is so strongly influenced by the desires of the public and regulations. Thus, I would like to look at interior design as a system. To borrow the words of systems theorist Herbert Simon, this analysis could be described as viewing interior design as an “interface,” acting as the point of contact between the “outer environment” of intensely changing fashions and brands and the “inner environment” of the brand itself, or the clothes themselves.

2 Regulations and design

Interior design as “interface” rather than “surface.” More concretely, let us proceed with our analysis by focusing on “regulations” and dividing Comme des Garçons’ interior design into four types in chronological order:

  • Contents typedesign generated by regulations

  • Platform typeapplying design generated by regulations to non-regulated places

  • Market typeabandoning design of completed forms to move on to the design of a “place”

  • Grameenphone typedesigning the rules and regulations themselves


First, we will focus on small tenants within department stores in order to analyze the design generated by “interior design regulations,” laws peculiar to department storescontents type. Next, we will look at what happens when design generated within department stores, in other words design generated by regulations, is moved to an unregulated environment outside of department stores platform type. Third, these four stages are representative of the very process through which the fashion industry’s conditions became gradually more harsh, we will analyze the process in which, as a result of the simple creation of platforms becoming insufficient, design shifted away from completed, standalone designs of a “single work,” moving on to the design of “places”market type. For the fourth and final stage, we will analyze the designing of “rules themselves,” which turns the initial stage of regulations generating design on its head, while also analyzing the stage’s background Grameenphone type.

Given that this is a journal focusing on socio-cultural criticism, not a fashion magazine, a few words to describe the subject to be analyzed, Comme des Garçons, are in order. Comme des Garçons has been one of the most important fashion brands in the world from the late 20th century up to the present, and the brand’s chief designer as well as its business manager is Rei Kawakubo. Kawakubo is also responsible for the interior design of the brand’s stores, and has also been giving life to works in this field for the 35 years since the completion of the Aoyama “From 1st” store up to the present that, just like her clothes, are experimental while also high in quality. The following analysis will focus precisely on these spaces, the design of these interiors. However, it should be noted that one could say that Comme des Garçons is particularly close to the world of criticism and theory. Critics Takaaki Yoshimoto and Yutaka Haniya fell into an argument over Comme des Garçons the “Anan/Comme des Garçons controversy” while Haruki Murakami went to visit the brand’s factories to write an essay entitled “Making clothes as a form of philosophy” in his book Hi izuru kuni no koujou [Factories of the Country Where the Sun Rises], and it was also described as having a philosophical sensitivity during a special edition of Asahi Graph that featured the brand. Comme des Garçons has somehow often been talked about in relation to philosophy and criticism.


As for her style, just as long-time designer for Chanel Karl Lagerfeld said in an interview that Kawakubo “appeared out of the blue and changed the rules of the game,” while it also has a strong aspect of being avant-garde, with holes and asymmetries introduced in her designs. She has even been described as a deconstructionist, as someone who has destroyed the existing European standards of beauty.

Her spatial design at the time also had a strong image as a destructive one, and ever since presenting her From 1st store in Shoten kenchiku [Store Architecture] in 1976, she has been constantly presenting powerful works Fig. 1, at times even resorting to breaking down ceilings of long established department stores though this has become less rare in present times. However, her interior design works suddenly stopped being covered in magazines in 1989, and the silence continued for ten years through to 1999. Fig. 2 And, it is precisely this decade-long period that is of extreme importance when thinking about Comme des Garçons’ interior design.

3 Regulations regarding interiors

Of course, it was not that Kawakubo had ceased to create new works during this ten-year period: she had in fact continued to produce a large amount of works within department stores. As mentioned above, each department store has its own peculiar regulations regarding interiors and furnishings. However, since these are unique to each department store, stores such as Matsuya Ginza, Shinjuku Isetan, and Seibu Ikebukuro all have different regulations. Nevertheless, there are overall similarities among those regulations that can be summarized in the points below:

Laws unique to department storesregulations regarding interiors and furnishings

  • Regulations regarding heightvisibility, water sprinkler obstruction, smoke dispersal

  • Regulations regarding materialsflameproof and nonflammable materials

  • Regulations regarding imagedesign elements used throughout the store, norms

  • Evacuation routes, electrical capacitancelightingbarrier-free, etc.


