Met Costume Institute to Shine a “Rei” of Light on Comme des Garçons Designer?

“You can tell if it’s a good collection if people are afraid of it. In ten years, everyone will love it.” – Rei Kawakubo

Although it’s Labor Day Weekend and we have not one, but two NYFW’s to get through before the return of the first Monday in May aka the Costume Institute Gala, nothing stops the relentless curiosity/chatter of the fashion press. Rumor has it that Rei Kawakubo, the elusive septuagenarian founder of Comme des Garçons and Dover Street Market will be the subject of next spring’s always highly anticipated Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute’s exhibition. If speculation holds true, she will be only the second living designer to receive this honor since the 1983 exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent overseen by Diana Vreeland. It’s hard to believe that Ms. Kawakubo would deign to venture out of the shadows when her last foray with the press was so widely derided. (See article)

Lady Gaga in Paris in Rei Kawakubo 2D felt dress
Photo: Getty Images

In somewhat related news, either I jumped the gun or maybe it was prescience when I happened to wear my one and only CDG jacket to last May’s press preview for Manus x Machina exhibition. I had purchased the jacket ages ago because I loved it but let’s face it– like most of Kawakubo’s designs, it’s not the kind of thing you can wear every day. I kept it ever closeted never really knowing when the right occasion to wear it would arise. As the Japanese designer was one of the featured designers for that exhibition (and since I didn’t own a robot suit or anything remotely mechanized that would cover the Machina angle) I decided that this was a good time to let it out to speak for itself.

Laurel Marcus in Comme de Garçons
Photo: Patrick Jones Roth

Who knew? It literally shouted, requiring its owner (moi) to strike frequent poses inside the Met. I myself never took a photo until I stopped into its place of origin — Roundabout Consignment on 83rd and Madison and had the amazing, talented and always helpful Patrick Jones Roth document my outfit. Assuming that an announcement of Ms. Kawakubo’s place in Met history is forthcoming, the question arises — do I wear the jacket again this year or opt for something new? Since none of this is Met confirmed,

2001 Comme des Garçons velvet mesh panels suit

I decided to just have a little peek at the Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons items currently available online. According to Allure (See article) Kawakubo is known for several distinctive looks, five of which are detailed in the article and should be on view in the exhibition. These include: Lumps and Bumps Collection of Spring 1997; the 2D Frocks of Fall 2012; the Broken Bride of 2005; the Undone Knitwear of 1982; and her latest Pink Armor collection.

Iris Apfel is a Kawakubo fan
Photo: Jeff Bark

Allure even suggests that due to a prior interview with Met Curator Andrew Bolton, the idea of a dual show including Azzedine Alaia, (along the lines of the Spring 2012 “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” exhibition), could be planned, My suggested title: “Possible Conversations” since both designers are living. Bolton liked the idea of an Alaia/Kawakubo interaction as he stresses Alaia is all about technique while Kawakubo is all about concept. Sounds like he’s a man who loves dichotomy as we just witnessed through “Manus x Machina.”

Comme des Garçons 2D Felt Dress

It is worth noting that many of these items are really intended for museum collections rather than for wear. In addition, you will not see many of Kawakubo’s designs intended as formal wear, which should add an interesting element to the gala’s red carpet. Few other than Lady Gaga, who has worn Kawakubo’s 2D felt dresses and other looks, can really pull them off with aplomb. I think we can cross both Lena Dunham (who felt ignored by her dinner partner) and Amy Schumer (who said the night was “punishment”) off the guest list in light of their recent Gwyneth Paltrow-istic criticism of the whole affair.

Comme des Garçons Lumps & Bumps 
sculptural runway dress 1997

One rare example is the Lumps and Bumps dresses or “Body Meet Dress, Dress Meets Body” collection. This Spring 1997 collection is one of the most known and was meant to play with the interaction between the form of the body and the surface of the dress, even creating an unfilled bump at the hip which the wearer needs to stuff with a pillow or other padding. The 2D felt frocks are meant to resemble real-life paper dolls with their flat construction. They give the wearer an interesting yet wide silhouette so if you don’t wish to appear “large and in charge” beware.

Broken Bride for Museum Collectors

The Broken Bride collection employs Victorian era ivory silk and cotton meant to look like parchment in various state of deconstruction, complete with pre-stains (rather than tea stained)! Look 23 is really one piece — a coat attached to an asymmetric dress with patterns of lace.

Comme des Garçons 2007 bolero

Of course, other more affordable and less precious options exist. How about a $500 pink bolero which could be added to any outfit. It’s sure to give that LBD a “Rei “of hope and fabulousness that speaks volumes without having to talk, even to the press.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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