Being only the second living designer to be selected for a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is the kind of thing that can put a lot of pressure on a girl. Even if she is Rei Kawakubo, the famously abstruse and oracular 74-year-old founder of Comme des Garcons.
This is particularly true during Fashion Week, if she happens to be holding a show, as Kawakubo did here Saturday.
First, there are all those people who suddenly come out of the woodwork and want to attend your fashion show, because it is two months before the big museum exhibition, even if they had never appeared all that interested before — about two or three times as many as normal, according to Kawakubo’s husband, Adrian Joffe. (Tant pis; Kawakubo kept the seats to the usual 300 or so.)
Second, there is the presence of the Met — and Met Gala — crew in the front row: Andrew Bolton, the institute’s curator in charge; Anna Wintour, a co-chairwoman of the gala (and editor of Vogue); and Catherine Martin, costume designer, an occasional Met collaborator and wife of film director Baz Luhrmann.
And third, there is the unavoidable understanding that everyone watching is going to be thinking, on some level: Is this art? Does it merit inclusion in the museum? Is this going in the show? Will that dress be on display opening night, or maybe worn by Gisele Bundchen or Katy Perry, the gala’s hosts this year?
Comme des Garcons fall 2017 runway, a hark back to the almost iconic spring summer 1997 collection titled 'Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body'.
As far as the last question goes: not likely. Mostly because what Kawakubo showed, on a blush pink runway, in front of a blush pink scrim, was kind of a sly riposte to the red carpet. One that took the standard female silhouette — the kind that tends to be celebrated and shown off at just such gala moments — and distorted it into a series of expansive, bulbous curves. Just not in the places you might expect.
Using materials taken from construction rather than closets (at a guess: insulation, cotton wadding, rug liners, paper bags and wallpaper) Kawakubo began with a basic dress carapace in the shape of classical statuary — after the arms had fallen off. Puffed shoulders slid backward onto shoulder blades; breasts moved down and to the side; rolls of sleeves sprouted from skirts.
One dress looked as if it were covered in seed pods; two more resembled a Fausto Melotti sculpture (also geese in profile). Another curved over the head, so the face poked out beneath. Like Little Red Riding Hood, if her cape, instead of the wolf, had tried to swallow her.
In them, the women circled one another questioningly on the runway, in an ebb and flow of recognition and alienation. What is that body over there?
It is a favoured axiom of fashion to say there is a limit to what designers can do because they are restricted by the exigencies of a garment: a hole for the head; two for each arm; one for the body. Kawakubo has never had truck with any of that. At least not when it comes to her shows. In her shops, she has plenty of clothes you can wear. On her runways, she has pieces that make you think. (And outfits were paired with customised Nike Flyknits, so even if the models couldn’t wave their arms, they could walk.)
It doesn’t happen that often. At least not in a way that challenges assumptions and prejudice. That is why she is at the Met.
A look from Junya Watanabe’s fall 2017 collection during Paris Fashion Week, March 4, 2017. The collection returned to Watanabe’s punk Britannia roots via tartan, traffic-light leopard, leather and sofa brocade.
A look from Haider Ackermann’s fall 2017 collection during Paris Fashion Week, March 4, 2017. Ackermann transformed Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” into cloth via perfectly cut black suiting with a rocker edge, some of it with a crack running down one side to let the light (i.e. white and gold) in.
We are getting used to a lot of filler in fashion shows, or just pop culture riffing. Sometimes it does not matter, because, as with Junya Watanabe’s return to his punk Britannia roots via tartan, traffic-light leopard, leather and sofa brocade, mixed up with his recent adventures in structural geometry and crowned by “A Clockwork Orange” face, it’s raucous enough to keep watching no matter what.
Ditto Haider Ackermann’s transformation of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” into cloth via perfectly cut black suiting with a rocker edge, shoulders slightly raised, some of it with a crack running down one side to let the light (i.e. white and gold) in, and a few great electric blue trouser suits. Yohji Yamamoto’s Victorian sportswear — suiting, athletic and otherwise, ruffled and ruched with taffeta, twisted into elegance — set to guitar tunes sung and strummed by the designer, had a singular charm.
A look from Undercover’s fall 2017 collection during Paris Fashion Week, March 3, 2017. The collection was a revisionist take on Disney costume history told in 10 acts, each scene featuring a character in a stereotypical outfit that, on closer examination, was anything but.
Which is why Jun Takahashi’s Undercover show was such an unadulterated delight: A revisionist take on Disney costume history told in 10 acts, each scene featuring a character in a stereotypical outfit that, on closer examination, was anything but. It began with ladies-in-waiting in an Elizabethan court, in long broad-gauge knit gowns, like giant woolly scarves, with elaborate tulle or mille-feuille satin boleros buckled on with leather saddle straps.
Then came cock-o'-the-walk jumpsuits with shoulders swagged not in epaulets but swirled rosettes, which led to military outerwear, which led to cropped sweatshirts and long fluted skirts in fleecy fabrics made soignee with ruffs and insignia, and to young gun leathers with couture layers. In the end, the Queen Bee made an entrance in a honeycomb of rosy pleats.
It had a lot of buzz.
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