Comme des Garçons’ spring/summer 2018 menswear collection was shown in Paris on Friday evening. This is always a must-see show for the fashion crowd and they were present and correct in the Salle Wagram ballroom, sitting around a square catwalk.
But the Japanese label, designed by Rei Kawakubo, is now also on the mainstream radar. Kawakubo is the subject of Art of the In-Between, this year’s exhibition at New York’s Costume Institute, which hosts the Met Ball in May. The Met Ball is now familiar as a razzle-dazzle evening with an alpha guest list and celebrity hedonism as standard. It appeared that Kawakubo, a sphinx-like figure rarely seen at a fashion opening, had been inspired by attending one of the biggest parties of the year: this Paris collection was one for after dark. The music was fit for a rave, and circles of coloured light were projected on to the catwalk. The models danced in groups and some even smiled. This was in contrast to typical shows for the label – more often sedate affairs with models walking slowly down the catwalk.
Models had their hair slicked down, as if sweaty from a night in a warehouse. Their clothes looked appropriate for all-night dancing. Most wore wide-legged shorts, trainers and suit jackets. These had patches of different fabric sewn to them, including neon faux fur, as well as pieces of pinstripe. Several outfits featured pastel sequins on jackets and shorts, a winning combination even beyond the dance floor. The final looks were more unsettling, featuring jackets with parts of dolls sewn into the back.
One of the most upbeat collections from Kawakubo in the past few years, it was greeted by extended applause from the audience. Kawakubo, who chooses not to bow after her show, was nowhere to be seen.
Film director and writer John Waters, who once took part in a Comme des Garçons show, has said the the clothes are integral to a look he described as “disaster at the dry cleaners”. The brand is, however, a commercial success – with an annual revenue of £219.97m. While it may be the likes of Waters and friends who buy the catwalk collections, many more invest in perfumes, wallets classic shirts and T-shirts. The association with one of fashion’s genuine visionaries is what they are buying into.
The Art of the In-Between exhibition explores Kawakubo’s avant garde take on fashion. With more than 150 designs, it was themed around diametrically opposed ideas – absence/presence, high/low, object/subject. But fashion/antifashion is perhaps the one that remains the most fitting. Comme des Garçons remains a label able to do both.
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