On display now through Sept. 4, 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s newest exhibition at The Costume Institute, “Rei Kawakubo/Commes De Garcon: Art of the In-Between,” examines the designer’s fascination with space between boundaries. The concept of “in-betweenness” is reflected in the design of this exhibition, which is a collaboration between Kawakubo and the Met. On entering, you are met with an opening design created with crumpled and twisted brown paper; the extraordinary designs throughout are showcased in stark white geometric spaces.
Kawakubo’s fashions and their environment are a total work. Her concepts challenge conventional notions of beauty, good taste and fashion ability. A thematic exhibition, rather than a traditional retrospective, this show is The Costume Institute’s first monographic show on a living designer since the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in 1983, and this editor was anxious and thrilled to view it. The last time I reviewed a Commes des Garcon (founded by the Japanese designer in 1969) collection was in the late 1980s in Paris. It
was a huge venue.
This Costume Institute show is absolutely incredible, fascinating, causing one to question many of today’s fashion norms. Fashions were wrapped, twisted and creatively designed. Fabrics were mixed, matched and color coordinated every which way. The body was the shape of the look, even if you didn’t see arms, shoulders or hips. Just from the stance of the mannequins, you know it’s all there and it’s all so feminine. The designer worked with leather and suede in traditional jackets that topped tulle and mesh skirts. Some dresses were dramatically draped with contrasting accents. This show is fashion at its best.
“In blurring the art/fashion divide, Kawakubo asks us to think differently about clothing,” remarked Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Met. Curator Andrew Bolton explores work that often looks like sculpture in an exhibition. “This work challenges our ideas about fashion’s role in contemporary culture.”
At the Met’s opening celebration May 1, the evening’s co-chairs included Pharrell Williams, Anna Wintour, Tom Brady, Giesle Bundchen, Katy Perry. Kawakubo and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy served as honorary co-chairs. This event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions and capital improvements.
“Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years,” said Bolton, curator in change of The Costume Institute. “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.” Kawakubo has not received formal fashion training. Basically, she pursues spontaneous and experimental techniques and methods of construction.
“I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design, by denying established values, conventions and what is generally accepted as the norm,” said Kawakubo. “And the modes of expression that have always been most important to me are fusion, imbalance, unfinished elimination and absence of intent.”
Overall, the exhibition features approximately 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear designs for Commes de Garcon, dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection. Objects are organized into nine dominant and recurring aesthetics. Displays were tagged with several titles that simply allowed visitors to think while gazing at these significant shapes. Titles include “Absence/Presence,” “Design/Not Design,” “Fashion/Anti-Fashion,” “Model/Multiple,” “High/Low,” “Then/Now,” “Self/Other,” “Object/Subject; Object/subject” and “Clothes/Not Clothes.” Kawakubo breaks down imaginary walls between these dualisms, exposing their artificiality and arbitrariness. Her fashions demonstrate that interstices are pieces of meaningful connection, and coexistence as well as revolutionary innovations are pieces of meaningful connection and coexistence as well as revolutionary innovation and transformation, providing Kawakubo with endless possibilities to rethink the female body and feminine identity.