Celebrating the conceptual fashion of Comme des Garçons at the Met

Five decades of Comme des Garçons go on show at the Met's iconic costume department.

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Armor, fringes, bows, knots, loops, cloths and asymmetry: the revolutionary and conceptual fashion of Rei Kawakubo, iconic founder of “Comme des Garçons”, is the subject of a new exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, paying homage to almost half a century of work.

Gathering about 140 pieces for its exhibition Art of the In-Between, the Met seeks to give an idea of this unique universe on which Kawakubo once said: “For something to be beautiful, it does not have to be pretty”. Since 1969, this graceful Japanese woman has been rejecting “established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm,” according to the notes of the Met exhibition.

The world of Comme des Garçons is full of asymmetry, imbalance and the omnipresence of form, where the clothes take over the whole look. Rei Kawakubo uses multiple resources to transform the appearance of women, sometimes moving away from the canons of fashion. For Thomas Campbell, the director of the Met, “her creations often resemble sculptures”.

A woman of few words, almost inaccessible to the press, the 74-year-old rarely expresses herself in public and refuses to analyse her creations, claiming “the absence of intention.” To focus the visitors’ attention on the clothes, the Met chose to decorate the exhibition space all in white, with rounded walls that sometimes hide and sometimes reveal. Another originality: some pieces were placed above eye level, and can only be observed raising the head. But the originality of the exhibition does not stop there, in more than 70 years of life, the Costume Institute only once before devoted an exhibition to a living designer: Yves Saint-Laurent in 1983.

‘Clothes/Not-Clothes’, ‘Absence/Presence’, ‘Life/Loss’ and ‘Self/Other’ are some of the titles of the nine sections articulated around the exhibition. All of Kawakubo’s designs speak of these spaces between one thing and the other, exposing the dichotomies of the designer. To illustrate the intermediate ‘Design/Not Design’, the curator retained, for example, a combination of reinforced shapes that could remind you of a sumo wrestler in a material that appears to be a DIY brown paper. For ‘Absences/Presences’, there are red dresses that seem designed to fit an unrecognisable body, whose protrusions produce a disturbing effect of deformity.

In this extraordinary exhibition, Rei Kawakubo confuses the clues and erases the points of reference until a new reality is composed, giving an alternative perception that moves away from the standard objective vision of the woman’s body.

Art of the In-between runs at the Metropolitan Museum of  Art until 4 September 2017. More information and tickets here

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