Rei Kawakubo was born on 11 October 1942 in Tokyo. Her early life in Japan was summarized by Judith Thurman in a New Yorker article from 2005 stating: "She was the oldest of her parents' three children and their only daughter... Their father was an administrator at Keio University, a prestigious institution founded by the great Meiji educator and reformer Fukuzawa Yukichi, a champion of Western culture and, according to Kawakubo, of women's rights."Although not formally trained as a fashion designer, Kawakubo did study fine arts and literature at Keio University. As reported by Thurman, "In 1960, Kawakubo enrolled in her father's university and took a degree in 'the history of aesthetics', a major that included the study of Asian and Western art."After graduation in 1964, Kawakubo worked in the advertising department at the textile company, Ashai Kasei and she went on to work as a freelance stylist in 1967. Two years later, she began to design and make her own clothes under the label Comme des Garçons, French for "like some boys", before incorporating the label in 1973.
Kawakubo likes to have input in all the various aspects of her business, rather than just focusing on clothes and accessories. She is greatly involved in graphic design, advertising, and shop interiors believing that all these things are a part of one vision and are inextricably linked. Her Aoyama, Tokyo, store is known for its sloping glass facade decorated with blue dots. This was designed in collaboration between Rei and architect Future Systems and interior designer Takao Kawasaki.Kawakubo published her own bi-annual magazine, 'Six' (standing for 'sixth sense'), in the early 1990s. It featured very little text and consisted mainly of photographs and images that she deemed inspiring. In 1996 Rei was guest editor of the high art publication Visionaire. Kawakubo is known to be quite reclusive and media shy, preferring her innovative creations to speak for themselves. Prior to 2002, Kawakubo has continued support for the use of LGBT references and cultural themes in the photography used in her advertisement and marketing campaigns promoting her clothing and accessories.