The height regulation related to “visibility” is set in order to allow a view reaching to the very back of the store’s spaces from the escalator. “Water sprinkler obstruction” is self explanatory, a height regulation to make sure that objects and furnishings are not so tall as to interfere with the showering of water from sprinklers. In addition, high areas must be kept open in order to allow for smoke dispersal and ventilation resulting in the need to contain height. The materials that can be used are also restricted to flameproof and nonflammable materials in view of possible disasters, and there are additional regulations relating to image. “Regulations regarding image” may not come across clearly, but the point is that each department store regulates its image in order to increase the attractiveness of each store by using shared design elements throughout the building, given the competition among different department stores.

However, what is even more important about these regulations than their individual details is the fact that those constraints are not absolute. As the environment of department stores are man-made, it is possible to get around regulations by changing the environment itself, by for example increasing the number of fire sprinklers and changing ventilation and smoke exhaustion facilities. The “laws of department stores” can therefore be relatively easily manipulated despite being laws.

Fig. 3 shows the specific regulations. The outer circumference of the building, or the sections of the building farthest back from the escalators are often referred to as heki, and are areas where there are very few regulations. Areas become increasingly more heavily regulated the further they are located from this area, with the most regulations set for the area around the escalators in the center known as hiraba or shima. However, in shima areas, regulations may be conditionally relaxed around columns. This is because some furnishings, such as fitting rooms and stock rooms, require a certain physical height by necessity due to their functions.

To sum up, regulations regarding interiors and furnishings are special in their relative flexibility, and these are negotiated with the “interiors administration office.”

Fig. 4 is a set of photographs of heki areas that have very few regulations. High-end brands are lined up, regarding the corridors of the department stores as streets in a city, creating outer walls that enclose a world unique to the brand that have no relation to the regulations of the department store. This is how brands create designs that can be uniform all over the world, efficiently deploying their brand image.

However, those stores that are supposed to be free, novel, and elaborately designed while unrestrained by regulations are extremely similar if one looks at their format. An entrance, shop windows on both sides, a sign hanging above them… they present surprisingly similar patterns despite the considerable freedom available to them.

In contrast to this, Comme des Garçons frequently opted to locate its stores in the stringently regulated shima areas. Nevertheless, whether you look at materials, form, or format, their designs were highly original from any point of view. Their formats particularly stood out, despite the fact that they were designed in a way so that they adhered to regulations extremely closely.

i Contents type

Design generated by regulations Department stores in different cities


Let us now look at the details. Fig. 5 shows the Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe Comme des Garçons stores in the Yurakucho Seibu department store. They are composed entirely out of extremely low box-shaped shelves and hanger racks with remaining functions such as the stock room being aggregated around existing columns. In the plan for this store Fig. 6, the column is clearly identifiable as the square in the bottom left-hand corner. The extremely efficiently-shaped fitting room, cash register and stock room are easily identified around it. By doing this, these stores succeeded in converting the cramped and disorderly shima area into wide and beautiful spaces that incorporate the surrounding corridors.

In addition, apart from these very efficiently functional clustersknown as “pods” at Comme des Garçons, all regulations are strictly adhered to and no other objects are used. This is unusual in itself. Moreover, this provides other benefits as well. Behind the Junya Watanabe store in Fig. 5, there is a store for another Comme des Garçons brand behind the Junya Watanabe store. The store is located and designed so that it can be clearly seen from the escalator beyond the Junya Watanabe store. This format that strictly adheres to regulations is therefore extremely advantageous for brands renting multiple spaces within one floor.

However, due to this approach, it may appear that when compared to other stores, the number of products on display is significantly smaller. Indeed, since a single-tier box-shelf is used instead of the usual 2-3 tier shelves, the number of products on display on shelves is considerably lower. However, the length of the hanging area is not significantly shorter when compared to other stores, thanks to the use of long hanger pipes. The adoption of this long hanger is also peculiar to Comme des Garçons. Why is this?

Normally, sales are better when hanger pipes are divided into small sections. This is because this format creates the appearance of variation even though products may actually be similar. With Comme des Garçons however, each product is highly characteristic, hence lowering the need to induce visual variation.

The same can be said about the shelves. I had occasion in the past to look at the sales per shelf for a different brand, and it was very noticeable that the highest shelf had significantly higher sales, and sales dropped dramatically the lower the shelf was positioned. This is unsurprising since lower shelves are more difficult to look at and to reach. In other words, the second and third shelves also strongly carry out the function of increasing visual variation.

