I was never invited to the Comme des Garcon show when I attended Paris fashion weeks. Even when I worked under Amy Spindler at the New York Times who would make a call to the CDG office to request one for me—it didn’t happen. She was arguably one of the most powerful fashion journalists of her time, so if she couldn’t make it happen then no one could. Despite sneaking into one of the shows to see what all the reverence was about and being educated in Yohji, Comme and Undercover by my editors one of which was Franz Ankone, I never really got it. At the time I was into more conventional fashion. That didn’t mean I couldn’t get the intellectual messages at a runway show. I was a big fan of Miuccia Prada, Hussein Chalayan and Alexander McQueen all of whom presented runway shows that made goose bumps appear all over your skin and you left with a strong message that you couldn’t shake. I was clear that a fashion show was about more than the clothing but Comme des Garcon was odd in a way I couldn’t understand. I suppose it was like looking at a Picasso and not getting his cubist interpretations. I just wasn’t a fan.
But today at The Met’s Costume Institute’s preview, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcon Art of the In-Between, I saw a true artist’s retrospective. It’s easy enough to make a dress that follows the human form, but to use the form as a means to explore a subject is as cerebral as it gets. And to wear a CDG creation is a social statement not an enhancement of a female body. That is not to say that they are not a viable at retail. The “Play” collection with it’s whimsical heart logo on sneakers and t-shirts has become a favorite with teens. The Dover Street Market (an international shop) is a construct of Rei’s partner and sells both Comme and other highly regarded fashion brands like Gucci.
Today at the preview the former ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy spoke as well as the Costume Institute’s curator, Andrew Bolton. The exhibition space was spare with white washed walls and alcoves which displayed mannequins in different groupings. The simplicity of the space and the way it is displayed with bright natural light added to the impact of the artful fashion. Dates were not given to the looks to underscore timelessness.
My opinion of Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcon has evolved as I have. She uses clothing to express her message and pushes the boundaries of the normal. Her work challenges us and we need that more than ever. In our instafame-fast-fashion-botox-Kardashian world, seeing this retrospective is a worthwile respite and reminder that we must think and see deeper, question the normal, and live with more meaning than what is on the surface.