PARIS — A iconoclast in the fashion world, Rei Kawakubo is often referred to as the “designer’s designer.”

She’s also proving to be a formidable co-designer. WWD has learned Kawakubo is teaming up with her protégé, Junya Watanabe, to design Comme des Garçons Homme, the Japanese firm’s principal and most commercial men’s collection, which is sold in some 80 stores in Japan and accounts for about a fifth of the house’s turnover.

Their first collaboration will be for the spring 2004 season and be shown in Japan next month. Previously, the 18-year-old line was designed by Keiichi Tanaka.

Adrian Joffe, managing director of Comme des Garçons in Paris, said the Homme line is presently only sold in Japan, but “there’s a possibility for exports.”

Kawakubo will also continue to design the Comme des Garçons Homme Plus line, the most avant-garde of her fashion offerings for men that she shows on the runway in Paris each season. Meanwhile, Watanabe will continue to create his Junya Watanabe Man line, introduced in 2001. Both present their next collections here June 28 during men’s fashion week.

But that’s not all. Kawakubo, who designs the Comme des Garçons Shirt collection, also has a new joint venture with sportswear brand Fred Perry, owned by Japanese firm Hit Union. A portion of the line, starting with spring 2004, will be cobranded Fred Perry/Comme des Garçons Shirt.

Joffe said Kawakubo was invited to dig through the archives of Fred Perry, established in 1950 by the English tennis legend, and she plans to reinterpret the collection, maintaining elements like its signature embroidered laurel-wreath crest while adding her own details. The cobranded line, which also includes a tennis shoe, will be available to all wholesale clients of Comme des Garçons Shirt. While ostensibly a men’s line, Joffe noted that small sizes have long been available, and many women wear the shirts.

Kawakubo’s 30-year-old fashion empire has a long history of collaboration. She works with Vivienne Westwood on a collection that is sold exclusively in Tokyo at 10 Corso Como Comme des Garçons, a retail partnership between Kawakubo and Milan retailer Carla Sozzani. For his part, Watanabe has worked with Levi Strauss and Lewis Leathers for his men’s line, and with Nike for women’s and men’s footwear.

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