Yesterday evening, the Costume Institute’s latest exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, becoming, in the process, the first time that a living designer has been the subject of the Institute’s inaugural exhibition since Yves Saint Laurent. But Rei, a true visionary, has long challenged assumptions – demonstrating a steadfast refusal to be defined in typical fashion terms, even as Comme des Garçons’ influence looms large over the industry. Here, viewers are invited to lose themselves in a labyrinth of her finest creations – from Spring 1997’s “lumps-and-bumps” collection to the mesmerising organic forms that were shown in Paris just months ago. And, to note, this is no proverbial labyrinth, but a real one – a maze of Comme des Garcons, where viewers must navigate their own way around the exhibition with very little in the way of wall text, only futuristic white boxes, some stacked on top of each other. And there’s nothing to separate the public from the work – no glass, no barriers. Word has it that Rei doesn’t even mind if you touch them.
Andrew Bolton, Head Curator at the Costume Institute, did this purposefully, wanting Rei’s work to be interpreted not through the museum’s words, but as they are seen – echoing the designer’s reticence to describe her own work. “Realise the limitations of your intellect and you free your mind, and by freeing your mind, you get to another point,” said Andrew Bolton. Sounds simple enough. But what does this point look like? How do I know when I get there? Well, that’s the very thing – it defies categorisation: Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Design/Not Design, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes are the themes chosen for the exhibition by Rei, a woman who has long prided herself on a refusal to be categorised, something that is playfully reflected in the show.
The exhibition is, for all this talk of non-categorisation, loosely split into two sections, considered by Bolton to represent the two most significant moments in Kawakubo’s illustrious career. The first is 1979, when she separated from her native connection to Japan to embark on her own, unique approach to fashion. This part of the exhibition is laid out in a more orthodox way, like that 1997 “Body Meets Dress – Dress Meets Body” collection, showcased here in a large white tunnel with by Merce Cunningham’s accompanying film – it’s only when we move into post-2014, when Kawakubo vowed to stop making clothes, that realising the limitations of your intellect really starts to come in handy. This is work that requires you to merely give yourself over to its brilliance – and we recommend you do so, in person. It’s worth the flight.
Photographs courtesy of Vogue
Our round-up of the Met Gala red carpet is here…