After a mad dash across town from Westwood, a room of expectant faces were looking up at a raised platform. The wooden benches in the Comme des Garçons show space - ever the hot ticket - were tightly filed and packed, with perching randoms and tip toe standing guests a regular fixture. That one time when all the benches at Balenciaga S/S 12 collapsed, sprang to mind. People didn’t care then; they just picked themselves off the floor and watched the show standing up. Nicolas Ghesquière – and Rei Kawakubo are the designers where seating plan politics no longer matter. We just need to see their vision for the season.
Some notes on a wooden glockenspiel sounded and a layered mille-feuille of metallic and floral pieces arrived. The sculptures started off resembling a swarm of butterflies. Further floral constructions hung from the frame. Like appendages, these scaffold constructions ended up being proposals for further pieces in the collection. The hair was worn in pin curls, with the front roller curl near standing on end.
All manner of architectural layering was presented within this collection – all rendered via a set of hard shell tapestries and metallic foiled florals. Who said print and a strong silhouette was ever too much? It felt folkloric, grand, magical and mysterious. Russian dolls were called to mind, as were some kind of Marie Antoinette style of armadillo. Antique and old, certain fabrics denoted a chinoiserie aesthetic. Chinese references also came through in the construction. Like samurai warrior entire, Kawakubo’s creations had the feel of women being protected by a kind of ancient armour.
Fiercely feminine, and in a season full of fairytales and wonder, with this collection Rei Kawakubo opened the music box further. Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy faded in and out of the show music. It felt all knowing. A label drenched in feminism, Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons seemed to be parodying the season. This is the designer who gave us the ‘Lumps and Bumps’ collection of 1997, where she liberated the shape of a woman’s body away from the agenda of the male gaze and towards one of ‘why not?’ She wasn’t about to make us into fairies now. Some of the models wore suit-of-armour style leg braces. One girl arrived on the catwalk only wearing one, so her other leg was bare. This subversively looked like a leg cast. Theatre well-wishers bid performers good luck with the saying ‘break a leg!’ - maybe Kawakubo was commenting on the flaws of certain aspirations that women are expected to achieve. This collection wasn’t a rejection of beauty though – far from it. She took beauty back, and claimed it on her terms. An example would be how she used the colour pink and – in the words of Elsa Schiaparelli – made it shocking. Lurid and bright, it was the colour of choice for waders – which had attached strapping like the eponymous suspender belt.
As the final looks came out, the great ships (looks) from last season, which had ominously glided towards us, seemed to return this season too. This time they had become some sort of walking surrealist lampshades, whilst the final look - pink, ruffled and shiny - was blancmange grotesque. Kawakubo will always challenge our idea of beauty, and she will always globally mish-mash cultures and times like no other.
Marie Antoinette is infamously credited with saying, ‘let them eat cake.’ Kawakubo is the ultimate designer’s designer; watch the industry devour these ideas - and ingest them as their own.