The uncompromising label of Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons, is exhibiting its spring 2012 collection, unveiled during Paris Fashion Week last October, at the Cité de la Mode et du Design, a new venue opened at the Quai d’Austerlitz on the left bank between the Gare d”Austerlitz and the bibliotheque Mitterand.
She belongs to the generation of Japanese designers that, together with Miyake and Yamamoto, broke into the fashion world conveying original and anti-haute couture values. Proud owner in my younger years of one of her garments, a black linen suit, I chose it to promote my image of being on the cutting edge. My belief in the magic of the garment was such that I wore it till it frayed and the fabric turned threadbare. That was the 80’s.
Ms. Kawakubo has marched on. I no longer can afford, financially nor aesthetically, to wear her creations but the worlds of fashonistas and trendsetters still keep her on Mount Olympus. Her collection on show, entitled White Drama, appears to have a narrative thread: the passages of a woman through life from birth to death. The mannequins are contained in tough PVC bubbles, their clothes in monochromatic palettes of white. It is eerie, dreamlike and overdramatized. And rather metaphorically forced.
Like all good plastic artists, Kawakubo pushes the limits of her trade, creating dresses that question fashion as simply a manner of clothing the human body. Like so many contemporary designers, she does not just look to extract from textiles and cuts a fit and glamorous product. Her creative scrutiny of elaborate shapes and mixed fabrics does transmit a sense of mystery and higher art. The result: pieces where the traditional search for beauty is replaced by a spirit of exploration. Is this a masquerade? When we thought we had the answer to that question, another bubble shoots an arrow straight through the heart and we see what she sees. As she herself recently explained in an interview: “The way I approach each collection is exactly the same…the motivation has always been to create something new, something that didn’t exist before. The more experience I have and the more clothes I make, the more difficult it becomes to make something new. Once I’ve made something, I don’t want to do it again, so the breadth of possibility is becoming smaller”. I wonder if the concept, like my black suit, has become a little frayed and threadbare?