Moreover, low and long shelves provide other advantages as well. It is said that within department stores, the majority of customers walking along aisles do not carefully scrutinize stores before entering them, but instead make the decision almost instantly. Strongly characteristic products aligned on a low shelf can be easily recognized in the few moments when a customer passes by.

Let us go back to the topic of regulations for a moment. The method of construction of the walls, painted in glossy and fluorescent orange and blue, is also in strict adherence to rules and regulations. The finishing is extremely smooth and accurate. These are made of steel panels produced and painted under extreme care in factories. Therefore, onsite operations only involve assembling those panels as long as the floor is finishedin the shima area, the ceiling usually cannot be touched, apart from the addition of a small amount of lighting equipment.

In such a way, Comme des Garçons makes possible these extremely smooth and high quality finishes that cannot be obtained by applying paint on site. This is in spite of, or as a result of, responding to tight work periods made even more difficult by the fact that work must be carried out during opening hours and according to regulations related to the use of flame-proof and nonflammable material.

Finally, the most important aspect of this type of design is that unlike unregulated areas, no one space will be like another. This is not only due to the fact that each department store and space will have different regulations, but also because the form of every store space is influenced by factors such as pillar placement and size, as well as distance from the escalator, meaning that no two environments will be exactly alike. As a result, this method of design, born out of environmental feedback, results in completely different designs for every store. However, when considered in further detail, this method of creating new forms by means of restrictions is Rei Kawakubo’s specialty, as is analyzed in detail in Eriko Minamitani’s The Study of Commes des Garçons. As Kawakubo used restrictions to create patterns unseen in the West with her clothes, she also created new spatial forms patterns by way of physical restrictions.

By doing this, throughout the ten years that Kawakubo remained unseen in magazines, she utilized a strict adherence to restrictions and regulations in order to perform many different kinds of spatial experiments within the artificial environment of the department store. However, the state of affairs that surrounded the world of fashion was also gradually changing during the ’90s. First, in 1991, Tsutsumi Seiji, a man who could be called the symbol of the department store in the 1980s, resigned as the head of Seibu Department Stores, then in 2000, Saison Group was dissolved, and furthermore in the same year, Sogo went bankrupt, with nearly 2.9 trillion yen of debts. Department stores, which should have been serving as platforms for Kawakubo’s stores, were falling one after the other.

Additionally, if one asks why no information was being released to the media during these ten years, they would have to come to the conclusion that information was intentionally being controlled, as something would have had to be written on the brand otherwise, its provocative design being irresistible to writers, whether it takes the form of Takaaki Yoshimoto and Yutaka Haniya’s dispute or in articles in other media. Actually, the brand owned its own media during the period from 1988 to 1991 in the form of “six,” a publication for its customers。

However, the situation was completely changed due to the explosive spread of information technology. Images of their collections were scattered around the world via the internet, and furthermore, the use of auction sites resulted in a sudden public display of the value and cost of items as according to users, rather than the brand. As a result, controlling and restricting information became an obviously futile task. In other words, to continue to take a stance of not appearing in the media was pointless, as it would mean that their brand image would only drift further away from their own control. Thus, in 1999, Comme des Garçons acted according to this situation, going so far as to create their own platform for transmitting information about themselves by designing their very own department stores.


ii Platform Type

Applying design generated by regulations to non-regulated places

Comme des Garçons Aoyama flagship store


Omotesando, 1999. Now we return to our opening scene. Opening day of the Comme des Garçons Aoyama flagship store. The temporary walls that had stood until the previous day had been taken down, and the appearance of the store, unseen for months, took a futuristic and strange shape, meeting the expectations of all in the area Fig. 7. The giant curved and slanted panes of glass were covered in a vivid blue dot pattern, and while the store was on the first floor of an office building, it seemed to shine. The store facade was designed by Future Systems, a group led by the British architect Jan Kaplický. A few months earlier, theyComme des Garçons and Future Systemshad already collaborated on a New York store, and it is fair to say that the wave of collaborations between fashion brands and architects that swept the world in the 2000s started here. However, what is even more important than the facade to this store is the similarly futuristically-designed yet brand new, complex, and varied interior design that could be found in the spaces inside the store.

More specifically, the interior of the store is composed of highly efficient and functional “pods” for fitting rooms and stock rooms, which were analyzed in the above section on “contents type” design. These pods are each uniquely curved and are spread around the store. Because of this, the store interior is split into a number of different corners and cannot be completely taken in with a single glance, much like a maze. As a result, customers visiting the store very naturally wander around this complicated environment, looking at the different corners one after another.

