The fashion and art world added a newsworthy event to the annals of fashion history this year. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art’s Costume Institute announced it would dedicate an exhibit to female living Japanese fashion designer, Rei Kawakubo (pronounced RAY), founder and designer of the Comme des Garçons brand. The last time the Institute staged a retrospective exhibit of a living artist was for Yves Saint Laurent in 1983.
What could the Met possibly produce to rival its most-visited fashion spectacle, the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty? The Costume Institute mounted an exhibit dedicated to an enigmatic female designer whose first line, which launched in 1969, has not only witnessed an enviable cult status following, but has launched an unusual yet successful business model. The Comme brand not only embraces and nurtures young design talent to forge their own path, but has diversified their brand by including an affordable line “Comme Des Garçons Play.” My very favorite development is their concept store, Dover Street Market, which aims to curate hard-to-find brands and products under one roof with a singular vision. Thankfully, Dover Street opened in New York City. Field trips galore!
I remember first getting an eyeful of Comme in the late 80s. I had never seen anything like it. I was enraptured with how the clothing distorted the conventional female form, was designed mostly in black and flouted traditional design techniques and finishes. It went against the accepted norms, was both rebellious and confident. The collections spoke to me as independent fashion, not bound by convention and pushing boundaries we didn’t know existed.
The Met show, named “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between” examines nine expressions of “in-betweenness”. Each display occupies its own space or portal for viewers to immerse themselves in designs that blur the boundaries between body and dress.
In the official exhibit program, Rei is quoted “Fashion is not art. You sell art to one person. Fashion comes in a series and it is a more social phenomenon.” I disagree and do see her designs as art, since they are hand made, collected and stored by avid fans. Art in the form of fashion can indeed be mass produced and purchased by a minority. Additionally, if you read her interviews, I place her within the highfalutin, elitist confines of artists who love to hear themselves talk and need to interpret their work. (Think Jeff Koons, Julian Schnabel and Marina Abramovic.)
Let’s take this Rei quote as an example: “If you say clothes are to be worn, then perhaps they are not really clothes…They are not art, but they don’t have to be clothes, either.”
COMME AGAIN? Ok, so let’s analyze the outfit I wore to the exhibit. What do you see? I see a black bed pan as a hat, or repurposed camping tent as a top, fleece blanket as pants and non-shoes that might be shoes, but maybe even clouds, or a horse’s saddle. Not really sure. Just use your imagination.
The show curators staged the show in a setting that emulates a warehouse or even a big box store. The lighting is high, bright and fluorescent. And… IT’S GREAT! I was able to see everything clearly. The show was tightly edited and curated. It was a succinct exhibit which covered all the bases. Such editing helps us appreciate and savor each grouping and linger a bit longer over the details. The concept groupings were on podiums and staged very clearly. Luckily, the exhibit did not drag on but was the perfect length. When I hungered for more, I circled around the gift shop. And, boy, what a gift shop! Though I love and purchase from the designer, Sacai, a disciple of the school of Comme/Rei Kawakubo, I hanker for a Comme Des Garcons original and no thank you, not from the “Play” line. At the Comme gift shop, I eyed a holey sweater and then went MAD for this laminated brown shopping tote.
This show is a stunner and I highly recommend Comme-ing and going to this latest Costume Institute exhibit. Best of all, you’ll have enough time and energy to visit the rooftop and other exhibits.
The exhibit ends September 4, 2017.