A whole magazine about Comme des Garçons

by Kitty Drake in November 2021
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Art & design Fashion & style

A slim magazine made by Singapore-based think tank Foreign Policy, Critical Mass explores a brand’s ripple effect on consumers. Every issue comes with a list of recommended further reading, which creates the feeling that in picking the magazine up, you are entering a bookclub of sorts, and becoming part of an active community of readers. This issue, which is devoted to fashion label Comme des Garçons, comes with directions to read a number of books and articles, including Women, by Annie Leibovitz and with a preface by Susan Sontag, and a much less known photo-book called The Day of My Death by the young fashion designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. 

Critical Mass itself, read in the context of this rather exhaustive reading list, is surprisingly diminutive. It looks more like a leaflet than a magazine and contains only a couple of articles, and just four full-page photographs. We are given the broad strokes of how Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo changed perceptions of what you can do to the female form (Kawakubo is most famous for her ‘lumps and bumps’ dresses, which deliberately contort a woman’s body). But the magazine feels more like an introduction than a definitive assessment of the brand’s legacy.

The best article in the issue, by Sébastien Smith, is about the unexpectedly reciprocal relationship between luxury brands and the high street shops and black market designers who rip them off. The copy-cat industry costs designers money, writes Smith, but it also forces them to become more inventive: brands are challenged to continually design clothes so original that they become difficult to replicate.

Critical Mass’s brevity could be frustrating but I find it oddly refreshing. Issues contain just a few ideas, but they stay with you.


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