The Tokyo-born Sekiguchi, meanwhile, was studying constitutional law at Kyorin University and had her sights set on becoming a human-rights legal scholar. She also had started dabbling in design, with how-to books as her sole instructional aid, because she couldn’t find garments she wanted to wear. “My grandmother advised me, ‘If you want to do it more, why don’t you learn it in fashion college?’” she notes, her grasp of English more tenuous than her husband’s. “I thought that I would be able to study law by myself. But fashion I had to learn during the day.” She eventually became enamored of Kawakubo’s designs because “I was interested in human rights and social problems. Rei,” she argues, “was the only designer who could say something beyond fashion, using fashion design.”
In 1996 Sekiguchi and Horihata each enrolled in Tokyo’s renowned Bunka Fashion College— which counts Yamamoto and his daughter, Limi, as well as Kenzo Takada and Undercover’s Jun Takahashi, as graduates—and met on the first day of class; they became a couple shortly after. Upon graduation two years later, they, ironically, landed patternmaking gigs at each other’s dream house: Sekiguchi at Yamamoto and Horihata at Comme des Garçons.
“I was disappointed about not being accepted at Comme, but I was never jealous of Hiroyuki,” remarks Sekiguchi. “Not at all, not at all,” responds Horihata, when lobbed the same question, though he chuckles as he reminisces about those early days. “Sometimes, when I showed my [muslin patterns] to Rei, she would say, ‘Oh, it looks like a Yohji,’” Horihata says. The couple, who married in 2000, quickly made a pact not to discuss their work at home—at least not specific design points.
As for their experiences at their respective companies (Sekiguchi worked in Yamamoto’s men’s division), they couldn’t have been more different. The house of Yamamoto was the more typical fashion atelier. “Yohji would show Makiko pictures, explain details,” says Horihata, with what sounds like a tinge of envy. “He would talk about patterns and draw [sketches] himself.” Chez Kawakubo, things were far more nebulous. Horihata says the designer would offer one cryptic word or phrase to describe the collection’s thematic arc—“simplistic,” or “I want to make sweet things”—and the designers were expected to conjure up a season’s worth of clothes. It was a taxing exercise, Horihata notes, but profuse in the creative returns. “The patternmakers learn to think for themselves,” he says. “It’s very good training.”
Horihata is unwavering in his admiration of Kawakubo, yet admits that his experience there was “exhausting” and “very, very stressful.” “We had to make clothes again and again—make and destroy, make and destroy,” he recalls. “We needed to make, for example, one skirt 10 times.” He even likens her studio—with its long hours, utter silence (“No chatting, just sound of paper or sewing machine”) and spare black decor (“Even the toilet is black”)—to a monastery.