Fashion’s Nonconformist Rei Kawakubo at the Met
REI KAWAKUBO IS INDIFFERENT TO FASHION: “I have almost no interest in it,” she has said. And in the four decades since she presented her first collection for her cult label, Commes des Garçons, she has sought to undermine even the most basic notions of clothing, each season taking a conceptual crowbar to cracks in convention to wrench them apart and expose the thrillingly alien in the familiar and the grotesque in the beautiful. A major exhibition of her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rei Kawakubo/Commes des Garçons: Art of the In-Between (on through September 4) celebrates Kawakubo’s iconoclasm by focusing on the fault lines—the in-between spaces—where she has staked her claim.Through approximately 140 looks pulled from collections spanning the early 1980s to the present, the exhibition explores nine categories of interstitiality: Absence/ Presence, Fashion/Antifashion, Design/Not Design, Model/ Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Among the examples are the not-clothes of Kawakubo’s spring/summer 2014 collection, Not Making Clothing, for which the designer cleansed her referential palate in order to start from scratch. The resulting “objects for the body” are constructions of looping straps and hoops, cages, cocoons, ruffles, and flounces, mostly in inky black as if scribbled in Sharpie.
Also on display is a suite of dresses from Commes des Garçons’ spring/summer 1997 collection, Body Meets Dress—Dress Meets Body, tubes of body-hugging fabric in pert gingham prints whose comeliness is subverted by lumps and bunches of down padding. The human form mutated, at once attractive and aberrant, they are the definition of uncanny. Other garments from the same collection resemble scarlet-red pupae from which inhuman creatures will emerge. “It was the least dissatisfying [collection] I have done,” said Kawakubo.