Comme des Garçons Made Me Hardcore. Rei Kawakubo has lots of reasons to celebrate - a stellar exhibition dedicated to her work opened recently at the Met’s Costume Institute in New York. It’s the second ever solo show to be dedicated to a living designer (the first was Yves Saint Laurent in 1983). Quite the achievement. So no wonder she was in the mood for a party.
Her past few collections have felt concerned, compassionate, reflective. Themes of war, displacement and masculinity have dominated her work. This was a more optimistic affair - what says optimism more than sparkle? Or disco lights? Or dancing? DJ extraordinaire Frédéric Sanchez set the mood and amped up the nostalgia by playing Supernature. Models danced with varying degrees of awkwardness. That added to the success of the show. The mood wasn’t mindless fun and happy hedonism. More that euphoric, urgent escapism of moving clumsily in a club - of whiling away hours on the dancing floor, bumping into fellow revellers, searching for meaning, looking for love. Models looked like boys at the end of the night, keen to find some vague purpose to keep them going for a few more hours.
Sounds fun? Yes, but there was depth too. The collection was dubbed What's On The Inside Matters - strangely ironic, given that nights out are almost entirely about surface and luring others in with outfits, knowing glances and moves. The title was a reference to the clothes - jackets were almost entirely worn inside out. Only a Comme des Garçons jacket could be so beautiful that the internal panels, crafted often in florals or busy patterns, could look so at home on the outside. Three special styles were made in collaboration with Mona Luison, a textile sculptor whose work is childlike and warped, hence all those doll heads and terrifying baby faces. These pieces were the stuff of nightmares - a perfect version of a bad trip. For the finale, all the models reappeared on the square elevated platform that formed Kawakubo’s runway. They bopped mindlessly, bumping into each other, striking poses for the photographers. Close your eyes slightly and it looked like a scene from a Mark Leckey art film. As the last one left, and the music began to fade, the clapping began. It didn’t stop even after the lights went up and the sound finished. At most shows, just as the final model disappears from view, the front row leap to attention, rushing for the door. Here, we all stayed. Clapping. Smiling. Wishing for more. For seasons, we’ve all been complaining shows are mundane, repetitive, similar, safe. Kawakubo’s message, straight after opening her retrospective, is that she’s still setting the pace. After that, others need to work much harder.