First introduced at a show in Paris in 1981 by Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons has grown into an international fashion powerhouse further strengthened by its celebrated retail forts at Dover Street Market spaces in London, Tokyo, and New York. The creative mind behind CDG’s influential progression is none other than Chief Executive Officer, Adrian Joffe. Emphasizing innovation in both product design and retail experience, Joffe shines new light on how his personal journey shaped the brand’s direction and influence. Offering insight to a variety of subjects, including his creative process, the importance of zen, and personal accounts on his unorthodox experience, Joffe shares details on his daily thought process and partnership with Rei Kawakubo. Enjoy the excerpts below and read the full piece over at Business of Fashion.
Pharrell Williams — whose new unisex scent with Comme puts him in an esteemed club of fragrance collaborators that includes the design firm Artek and London’s Serpentine Gallery — says that creativity remains Joffe’s top priority, with commerce running a very close second.
“Money doesn’t make ideas; ideas make money,” Williams observes. He describes Comme des Garçons as a kind of brilliant biosphere, with Joffe as the curator who gives Kawakubo’s creations their essential context. “If Comme is like a snow globe, Adrian is the water,” Williams says.
Joffe certainly doesn’t fit the standard profile of a 61- year-old CEO — and not just because he dresses in head-to-toe black, often with a pair of graffitied Doc Martens on his feet. The shoes are a limited-edition Comme collaboration adorned with slogans by his wife, including, significantly, “My energy comes from my freedom.”
One of Joffe’s many tasks at the company is to act as interpreter and gatekeeper for the resolutely private Kawakubo, who speaks little English and shows no interest in making herself understood to the outside world.
“That’s the worst part of my job,” Joffe says. “It’s hard to explain her, and I don’t really want to. But I am somewhat of a realist, and for business, you have to try.”
Given its commitment to perpetual innovation, Comme des Garçons (“Like Boys” in French) is seen as a concept as much as a clothing label, but its essence is “almost impossible to put into words,” says Ronnie Cooke Newhouse, a London-based creative director who has collaborated with Joffe and Kawakubo since the 1990s. “It’s like an unspoken language. You never learn the language; you just know it.”
Joffe’s role at the $230 million company is equally hard to define, since Kawakubo remains the brand’s designer and guru-in- chief. (She still helms the Japanese part of the business from its headquarters in Tokyo, where she lives.) However, in addition to overseeing worldwide retail operations, Joffe is in charge of Comme’s acclaimed Dover Street Market, a deconstructed department store with branches in London, New York and Tokyo, as well as the company’s pioneering fragrance arm, which has launched 77 scents to date.
Joffe got into the business by accident. Born in South Africa and raised in the U.K., he studied Japanese and Tibetan culture at the University of London before moving to Japan without a job in 1977. In Osaka, he perfected his Japanese, deepened his Zen meditation practice and gave serious consideration to a career as a monk while washing dishes at a bar called the Pasadena Inn.
After returning to London to start his Ph.D. on Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, Joffe began helping his sister, Rose (later the co-founder of Paris’s celebrated Rose Bakery), with a fledgling fashion business until Comme des Garçons hired him in 1987 as a commercial director based in Paris.
It was around then that Joffe first met Kawakubo, who, as usual, didn’t say much but didn’t need to; Joffe remembers being instantly struck by the “very intense aura” others had told him about.
“She walks into a room, and the air seems to change,” he says. “There’s no one I know like that.”