Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons seemingly revels in the other. She doesn’t have time for fashion as we have come to know it. In her world, trends don’t exist.
Unpacking a Comme des Garçons doesn’t require a master’s degree in fashion journalism but an acute awareness of what’s going on in the world and a vague insight into the mind of one of fashion’s most unpredictable designers. But this season things weren’t as loaded with abstract forms and obscure inspirations, it was a deeply personal exploration.
She failed on her search to find what is new, she said. Her exploration, her self-proposed challenge resulted in a show that skewered motherhood, birth, rebirth, (enslavement?), themes which provided for yet another visceral experience.
What first appeared to be the revival of clothing—there were signs of coats, jackets, trousers, and dresses—was turned on its head when one caught a glimpse of the pregnant silhouettes, lacerated at the waist, revealing CDG logos and newspaper prints. Lumps and bumps erupted from hither and thither in, what looked like, a comment on female physicality and a reconciliation with imperfection which felt like a self-reflection, back to Spring 1997 when she presented her ‘Lumps and Bumps’ collection which also abstracted the female form.
The quiet soundtrack permitted the sound of chains, dangling from one model’s dress, and others’ Nike trainers, to fill the space with a sense of unease. The obvious connotations are enslavement. But as the model dragged them with every glacially-paced step it looked like redemption was on the mind, not imprisonment. It could symbolise where the women’s rights movement is: slowly but surely unshackling themselves from years of engendered inequality, reclaiming agency in the face of adversity but still facing the reality of slow progress.
Maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe it was about Kawakubo’s own creativity, her difficulties with presenting something that enthrals, stuns, and excites the fashion press, and inevitably, the end customer. But as she meditated on the female form with conceptual silhouettes and chain accents, one couldn’t help but consider a wider cultural relevance following a week of sexual assault survivors speaking out and a complex hearing surrounding a Supreme Court nominee and alleged sexual misconduct.
Junya Watanabe and Kei Ninomiya are two other Japanese designers under the Comme des Garçons umbrella. The Japanese company has stakes in both businesses. Unlike Kawakubo, they struck happier notes in their work but they were nevertheless emotional.
Watanabe’s ebullient, Queen-soundtracked homage to the 1980s was a modern retelling of the epoch with upcycled denim and tulle. The patchwork of denim dresses and upcycled gowns straddled youth culture and couture sensibilities. One of Watanabe’s greatest passions is street culture, it’s a reference he frequently calls on and it emanates in his work. Everything was put with platform sneakers. There was something mesmerising about the way he contrasted the durability of denim with the dreaminess of couture and the rebellious neon wigs and accompanying tattoo sleeves.
Noir, Kei Ninomiya’s label, was utterly compelling in its approach to finding beauty in structure and silhouette. Clouds of cotton adorned the models’ heads, dispersing tufts like a dandelion in the springtime breeze.
Through the use of his invariable palette of black, he addressed the interplay of masculinity and femininity with ethereal dresses in tulle and jersey with leather biker jackets and men’s tailoring. One stood out in particular, a pleated dress was layered over a white shirt with a black skinny tie and black trousers. Despite the omnipotence of black, he rarely missteps when it comes to finding new ways to express himself.
Kei Ninomiya’s beginnings were at Comme des Garçons as a patternmaker. It explains his penchant for the colour black—something Kawakubo is also drawn to in her work—and his masterful ability to invent new structural bodies (see the plastic, feather-accented cages) and perfect existing ones (refer to his immaculate tailoring).
Ninomiya’s brand of romantic punk and historicism lends itself to the kind of fashion that doesn’t have to bear a deeper meaning to have a profound impact. Sometimes, with few words, designers can achieve much more than those who stuff their runways with context. It works and sublimity doesn’t need justification.