Comme des Garçons: The Shape of Things to Come
A few months ahead of her solo exhibition at the Met museum in New York, Rei Kawakubo presented a surreal women’s wear collection that reflected today’s tense political atmosphere and fashion’s identity crisis.
Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo just pulled off another epic runway show in Paris. The mastermind behind iconic fashion brand Comme des Garçons is the first living designer since 1983 to showcase a solo retrospective at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Entitled Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between (on May 4 until September 4, 2017) the show will also mark her as the first living female fashion designer to exhibit solo at the museum.
Curator Andrew Bolton explains that Kawakubo, widely considered as one of the most relevant and forward-thinking female designers since her debut in Paris in the early 80s, confesses that she never thought of her work as a trend-focused creative expression. In fact, her boundary-pushing take on fashion seems to come naturally, almost instinctively.
“What I’ve only ever been interested in are clothes that one has never seen before, that are completely new, and how in what way they can be expressed. Is that called fashion? I don’t know the answer,” she told Bolton.
The designer’s show for autumn/winter 2017-18 was yet another proof that Kawakubo’s work goes beyond the definition of fashion as we know it, blurring the divide between contemporary art and ready-to-wear in order to reflect on notions of identity, spirituality, beauty and body, and ultimately raising existential questions about fashion.
Whether those questions were meant to be or a result of the viewers’ own interpretations might not even be relevant. What matters most is the mind-games that Kawakubo (unconsciously) conjures when she sends a range of bulky, stunningly shaped garments on the runway to a gloomy show music: less ready-to-wear fashion, and more art sculpture.
Her creations this time are crafted from materials as unusual as papier-mâché, insulation and mattress fabric, in addition to big amounts of felt, tulle and leather. The models – among them Anna Cleveland who did a delightful performance – were entirely cloaked in heavy looking, sculpted outfits - surreal, to say the least.
Models seemed disorientated, as they slowly walked in different directions on the white platform that served as a runway, stopping in a corner at times or rotating on themselves, and glancing with empty eyes in the audience, before making their exit backstage.
This runway performance somehow recalled the same feeling that one might have when looking at The Scream by Edvard Munch or at one of Niki de Saint Phalle’s many curvy Nanas. It was an expressive reflection on how our own identity, body and soul, our perception of ourselves is transforming itself, or being forcefully deformed, when pressured from the outside world.
So let us return to Kawakubo’s initial question to herself: is that called fashion? Were these floating shapes actual clothes that one could put on? Sometimes there are no answers, and the best answer is no one at all.