This is only the second time that the Museum of Metropolitan Art has created a fashion exhibit using the work of a living designer. It’s fascinating to wander through a display that the Anna Wintour Costume Center Creates. It’s like unboxing someone’s mind when you see the clothing, sketches and accumulated ephemera. Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between is like stepping into someone’s fantasy world made flesh (as it were) through fabric.
At the press preview this morning, there were a small collection of super fans—wearing Kawakubo’s oversized goods and milling around the place. They mingled with editors, freelancers, reporters, people from Vogue and the industry. I got to say hello to Fern Malis and watch Grace Coddington sail by me. After attempting to say hello to Coddington at another event and getting icicles back, I’d rather weave on by than try again.
Rei Kawakubo/Comme de Garcons—the person and the label were rather like the rebels/cool girl/bad girl of fashion when her work exploded in the 80s. It was dark, it was punk, it felt haute couture and weird at the same time. It made people reevaluate fashion and style. She has influenced designers like Ann Demeulemeester, Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang (a personal favorite) and a slew of independent thinkers/designers.
The exhibition, which is housed in a space on the second floor is full of twists and turns. Vertical pod-like enclosures house three or four items. One must look up as there are displays above one’s head. It’s almost like walking through a hamster habitat. There aren't any cheese or treats at the end of it. If you go to the museum’s resto afterwards, you can reward yourself with a cup of tea and a snack.
Let’s chat about the clothing. Ofttimes abstract, and many times pieces were made to make a statement. The dress Lady Gaga wore in Paris is here. Other celebs who make up her fan club are Pharrell Williams and Kanye West. Williams collaborated with Kawakubo on this fragrance, Girl.
Deconstruction plays a big role in Kawakubo’s work. Ideals are re-worked, sometimes inside out or sideways via fabric. At the show, there a series of items that look like deconstructed samurai armour. There’s another series of clothing that looks as if someone took a Victorian doll’s wardrobe, a flock of down pillows, pinking shears and a 1970s-male executive’s closet threw them together and said, “Ha!” A hot pink Alice-in-Wonderland type dress has its own exoskeleton. There is a group of gowns with lace mantillas thrown over the heads of the mannequins that makes one think of Miss Haversham’s closet or a pack of demented infantas. A range of tartan-clad dummies makes one hear bagpipes.
The exhibit is an important slice of fashion history. It’s an interesting visual marker for society at a particular time, and Kawakubo’s psyche and thought processes in that era as well.
The use of color and lack of; Kawakubo is a big fan of black and unbleached muslin a statement the same way that a courtier’s costume from the court of Louis XIV would.
If you’re off to see Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between because you’re hoping to find lots of “pretty, pretty,” you won’t see it here. You will find a textural snapshot of culture, history and the psychology of an era and what lurks within a designer’s mind.
Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between runs from May 4 to September 27, 2017 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For directions, more information on exhibits, musical performances and operating hours please visit their site.