A fashion god to critics, an artist among fellow designers, an enigma in fashion circles. Rei Kawakubo ascends the pedestal that the world already esteems her on, this month becoming only the second living designer after Yves Saint Laurent in 1983 to be the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual exhibition at The Costume Institute.
No ordinary retrospective, the Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons exhibition will appeal to fashion intellects searching for meaning in “The Art of the In-Between”. The exhibition comprises about 150 examples of womenswear from Comme des Garçons, the convention-defying Japanese label founded in 1973 that earned Kawakubo her avant-gardist reputation. Her vision when she started, was “to do things that have not been done before, things with a strong image”.
That she did, riding the punk wave into grunge in the 1980s, deconstructing, mismatching, un-defining silhouettes. Always preferring to under-explain, the graduate in fine arts and literature – not fashion – functions in the realm of mystery, the walking embodiment of quiet power as she let others dissect and expound their own theories on her oft-times confounding creations.
The aim continues in Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons. The designer invites you to experience, not interpret her designs, which have been broadly categorised into eight recurring aesthetic expressions of interstitiality through her career: Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Design/Not Design, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes.
Having rejected such dualisms as artificial constructs, Kawakubo’s exhibition explores how lines are blurred and, in the spirit of reading into her work and her words – “The void is important,” she once said – very possibly what’s not there.