Fashion by numbers. To any other designer, that would be an insult, but it was the premise of Rei Kwakubo's latest Comme Des Garcons show. Of course, her fashion is never by numbers, but this collection was about poking fun, harshly, at the fashion system of today.
As the rest of fashion swings back, once again, to exploring its couture pat, Rei Kawakubo offered cari-couture. The curved sleeves and full backs so redolent of not only Balenciaga, but of the past few season's fashion offerings, were shown here, but flattened, steamrollered to papery stiffness. There were voluminous babydoll shapes also, and enormous rounded skirt suits. All were constructed from flat pattern-pieces, angular planes of cloth stitched together in primary-coloured felted wool - they looked like paper cut-outs of those couture dresses everyone else loves to turn out. A selection featured animal print, polka-dots, giant flowers, another batch seemed to have smaller dresses sewn onto flat gowns so wide the models had to play dodgem on the catwalk.
All this was shown in total silence. Then music began to play and Kawakubo sent out the same coats and dresses in oversized floral cretonne and garish blue and magenta sequins. Suddenly, they didn't seem quite so outlandish - at least the floral versions. The transformative power of the fashion show, generating a lust for a product that could otherwise seem extreme and unwearable? Perhaps that's what Kawakubo was commenting on with that, although as ever we're left unsure as to whether she condemns of celebrates the fact.
What this did feel like was an observation of the oddly common fashion practise of dressing women as dolls. With their giant exposed seams and flattened panels of cloth, these garments were blow-up paper-doll dresses brought to life on real women. The shellacked, graphically-bobbed hair of the models in Lego shades of red, blue and yellow underscored the feeling of toys, of women manipulated into their clothes by some unseen hands. At some Comme des Garcons shows you are unaware of the models, so absorbed are they into the fashion statement that fuses cloth with woman. Here, they were almost painfully visible inside these highly structured carapaces, and you were constantly aware of their discomfort and maybe even embarrassment. A section midway through offered the respite of foliate gimp-masks, like executioner's hoods. Fashion as punishment?