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Rei Kawakubo gives us the art of in between

By Kristopher Fraser

May 3, 2017


The first Monday in May marks the Superbowl of fashion: The Met Gala. Put on by Vogue's long reigning editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, a couple hundred celebrities and fashion industry insiders gather at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Manhattan's Upper East Side. This year's event was chaired by Wintour, Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, and Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.

The subject in question was Comme Des Garçons' designer Rei Kawakubo.

Kawakubo is the first living designer to be honored at the Met since Yves Saint Laurent in 1983. While her brand has become world famous, she is known for rarely giving interviews, and being very elusive to the public eye.

She has developed a huge following from those who love the Play Comme Des Garçons line to those who have been collecting her runway collection pieces for years, she never sought out for commercial success. After the conclusion of one of her runway shows she once remarked she wanted to scrap the whole thing because she felt she didn't do anything.

FashionUnited at the Met exhibit @metmuseum #fashion #fashionunited #met #exhibit

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And yet, a woman who never set out to sell clothes managed to capture the eye of The Met and Wintour, along with the entire fashion industry since 1973, enough to give her the distinction of being one of the lucky designers that costume institute curator Andrew Bolton put on display.

The celebrities came out in droves, with surprisingly only so many wearing Comme des Garçons, with red carpet queen Rihanna shutting down the show as usual in an avant garde floral Comme Des Garçons number.

The genius behind Rei Kawakubo

What magic did Kawakubo bring that made the exhibit so marvelous? For starters, let's remember that Kawakubo is credited with inventing black. Yes, that might sound crazy but Kawakubo originally started off using no color in her collections, but, rather, opted for black as a color palette. During her 1973 runway show, attendees said you could actually see all the variations of the color black in her clothes.

Her personal fandom for the color black was on display with a selection of very gothic and witchy looks.

Then came the era of Thierry Mugler, when bright colors dominated the runway, and Kawakubo, to keep in line with the times, did a collection where the dominant color palette was red. When asked why she said, "Red is the new black."

#metkawakubo STARTS MAY 4. @alexandraagoston @roversi @juliendys courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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For Kawakubo, it was never about trying to selling clothes, rather she sees fashion as art. She recently did an entire collection that featured no fabric, only industrial materials.

For this exhibit, it was important that it was not treated as retrospective of her collections over the past 40 years, but rather an homage to the art of in between. Kawakubo plays with the abstract, somewhere in between the realm of fashion and art, that leaves you with more questions after one of her runway shows than before it.

To your more fashionable museum goer, you would look at it and ask: is this anti-fashion?

Kawakubo, unlike many of her contemporaries, has no formal design training. She studied art and literature at university, and worked as a stylist before she set out to create the now famed Comme Des Garçons brand. Her anti-fashion approach appears to be rooted in the fact that she never aimed to be your traditional fashion industry insider. She was always that woman who was outside of the box.

This is reflected in her work and in the exhibit through pieces that gave no attention to the body and were all about protrusions and giving no concern to the human form.

Comme Des Garçons has gone through many phases throughout its history, from doing all black, to going red, and in 2012 where they chose to do all white.

Perhaps Kawakubo's genius also lies in her ability to be ever changing. She never gets stuck in her ways, as can be seen in her work. Although, there are things that are unique to her design aesthetic, such as the protrusions, playing with portions and lack of concern for wearability or functionality. However, every Comme Des Garçons collection is always uniquely different, all with the goal of Kawakubo trying to do or say something, and if she doesn't think she has, she wants the collection scrapped, though she has never gone that far to actually go through with never selling anything.

Through sheer talent and the industry's undying fascination with her, Kawakubo has become one of the most celebrated designers worldwide. Some argue whether she is an artist or a fashion designer, but either way, she is a creator, and create she has. From May 4 until September 4 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, her creations shall be on display for the world to critique, ogle and enjoy.

Photo: via Emeair PR and FashionUnited

Rei Kawakubo