Also, a number of different Comme des Garçons brands coexist within this one store, essentially making it Comme des Garçons’ own department store. In other words, the previously mentioned discrete corners within the store each correspond to different brands. By doing this, the design generated by the company when inside department stores also works as an effective system of logic when creating their own department store where multiple company brands share one space.

Furthermore, and just to confirm, this store is a roadside store, which means that unlike the department stores, it is not regulated according to interior design regulations. Naturally, the stores in the surrounding area are also unregulated. As analyzed earlier, the “formats” of unregulated stores tend to be similar to one another. Therefore, simply by utilizing design generated by regulations in an unregulated location, one can achieve a style of design that is highly unique in that location.

For example, this floor planFig. 8 is not only original and complex in appearance, but also deviates far from textbook floor planning. First, in regular stores, behind-the-scenes facilities such as stock rooms and fitting rooms are placed toward the back of the store, and the space in front of those rooms is used as the sales floor. In doing this, one creates a smooth and congruous sales area in the front of the store, but at the cost of creating spaces in the back of the store that cannot be accessed, limiting the space where customers can move around. By doing the opposite of this and spreading various facilities throughout the store, this Comme des Garçons floor plan has an irregularly-shaped sales floor and maze-like, decentralized spaces, but in return, the space allocated to customers is essentially maximized, allowing them to travel to every corner of the store.

By bringing this style of design, which evolved in the high-restriction environment of the department store, to an unrestricted space, Comme des Garçons (1) created a store that allowed its various brands to coexist in a shopping mall-like way. Additionally, by combining multiple pods that are already highly-functional on their own, they (2) succeeded in creating a complex and diverse space, the likes of which had never been seen before.

However, while this futuristic design should have acted as a counter to the minimalism that ran rampant throughout the late-’90s, as has already been discussed, it began to lose its meaning as brands such as Louis Vuitton and Prada began to unveil their own iconic buildings one after the other. Then after that, the world fell into a recession… Also during this period, Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy as well as the Prada Group were involved in intense mergers, while talented designers such as Jil Sander and Helmut Lang had their own company’s stock bought away from them and were forced to resign. Finally, new avant-garde designers also found themselves in a difficult position due to economic reasons.

Working in an such conditions, Kawakubo gradually began to move towards designing spaces for not only her own brand, but market-like spaces where other various brands could mix.

iii Market Type

Abandoning design as a completed form to move on to the design of a “place”

Dover Street Market


Comme des Garçons first collaborated with the world-famous Milan “select shop” “10 Corso Como” and similarly famous Paris select shop “colette” and established two Tokyo “select shops,” “10 Corso Como-Comme des Garçons” and “colette meets Comme des Garçons.” After that, they created “Dover Street Market: Comme des Garçons,” which as its name suggests, is a market-like store in the back streets of LondonFig. 9. While the Comme des Garçons Aoyama and NY stores were like department stores created by and for Comme des Garçons, Dover Street Market is, in a way, a real department store with multiple companies’ brands inside. In fact, rather than calling it a department store, the term “market” is indeed most fitting. Within the corners of one underground and five above-ground floors, various brands temporarily produced areas featuring their image, using scaffolding and used furniture for interior decoration while fitting rooms were located in temporary toilets normally seen on construction sites. On the floor facing the street is an old patchwork hut that had reportedly been abandoned by the side of the river, now furnished with cash registers and sitting neatly inside the store. This hut stands as the icon of Dover Street Market. While the place does not have a finalized, ideal design or a unified worldview, it contains the unique atmosphere and energy held by the process of creation, as well as the spirit of fun found in the act of shopping. This atmosphere surely could not have been created in a place where only Comme des Garçons’ own brands existed.

While various brands, not only Comme des Garçons but many others as well, designed new spaces in this way, the state of affairs surrounding the world of fashion proceeded to become more and more severe. Fast fashion, which had been regarded as a suburban phenomenon, began to sweep over urban city areas as well, making the struggle to survive within the clothing industry even more difficult. Competition did not only occur in the field of pricing, but also in the shift away from “designers’ brands” created by established designers toward more pure “brands,” produced by nameless groups. Before considering pricing and such, one should realize that companies such as Uniqlo and H&M are extremely tenacious brands, and once an environment was created where the same clothes could be sold around the world, the importance of brand only grew larger.

