The Radical Success of Comme des Garçons

Paolo Roversi/Comme des Garçons/The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublicity print for Rei Kawakubo’s “2 Dimensions” collection (left and middle), autumn/winter 2012–2013, and her “Invisible Clothes” collection (right), spring/summer 2017

Rei Kawakubo, a Japanese creator of a tag Comme des Garçons, is regarded as one of a many successful designers in complicated fashion. Known for her voluminous, monochromatic, and architectural silhouettes, Kawakubo creates designs that seem to be some-more endangered with newness and sparking seductiveness and discourse than with candid captivate or luxury. Ever given her breakthrough into tellurian conform in a Eighties, her following has been fervent and loyal. Even so, a Metropolitan Museum of Art’s vital retrospective of her work, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of a In-Between,” is striking: a initial retrospective of a vital engineer given a showcase of Yves Saint Laurent thirty years ago.

It is a quite severe task. The seventy-four-year-old’s designs challenge definition, and Kawakubo has never offering an easy proceed in. She gives no reason for her works—which change from large, sculptural dresses to perplexing and mostly elaborate multi-textured pieces—and avoids normal categorizations. In gripping with this approach, curator Andrew Bolton, in partnership with Kawakubo, has comparison scarcely 150 pieces from via her career. These are displayed in a perfect white intricacy of alcoves. There is no extended wall content or labels, though an concomitant paper pamphlet offers some-more information about any piece. Rather than a sequential ordering, a panoply are organised according to 9 dichotomies, such as “High/Low,” “Clothes/Not Clothes,” or “Self/Other,” with serve oppositions within any category; “Self/Other,” for example, includes a sub-headings “East/West,” “Male/Female,” and “Child/Adult.” In a last, dual looks from her seminal spring/summer 2014 collection patrician “Not Making Clothes” communicate a tragedy between uniforms deemed suitable for these opposite durations of life: a stormy dress of pinkish polyester encased within a white, cage-like bustier looks both youthful and fetishistic, while another dress, printed with a floral settlement and with a pressed teddy bear appliquéd to a skirt, seems to move a “cute” cultured during that Japanese enlightenment so excels to a absurd conclusion.

“Art of a In-Between” is orderly to stress a space between these synthetic boundaries, where Kawakubo feels her designs many absolutely live. The muster offers a consult of her trademarks: tattered edges, asymmetry, colourless outfits—particularly in blacks and reds—and fabrics punctuated by holes (“Comme des Garçons lace,” according to Kawakubo) are found throughout. The mannequins’ exuberant headpieces and wigs, that are not accessible for sale, are a dictatorial work of Julien d’Y’s, a longtime Kawakubo collaborator.

Peek into one hovel labeled “Design/Not Design” and you’ll find a bulbous dress, clearly done of brown-paper-bag material, a figure job to mind Niki de Saint Phalle’s balloon-like Nana sculptures. Around another corner, in “Model/Multiple,” is a coven of headless mannequins with poitrines painted in china grey. Each mannequin wears a structured and variously done white string dress with opposite stripes of black interfacing. These are examples of a thirty-four designs that stoical Kawakubo’s “Abstract Excellence” collection from spring/summer 2004; seen together, any dress in a group seems both like an strange work and a reproduction.


The Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe “Clothes/Not Clothes: War/Peace” territory of “Art of a In-Between,” 2017
Brigitte Niedermair/Comme des Garçons/The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublicity print for Kawakubo’s “Broken Bride” collection, autumn/winter 2005–2006
The Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe “Clothes/Not Clothes” territory of “Art of a In-Between,” 2017
Paolo Roversi/Comme des Garçons/The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublicity print for Kawakubo’s “Ceremony of Separation” collection, autumn/winter 2015–2016
The Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe “Clothes/Not Clothes: War/Peace” territory of “Art of a In-Between,” 2017
The Metropolitan Museum of ArtFrom left, a “High/Low,” “Model/Multiple,”
“Fashion/Antifashion,” and “Design/Not Design” sections of “Art of a In-Between,” 2017
Paolo Roversi/Comme des Garçons/The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublicity print for Kawakubo’s “Blue Witch” collection, spring/summer 2016
Paolo Roversi/Comme des Garçons/The Metropolitan Museum of ArtPublicity print for Kawakubo’s “18th-Century Punk” collection, autumn/winter 2016–2017

Kawakubo chose not to use her possess name when she combined her tag in 1969 in Tokyo. “Comme des Garçons,” or “like some boys,” allegedly rises a line from a strike Françoise Hardy strain that talks about a unhappiness of being alone, surrounded by couples—which competence seem mocking or fitting, depending on your perspective, deliberation her iconoclasm and individuality. (Kawakubo has denied that a difference have definition over her appreciation of how they sound.) Kawakubo’s initial uncover in Paris was in 1981, when she was scarcely forty and already good determined in Japan. Her early designs took impulse from Japanese folklore. Though a conform investiture didn’t welcome a radical Comme des Garçons during first, maybe since of a label’s confounding depart from classical ideals of beauty, Kawakubo’s designs were immediately renouned among edgier conform followers. Physical distortion, a thesis via Kawakubo’s work, proves unfortunate to some, while alluring to others.

In a 1990s she began collaborating with artists in other fields. She worked with Cindy Sherman on promotional photographs in 1994, and combined a coveted, biannual image-based magazine Six (named after a sixth sense) between 1989 and 1991. Unsurprisingly, a late feminist author Kathy Acker, famous for her initial work and punk persona, wore Comme des Garçons out and about early on.

Kawakubo done a costumes for Merce Cunningham’s Scenario regulating her spring/summer 1997 collection “Body Meets Dress—Dress Meets Body,” that mostly consisted of padded panoply (derided by a press during a time as “lumps and bumps”). But her final 7 collections have turn some-more sculptural still; her 2014 “Not Making Clothes” collection enclosed a black crop-top with suspenders trustworthy to a padded mainstay skirt. In another square from a collection, a black chronicle of a aforementioned cage-bustier is filled in with perfect paneling and polyester ruffles. 

The Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe “Object/Subject” territory of “Art of a In-Between,” 2017; click to enlarge

Over a years a kind of cult of celebrity has grown around Kawakubo and her empire. She frequency grants interviews or poses for photographs, that has usually contributed to a intrigue. One competence think that saying a panoply in a museum—as objects behind glass—could divide or stretch a spectator from them. But there is no potion in a Met’s open maze, giving it a feel of a space not distinct a runway, in that a spectator competence suppose reaching out and touching, even wearing, a differently formidable garments. The designs competence seem closer to sculpture than clothing, though still they lure a imagination.

Despite how befitting Kawakubo’s designs are for arrangement in a museum, she has been intensely successful in a larger, mainstream wardrobe markets. Her seductiveness in structure, and generally her use of architectural form and confidant asymmetry, can now be seen on bland fashions sole by labels like COS, William Okpo and Veda, Chromat, even HM and J. Crew. One gets a sense, erratic a Met and walking a streets of New York City alike, that Comme des Garçons is one of few labels that have built a viable business while truly severe attention conventions—begging a tenth Kawakubo “in-between”: Beloved/Radical.  

“Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of a In-Between” is during a Metropolitan Museum of Art by Sep 4. The catalog, by Andrew Bolton, is published by a Met and distributed by Yale University Press.

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