Rei Kawakubo’s shows are uncommonly emotional experiences — from her raw, stirring Blood and Roses collection with its opera soundtrack, to this past season’s mourning-inspired show, they’re bound to evoke strong reactions. Here, three notable writers weigh in on the Comme des Garçons collections that stayed with them the most, and why.
“Imagine, a designer devoting an entire show to just one thing? That’s what Rei Kawakubo did in the fall of 2003, with a collection she summed up as ‘abstract excellence.’ And excellent they were: cotton-print skirts cut in circle and clover shapes or softly draped. The models came out on the stark plywood runway wearing only the skirts — virtually naked on top (in chiffon tees) and shoeless. At a time when editors were beginning to lament the hard-sell of the runway (all those ‘It’ bags) and when designers were expected to assume many roles, including marketer, Kawakubo quietly saluted the creative power of a designer, using the most feminine garment of all. The pity was that American newspapers, with their rules about nudity, couldn’t print most of the photos.” — Cathy Horyn, Critic-at-Large, New York Magazine and the Cut
“Fall 2004 was the first Comme collection I ever looked at as I was stumbling across fashion in magazines and on the internet. I had never seen a sleeve used as a decorative element, I had never seen sleeves cut in those shapes, I had never seen ruffles used to such grotesque effect, and I never knew a black jacket could be so nuanced and provocative. The references were Victorian but to me the clothes looked straight from the future. It was this collection that taught me that while fashion may not be art, it could most certainly make for some damn good poetry.” —Jeremy Lewis, founder and editor, Garmento zine
“I have long since abdicated and distanced myself from the title ‘critic,’ which is too often used these days to heighten one’s own self-esteem as evidenced in 15-year-olds who would not know Balenciaga from Balzac. At one point you had to earn celebrity, now it seems a given. I actually worked with Rei on Mental Pilgrimage (fall/winter 2003) and it thus still holds as one of my favorite collections … The difficulty comes with the fact that each season has its own virtue. Having said that, Bikers Ballet (Motorcycle Ballerina, spring/summer 2005) — as Rei liked to hear me call it — and Broken Bride (fall/winter 2005–06) and the simply wonderful felt 2-D collection (fall/winter 2012), where the forms were quite remarkable, are also outstanding. Being a product of the ‘60s/’70s, the question often comes up: ‘Why are young people (and designers) so drawn to [that era]?’ Well, if you are a 25-year-old with deep pockets and have never seen bell-bottoms your first reaction is ‘Wow,’ but for me that’s too often like painting by the numbers. Clearly Rei does not navigate this way.
“It is foremost about the creative process. Some call it Art and she is too humble, but Art it is and Art it remains … But this really strays from the point, which is to broaden the narrative, the dialogue of what possibilities fashion holds … of this she is a master. Fashion now plays to the box seats where it once played to the bleachers, not what you see but rather who you see. An unfolding tragedy. I love Rei not for who she is but what she is. An artisan whose work, in a flood of mediocrity, remains without compromise, its integrity never in question.” —Gene Krell, International Fashion Director, Condé Nast Japan