Hello my fellow readers,
If you do not know, or haven’t been on the internet for quite sometime, you might not be aware of the fact that this year’s First Monday in May’s theme was Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons. Simply titled, “The Art of the In-Between,” the exhibition, as always, took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rei Kawakubo, the founder and the creative director of the Japanese brand, Comme des Garçons, is the second living designer to be honored with an exhibit dedicated to her brand and craft (The first was Yves Saint Laurent, back in 1983).
When I first found out about this year’s theme, I was a bit skeptical. After witnessing the new Comme des Garçons collection for Fall/Winter 2017-2018, I was not sure that the Western public would understand the designer and her perspective. However, my opinion changed as soon as I realized that now more than ever, Comme des Garçons was needed in our society.
Back in May, I was fortunate enough to attend The New York Times Talk event, hosted by The New York Times fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman. Ecstatic to know that Friedman would be leading the event, I was already sold on going. But, when I found out that Andrew Bolton, the Head Curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, would be there, along with the president of Comme des Garçons, Adrian Joffe, I purchased the tickets as soon as I could.
The event was one large conversation about how the exhibit came along, how long did it take to convince Kawakubo to do it (13 years!), and how this exhibit differs from the previous ones. I realized that creating an exhibition to honor Comme des Garçons was the wisest decision of all. To prove my theory, I went to see the exhibit as soon as I could, and I came to a conclusion: Rei Kawakubo is a genius.
Usually, the exhibitions at the Costume Institute take place in various different galleries. One of the galleries is in the basement level of the MET, another is on the second floor. Yet, this time around, only one gallery was dedicated to the exhibition. In comparison to last year’s, Manus x Machina, the exhibit seemed small. However, the size of it was a perfect detail that allowed the public to focus not on the extravagance of the exhibit, but on the garments themselves.
As you walk into the gallery, you end up in a black-and-white, minimalistic space. The exhibit is built in a circle, creating a story line for any vistior as soon as they walk in. It is brightly lit, and the space is designed so that all of its visitors’ attention falls on the garments. Besides, it is one of the few exhibits that does not display garments in glass cases, nor does it have any enclosures. Her work is there, right in front of you, visible from any angle you approach it. The set up of the exhibition is done in such a manner that if you get distracted, you will miss Kawakubo’s work.
When I was at the NYT Talk, both, Bolton and Joffe, brought up how important the setup of the exhibit was for Kawakubo. Rei wanted to make her designs work within the space; she wanted it to be complimentary, rather than distracting or extravagant. The space was so important to Kawakubo that she built a 116,000-square-foot, life-size replica outside of Tokyo for Andrew Bolton and The MET team to see. The MET team was convinced, and the space came about to be the way it is currently set up.
Kawakubo’s garments are not clothing; they are art. They are aimed to make people think, rather than just observe. She wants every person to see a theme, an idea behind her work, which is why I believe that this exhibition was groundbreaking.
Although Kawakubo was worried about how people would perceive her work since Comme des Garçons is less popular in the United States and other countries. Yet, the exhibit has achieved success (The MET has recently posted a photo with its 500,000th visitor) because it is beyond fashion.
One should approach Comme des Garçons in the same way they would approach a critical thinking class: with an open mind. Each podium on which Kawakubo’s designs are standing has labels: “Fashion/Antifashion,” “Design/Not Design,” “Form/Function,” “Good Taste/Bad Taste,” and “Model/Multiple.” In essence, Kawakubo is labeling everything in a way society likes to label everything. For instance, with the “Fashion/Antifashion,” she labels the more standard clothing pieces as “fashion,” since it is more acceptable, more “standard” fashion. The “antifashion” side of the podium is something someone would call “ridiculous,” or “weird.” However, it is far from that. The garments are still made from the same fabric, in a similar way, yet they are stitched together differently.
Another podium that captivated my attention was “Elite Culture/Popular Culture.” The basic understanding of the “elite culture” is something nowadays called, “classical.” Kawakubo puts a biker jacket on top of a ballerina tutu in order to show the elite culture. Meanwhile, “popular culture” is biker jackets and black, distressed tutus. Something more punk, and something that is now being worn more often than ever before. Since the “elite culture” only has one mannequin dedicated to it, meanwhile the “popular culture” has four, I am interpreting it as Kawakubo saying, “There are more followers of pop culture than ever before. Meanwhile, the elite is a small percentage of the entire society.” Could this podium be used as a definition for that 1% versus the rest of the world? Maybe.
The exhibit also has a display dedicated to “War/Peace.” The mannequins are ranging from deep burgundy and bright red, to white with spots of red. When I visited the exhibit, I interpreted the “war” as all of the white garments with splashes of red, as an indication of blood being splattered. However, when my mother saw it, she interpreted it as the red being dedicated to war, and the white with red garments indicating peace. “Even though there’s peace, it won’t always be as peaceful as we imagine it to be,” said my mother. That is the beauty of Kawakubo’s work. It causes one to think deeply and have discussions not just about her work, but also about the society we live in.
Comme des Garçons is thought provoking. The exhibit is far from mindless browsing of galleries; it’s an experience that you walk out from, thinking and challenging your own mindset. Kawakubo doesn’t just challenge the fashion world; she challenges the rest of the world. Her work is both thought and emotion-provoking, causing individuals to not just look at her work, but interpret it. However, maybe I am wrong. Maybe if you are reading into it too much, you miss the entire point. That is the beauty of Comme des Garçons: you never know if you are doing it “right.”
Photography by me
Thank you for reading, and have a fantastic weekend.
Sophia for Fashion Caption.