Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), Body Meets Dress–Dress Meets Body, spring/summer 1997; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Last week we were enthralled by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit, the Met Gala. Celebrities came out in their finest designer garments to celebrate the Met’s exhibition Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between; the Metropolitan Museum’s first monograph since Yves Saint Laurent was held in 1983. The exhibition celebrates the work of Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, a designer who crosses boundaries and inhabits the liminal spaces between fashion and design.

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), The Infinity of Tailoring, autumn/winter 2013–14; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Collier Schorr; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), The Infinity of Tailoring, autumn/winter 2013–14; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Collier Schorr; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Her work is often described as sculptural, ambiguous and unsettling and on the forefront of the avant-garde. It is often seen as unwearable and has an anti fashion aesthetic. With her complete disregard of the conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability, one would imagine that her work would not be popular nevertheless it still seems to sell very well.

The boundaries that Kawakubo crosses add to the fascination she creates and define her as one of the most influential fashion designers of our time; the way she redefines beauty, the connection with Zen Buddhist aesthetics of wabi-sabi, the exploration of ‘mu’ (emptiness – through palette i.e. black) and ‘ma’ (space – through form), her preoccupation and ongoing experiments with modernism, the introduction of ‘high’ and ‘low’ popular culture and kitsch elements (e.g. the Motorbike Ballerina collection), the blurring of gender, culture and age, the use of Morphology redefining the body (Body Meets Dress- Dress Meets Body Collection), to name just some of her preoccupations over her career that make her an exceptional force in the field of fashion.

The Met gala, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit, is the Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements. While we may remember the efforts of the celebrities like Katie Perry, Rihanna and the Kardashians, (some more successful than others), the true inspiration behind the event was never in question.

“In blurring the art/fashion divide, Kawakubo asks us to think differently about clothing,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Met. “Curator Andrew Bolton explores work that often looks like sculpture in an exhibition that challenges our ideas about fashion’s role in contemporary culture.”

“Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute. “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.”

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), Blood and Roses, spring/summer 2015; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), Blood and Roses, spring/summer 2015; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rei Kawakubo said, “I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design…by denying established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm. And the modes of expression that have always been most important to me are fusion…imbalance… unfinished… elimination…and absence of intent.”

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), 18th-Century Punk, autumn/winter 2016–17; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), 18th-Century Punk, autumn/winter 2016–17; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The thematic exhibition that features over 130 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear designs for Comme des Garçons, includes garments from the early 1980s to her most recent collection.

 

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), Blue Witch, spring/summer 2016; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), Blue Witch, spring/summer 2016; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Organized into nine dominant and recurring aesthetic expressions of interstitiality;  Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, High/Low, Then/Now, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes; her fashions demonstrate that interstices are places of meaningful connection and coexistence as well as revolutionary innovation and transformation and demonstrate the endless possibilities to rethink our notions of the female body and feminine identity.

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between is showing at the Met Museum between 4 May to 4 September.