Additionally, for Comme des Garçons, avant-garde clothing does not sell well on its own, creating an even harsher environment for the company. To go further, the task of selling “clothes as thought” or “deconstructive clothes” to a market in a world where thought and philosophy was at its weakest point since the Cold War would not normally be a feasible one.

iv Grameenphone Type

Designing the rules and regulations themselves

Guerilla Stores various cities


While Comme des Garçons was just described as an entity facing a harsh environment in which they could no longer control their own circulated image due to the development of information technology and high-speed transportation technology, they also began to realize that the new connectedness of the world created a demand for their products among small groups of individuals in locations that would have previously been unthinkable. Nonetheless, creating a regular store branch in these locations would, of course, be impossible. Facing this situation, Comme des Garçons began to create stores using the extremely unique “Guerilla Store” method.

However, there was absolutely nothing conventional about these Guerilla Stores. A huge number of stores began to appear one after the other, beginning with Berlin in 2004, then Barcelona, Singapore, Ljubljana, Helsinki, Stockholm, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Cologne, Reykjavík, Athens, Glasgow, Basel, Munich, Neumarkt, Kraków, The Hague, and Beirut, locations which previously were thought to be unrelated to fashion. However, these stores were only open for a maximum of one year, and they were located in back streets, not commercial areas. The interior design of these stores was almost unchanged from their original rented state, creating a temporary or abandoned atmosphere within the stores. Furthermore, these stores were not managed by Comme des Garçons employees, but by individuals local to the areas in which the stores were located. Also, the selection of goods and merchandising was unique to each store as well. Articles from all seasons, both new and old were mixed and available for sale in these stores, but before going into more detail on this point, I’d like to discuss something a little different.

The world of the fashion business is one that demands the continuous creation of new trendslooking at it in a different way, it constantly creates a state of things being out of fashion. As a result, the issue of leftover inventory has been a constant one for the fashion industry. While many companies deal with this problem as best they can through sales and outlet stores, Comme des Garçons has no outlet stores, and only ran sales for extremely short periods. Of course, this was done in order to protect their own brand image, but these items were instead taken into the Guerilla Stores.

However, a few doubts still remain at this point. First, considering the situation during this period, the brand should have been even stricter than usual with their budget. How would they be able to open up an unprecedented number of stores in countries where they had never conducted business before? Not only that, but this article is supposed to be an analysis of Comme des Garçons’ interior design. If store interiors are being left as they were found, could one say that design is involved? The answer to these questions is simple. Comme des Garçons’ design of these stores was not design in a direct sense. Instead, the stores were being designed by way of five simple rules, called “Guerilla Rules.”

Guerrilla Rules

    [1] The guerrilla store will last no more than one year in any given location.

    [2] The concept for interior design will be largely equal to the existing space.

    [3] The location will be chosen according to its atmosphere, historical connection, geographical situation away from established commercial areas or some other interesting feature.

    [4] The merchandise will be a mix of all seasons, new and old, clothing and accessories, existing or specially created, from COMME DES GARÇONS’ brands and eventually other brands as well.

    [5] The partners will take responsibility for the lease and COMME DES GARÇONS will support the store with the merchandise on a sale or return basis.


In other words, these rules are the stores’ design. As long as Comme des Garçons is a brand business, it must spread across the globe as far as possible in order to survive. Nonetheless, there are ways to do this other than just creating one flagship store after the other around the world. There is also the method of spreading their world by using brand new methods in brand new places. In a way, these Guerilla Stores are an experiment in changing the world through simple connectedness, just like Grameenphone. Design that has meaning because the spread of information technology has made possible an age in which the same thing can be made anywhere in the world. By using no budget and simply leaving the interior of each store almost exactly as it was found, Comme des Garçons was able to create extremely diverse and constantly different designs.

