What were they thinking? Usually, that question is asked with an incredulous snort. But when the object of fascination is designed by Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, or Jun Takahashi, respect is due. With these conceptual masters, you want to know the hows and whys behind their odd delights.
All three staged powerful shows this season. For Comme des Garçons, the label she founded 42 years ago, Kawakubo created 18 sculptural objects inspired by bereavement — specifically, how one confronts the idea of separation. This is the fourth season in a row that Kawakubo has done such an extreme runway collection, one designed apart from the clothes her company actually sells. She indicated the other day in her Place Vendôme showroom that, for now, this is how she wants to express herself. She is honest about the difficulties of creating. When asked how she keeps herself inspired after more than 40 years, Kawakubo said that’s the problem: “I’m not inspired.”
It’s worth keeping that comment in mind when looking at the 18 objects. For one thing, the pieces are deeply affecting, a window into feelings about time and life’s burdens (a favorite theme of Kawakubo’s, now evoked by a piece made up of what resemble laundry bundles). But for another thing, how often does a genius share her personal struggles? The objects are full of fragments, repetitions, and spiritual allusions. In most cases, they are separated from the body; they could be interpreted as elaborate tombs. The most moving is the last piece in the show, in black European lace. We’ve created an interactive to help explain her thought process.
And we’ve done the same with key looks from Watanabe and Takahashi, whose label is Undercover. Watanabe’s collection was dazzling, in part because it used such economy of design. The basic concept was strips of material, like wool felt, turned into honeycomb shapes — for shrugs, capes, jackets. He said the construction is similar to paper lanterns. “It really took a long time to work out, about three months,” Watanabe said through an interpreter. “There was a lot of trial and error.” It was worth the effort.
Takahashi said his goal was to suggest the fear and suspense in beauty. As he said, “I’m not interested in just the beautiful, but also the other side.” That may well explain the broken bits of a mirror embroidered on coats. What I especially admired was his fresh take on deconstruction. It was done so simply but with thought, and, gosh, the results made me smile.