Rei Kawakubo on the “energy of anger”
“I get angry and work hard every day and night. That’s the least of what I can do now.”
Rei Kawakubo (b. 1942)
Kawakubo’s answer was that she hasn’t stopped working for a minute. “I strongly fear that once I take a break from my work of creation, I won’t be able to get back there again, that I won’t be able to move forward anymore,” she wrote over email. Comme des Garçons has had 30 percent of its staff come to work every day, and Kawakubo herself has gone to work every day from “early in the morning,” she said.
Rei Kawakubo in 2019
But Kawakubo hasn’t only been motivated by the fear of losing her creative momentum. “This world is full of injustice and absurdity,” she told Horyn. “I put this energy of anger into creation. I get angry and work hard every day and night. That’s the least of what I can do now.”
I like that attitude, and I feel like it’s something the rest of us could try to emulate. I’ve been seeing so many expressions of exhaustion, weariness, loss of concentration, and lack of drive among creative people—which is very understandable! But perhaps the more appropriate response right now is white-hot rage. Especially here in the United States, where we’re in the midst of a deadly pandemic with no end in sight, and our leaders are for the most part exhibiting utter incompetence if not outright deception.
As Kawakubo suggests, our individual creative endeavors can feel like small beer in the face of global catastrophe—but when we’re all being inundated with so much lazy thinking, lack of imagination, and outright bullshit, I truly believe that anything that pushes forward the values of creativity, intelligence, and whimsy is urgently necessary.
A HUNGRY MIND
Over the weekend, I spent some time going through old interviews with Kawakubo. Below, some of my favorite quotes and exchanges from the notoriously publicity-averse (and sometimes hilariously curt) designer.
AnOther Magazine: Do you like being a fashion designer? Do you find it inspiring, or frustrating, or perhaps both?
Kawakubo: It is my job.
Vogue: What excites you?
Kawakubo: Recently, nothing.
WWD: Have you ever had a creative impasse or a dry spell?
Kawakubo: Every day I think I have a dry spell. Every day is a dry spell. It’s always hard.
“If you have total freedom to design, you won’t get anything interesting. So I give myself restraints in order to kind of push myself through, to create something new. It’s the torture that I give myself, the pain and the struggle that I go through. So it’s self-given, but that’s the only way, I think, to make a strong, good new creation.”
“For me, creation can only come out of a certain kind of unhappiness. They say in Japan, this thing like the hungry spirit—the hungry mind—is what gets you going forward.”
“I’m very grateful that you haven’t asked me about my ‘creative process.’ I couldn’t explain it to you. And, even if I could, why would I want to? Are there people who really wish to explain themselves?”
Rei Kawakubo in Paris in 2017
QUANTITIES OF ADRENALINE
Kawakubo’s “energy of anger” reminded me of something the great American journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote about what motivated her hundreds of annual news columns and scores of books, magazine articles, speeches, and radio broadcasts. “I am living on quantities of adrenaline,” Thompson wrote, “self-distilled, from the fury I feel at every waking moment. The fury I feel for appeasers, for the listless, apathetic and stupid people who still exist in this sad world!”
Dorothy Thompson in 1934
WRIGGLING THROUGH 🐛
Going forward, I’m devoting the last newsletter of each month to an advice column. Send me your creative dilemmas and I’ll do my best to provide some concrete advice based on my research into great minds’ work habits.