Rei Kawakubo, the 73-year-old founder of Comme des Garçons, called her latest collection “18th-century punk,” but it was really about sex. Kawakubo’s show was positively the most erotic thing going in Paris, at least on the runways. Other designers yap about amour, and slip you another boyfriend jacket; Kawakubo gives you tongues and giant orifices lined in fuzz. And not rendered in some nice Frenchy fabric or Japanese high-tech wonder but, rather, in silk prints and jacquards reproduced in Lyon at Kawakubo’s request from the archives of that city’s famous mills.
“And fucking expensive,” Adrian Joffe, who is Kawakubo’s husband and business partner, said in a stage whisper backstage as a throng of admirers gathered around the designer. A few people, catching the drift of Joffe’s meaning, laughed. Lyon was, in a sense, the heart and soul of French couture, and expressions of this kind come at a price. Most of the fabrics featured lush, full-blown roses in deep pinks and reds, and some of the 17 garments in the show consisted of four or five different patterns, in pink as well as imperial blue and gold-flecked cream. Flowers are also a central motif of Dior, and Christian Dior looked to the 18th century for inspiration, as did two of his successors, John Galliano and Raf Simons. But Kawakubo’s show didn’t seem a bid for the currently vacant top post at Dior so much as a provocation. She doesn’t need the Dior job, but perhaps high fashion needs more reckless creativity.
After all, the subject of decadence is ripe for the picking — with billionaires flaunting their wealth and, at another extreme, social media encouraging a new type of libertine. What better way into that expression than through the 18th century?
Nothing about Kawakubo’s designs is nostalgic or literal. It never is, although you’d have to be a dolt not to grasp that the dense cascade of pink flaps running from the shoulder of a garment down to the right ankle is an allusion to licking tongues. I lost count of the number of round entry points on the garments. Additionally, there were bondage straps, suggestions of corsets, and pieces of fabric cut in strips and assembled to evoke armor. The models, wearing slightly unspooled black periwigs, walked on a bare stage to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” from The Nutcracker. But, for me, the most extraordinary pieces were those cut relatively close to the body and composed of elements of armor and, say, a corset or waistcoat, all in different silk patterns, and arranged in a kind of stack — or a monument to French extravagance that a punk queen had destroyed and reassembled in her fashion.
Earlier yesterday, Junya Watanabe sent out a lovely collection of garments made from clusters of geometric cutouts in black or neon-bright industrial neoprene. Watanabe has done a couple of shows in which he has transformed circles, hexagons, and other geometric structures in whole garments — loopy shrugs and cagelike tunics. But this collection had the added grace note of ballet: The models wore black leotards and leggings under their 3-D frills, as well as ballet flats; and everything maintained a graceful line, thanks in part to some pretty long skirts.