“For me, the dark beauty of the black rose symbolizes courage, resistance, and freedom”, Rei Kawakubo stated regarding her Comme des Garçons autumn-winter 2022 show presented a few days ago in Tokyo. The black rose in Irish culture is a symbol of resistance against British rule. It might be a bit hard to discern it in the Comme lineup – it only comes in, patterned on a sort of Victoriana brocade at the 12th of the 16 exits. It’s certain that anti-British imperialism in Ireland is what Kawakubo meant, though, because the haunting music – “a beautiful resistance song from Ireland, Roisin Dubh, the little black rose,” was recorded for the show by the Northern Irish slow flautist Ciaran Carlin. Possibly that’s the most political reference Kawkubo’s made in her work – it has no equivalence to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, except for the common factor of dangerously contested borders. But anyway: how to put words to her clothes? Was a sense of dark history, something primal, or even medieval going on? It seemed so to begin with anyway, what with Kawkubo’s use of thick, wadded, speckled-gray felt carpet underlay (or something similar) and headpieces created by Gary Card bulging with assortments of rough, rolled up fabrics. Other hand-crocheted floppy woollen hats had the air of bonnets, country-cottage style. Comme des Garçons hasn’t been showing outside Tokyo for two years, and Paris Fashion Week really misses its presence. Hopefully, Kawakubo (as well as Junya Watanabe and Noir Kei Ninomiya) returns to the French runway next season.
Livestreamed from Tokyo, Rei Kawakubo went for her signature giant portable Comme Des Garçons sculptures this season, imprinted with exaggerated flowers, leaves and bows. There were huge shapes, which meant models had to squeeze or shuffle sideways to emerge through a door onto a set. It didn’t feel like one of Kawakubo’s dystopian, apocalyptic moments in which she has seemed to sound a warning about bad things coming. Was her popping-out scenario closer to suggesting a feeling of rebirth, re-emergence, maybe? If so, it’s into a world where – as other fashion designers have been saying – nothing makes sense. Randomness, surrealism and absurdity are registering as part of the mood of 2021. Kawakubo, in confronting her “present state of mind” went large, very, very large, occupying space in ways that no women is meant to (though to be honest, vast art-fashion structures have been her safe space for experimenting for years). She certainly met her own criterion of avoiding making clothes. Comme “dresses” were presented as abstract perambulating 3-D fabric structures, topped off with pastiches of plastic cartoon girly wigs by Gary Card. Some of them had a sort of curved prow; several had net-filled cones spurting from their backs; some were ovoid, another was a 3-D black trashbag flower. Eventually there was an impression of the weight of furnishing fabric and swishing curtain swags. In the end there was a piece that seemed to have entirely merged a woman with a comfy black and white upholstered armchair. Paris Fashion Week missed having the Comme de Garçons show to contemplate at a time when fashion needs fearless innovators to take it forward. Kawakubo sets an example for all: a designer who has been independent for a lifetime and is still pushing.