Stand Together. Comme Des Garçons SS23

A lamentation for the sorrow in the world today / And a feeling of wanting to stand together.” So disclosed the press notes for the return of Comme des Garçons to Paris. Rei Kawakubo is back. And trust Kawakubo to lean against the prevailing winds, then transport us further and in fewer looks because of it. Last season, as Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, fashionland scrambled to be somber, doffing the cap. This season, as that invasion and many other frightening geopolitical scenarios rumble on, normal escapist service has been resumed. But this was anti-fashion. Kawakubo’s process is personal and private: The design and its agenda is her business. Here there were perhaps a few readable clues in a collection whose looks were abstractedly sculptural. The models were their podiums. Was look 4 a worn egg cup or a woman inverted? Was look 16 a flowery doughnut or an ironically framed metaphysical void? But you might say something else entirely about these worn impressions. The only thing we’d all agree upon is that this was not conventional clothing. The level of fabric research was intense and heightened; slickly sheeny lacquered lace and sugary-sweet, color-heaped floral jacquards. On some looks you could see the fossilized traces of “normal” pieces – a biker here, a gown there – but all were distended and distorted and blown up or reduced via twists and aggregations of imagination. Some of the models wore headpieces in folded card flowers or apparently hodgepodge steampunk-ish assemblages, half-helmet, half-crown. Created under a briefing by Gary Card and Valériane Venance, these looked to resemble virgin crants, the maiden’s garlands in which young, prematurely deceased women were buried in pre-Reformation England. They were chilling.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
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Black Rose. Comme Des Garcons AW22

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.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

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