Rei Kawakubo Defies Fashion’s Traditional Context

Rei Kawakubo Defies Fashion’s Traditional Context

It’s inevitable to wonder when and how fashion surpasses the mainstream notion of mere clothing and trickles into the realm of “art.” Comme des Garçons, French for “like the boys,” was founded in 1969 by fashion revolutionary Rei Kawakubo. This brand changes the conventionality of garments with visual ambiguity and formative context— meaning that it’s much more than simple clothing.

Personally, I don’t care about function at all. When I hear, ‘Where could you wear that?’ or ‘It’s not very wearable,’ or ‘Who would wear that?’… to me it’s just a sign that someone missed the point.” – Rei Kawakubo

The thematic exhibition, Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, celebrates 140 select works designed by Kawakubo that narrates her story as a designer through nine cerebral anecdotes: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Antifashion, Model/Multiple, High/Low, Then/Now, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes.

A dialogue between these dichotomies creates a space for interpretation and a full intellectual experience.

Immediately immersed into the first narrative, Absence/Presence, a sense of zen counterbalances the detached nature between the elaborate works and mute environment of the clinically stark-white architectural gallery space.

“It’s like a fantasy,” one appreciator states to her friend.

We were all intrigued by a series of red concoctions. Two are from Spring/Summer 1997’s “Body Meets Dress—Dress Meets Body.” Kawakubo denotes the presence of forms reacting within the female body through peculiar placement of goose down in order to create bulbous shapes.

The sub-narrative, Birth/Marriage/Death, presents eerie ceremonial and bridal gowns with lace-trimmed veils atop draped chains. Kawakubo’s apropos of societal life-sequences depicts the beginning of life with a white embroidered gown immaculately detailed representing birth and concludes with a somber black polyester lace coat.

Walking through the Kawakubo maze, the final statement considers “The Future of Silhouette,” which is the title of the two Comme des Garçons Fall/Winter 2017 pieces on display in Bound/Unbound.

Much like her ’97 dresses, Bound/Unbound suggests more interesting forms developing as the future of fashion sculpture. The two cocoons of white synthetic wadding may lack sleeves, but implies a similar theory to that of a butterfly. Kawakubo ends this section by narrating the current state of fashion, chrysalis, before hatching and discovering the next innovation.

I never give myself any boundaries or let them interfere with my work.” – Rei Kawakubo

In a time where rebellion is few, Rei Kawakubo continues to go beyond the norm of wearability by taking risks with uncommon concepts, experimenting with clothing on the human figure, and remaining true to her avant-garde style. Although this exhibition isn’t as grand as last year’s Manus x Machina, The Costume Institute is effective in its presentation by highlighting the intricacies of Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons and explicitly expressing the narratives at hand.

Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between will be on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute until September 4, 2017.

Written by Anthony O’Baner
Photography and video courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art