4 Conclusion: Interior Design as a SystemVision and Feedback

With that, this analysis of Comme des Garçons’ interior design comes, for now, to an end. Let us briefly review the history of these changes. First, roughly thirty years ago, Kawakubo’s provocative design in her Paris collection was even said to have thrown the rules of the game into disarray. However, after that, the regulations within department stores caused her to create one new interior design pattern after the other, similar to how the pressure of natural selection results in evolution. Next, by gathering all of these patterns, which had evolved under the pressure of regulations, into one place, Kawakubo created an even larger-scale, incredibly complex, and brand-new method of interior design. Moreover, the locations that were being designed changed due to structural shifts in the clothing industry, causing the brand to shift their attention to first designing “places,” where not only their own brand but other brands were located, then finally to designing “the rules and regulations themselves,” allowing them to create new advocates and customers. Also, this period was one of intense change for the environment of the clothing industry. The one thing that allowed Comme des Garçons to survive intense competition and to create such varied interior design was their structure that allowed them to receive feedback from this environment.

To look at it another way, the clothing industry recently underwent what Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, calls “disruptive innovation.” When Jil Sander left her brand for the second time only a few years earlier in 2004, no one could have imagined that she would work on designs for Uniqlo, and that people would be able to acquire clothes designed by her for only a few thousand yen. At the time, “choi waru oyaji” fashionable middle-aged men and “celeb-style” were in fashion, and various industries were making attempts at selling luxury goods in order to combat Japan’s long-running deflation. While this strategy looks ridiculous in hindsight, it was not a misstep for business owners at the time—if the period was a more normal one.

When what Christensen calls “disruptive innovation” occurred, even business owners running excellent businesses failed, or rather, they failed precisely because they were doing so well. Many companies failed because they listened to their customers and ran healthy businesses. Also, when any corporation becomes too large, they require even higher earnings, and therefore can no longer enter small, new markets. Additionally, when the performance of multiple goods exceeds what the market demands, customers begin to shift towards making purchasing decisions based on price, not performance. What occurred in the clothing industry in the past ten years is precisely what Christensen describes in his analysis. Uniqlo, which first used its low price as a selling point, has now become a global brand, and the quality of its clothes is now competitive with high-class brands. Of course, I realize that there are individuals who do not agree with this assessment. However, on one hand you have high-priced goods made with aging processes, and on the other hand, you have low-priced goods made with newly-developed, high-performance materials Heattech, etc. No matter how you approach it, a disruptive change on an even higher level than most understand it to be had occurred in the clothing industry.

Interestingly, Christensen also points out that the one method for fighting this situation is for owners to set up an autonomous organization that is tasked with creating new, independent business ventures around the disruptive technology. In other words, the creation of the Guerilla Store was in part inevitable, given the advent of “disruptive technology.”

Now, as stated at the beginning of this article, Kawakubo’s changes were not limited to the world of interior design, but also seem to make implications about the design of somewhat larger social fields. To close out this article, these implications will be discussed briefly.

First, interior design can be understood as the one of the smallest possible platforms or systems. From the perspective of quantity stores in department stores or shopping malls, an astronomical number of these systems have been created over these past decades. By entering the mechanism known as the market, it can be said that these systems naturally undergo a weeding-out process. At the same time, the decline of the department store, which should have acted as the platform for these stores, only proceeded further as time went on. Under these conditions, regulations applying to the heki brands analyzed in the first section became gradually more relaxed, and these brands’ images began to reach beyond department stores. From the department stores’ perspective, this trend was like a malignant tumor. Also, from the brands’ perspective, it is not as if they could transform the entire world into their own image. In short, design in any situation does not start from zero. Any situation in any time has its own conditions. Regardless, creators of a platform constantly attempt to start from zero when it comes to their decisions and attitude. However, any criticism of reality ends up being meaningless without an underlying vision. What the department store once had but has now lost was this kind of vision. Thus, they also lost their rules.

In a society such as modern-day Japan, where it is clear on a nearly structural level that one cannot hold hope for the future, having a vision of a bright future is thought of as foolish. Thus, it is not difficult for many to remain apathetic if the status quo continues to be maintained. However, on the other hand, it is extremely difficult to even maintain the status quo in such a situation, and it is clear that leaving things as they are will only cause things to deteriorate further.

Furthermore, what is even more important than that is the simple truth that any organization cannot achieve anything beyond what it desires. The future cannot be designed without first having a vision. We can learn this lesson from Kawakubo, who created one important work after another in various fields in which she was supposedly an amateur. Also, as we have seen here, without feedback from one’s external environment, one cannot create new works. And, in any field, a harsh environment breeds innovation as a result of natural selection. Thought of in this way, it is precisely because we live in a difficult age, where drawing out an image of the future is believed to be foolish, that designing a new future may be possible.


“I believe that creating something exactly as imagined is possible under any conditions.”
—— Rei Kawakubo

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