Neo Future. Comme Des Garçons AW20

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Is it impossible to make something completely and utterly new, since we are all living in this world?”, Rei Kawakubo asked rhetorically in the press notes of her autumn-winter 2020 Comme Des Garçons collection. Looking at some “big” designers for a couple of seasons, this question is an actual punch with a fist. At this stage in her legendary career, what’s still driving Kawakubo is the tantalizing goal of being able to make work that relates to nothing else; that triggers no associations; is devoid of storytelling and free of history, politics, or satire; and is incapable of being interpreted as belonging to any culture or subconscious brew of any of the above. Among the 20 looks she sent out –  bubbles, ledged pieces apparently made for furniture, towering headpieces – it felt like she was aiming to design for some post-world state. There appeared to be echoes of Comme Des Garçons collections from the past – the Flat collection; the ones rotated around the idea of weddings and funerals; fragmented reminders of the Lumps and Bumps presentation. Kawakubo admitted it was true – she really let herself remix some of her past works. “Continuing my work as a perpetual futurist, I worked from within the CDG world.” But when you’re having such a well-formed, complex and distinct vocabulary – Miuccia Prada as well comes up to my mind as one of those designers – then there’s no wonder you want to recycle some of those concepts from time to time.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

The 2010s / Comme Des Garçons AW12

Believe it or not – I can’t! – but we’re heading towards a new millenium. So, how do you choose the most important collections, designers and labels of the decade? The ones that made an actual impact in the 2010s? Well, it’s not an easy task. It all began in September 2009 with New York’s spring-summer 2010 shows and ended when the autumn-winter 2019 haute couture shows wrapped in Paris. Few thousands of shows, by the way. There will be 19 posts (that’s really the only possible minimum!) reminding about the best – and if not the best, then strongly influencing – moments in fashion.

Rei Kawakubo‘s “flat” collection, Comme Des Garçons AW12.

Back in 2012, I was 13. And this collection was a complete fantasy for me. “The future’s in two dimensions” was its provocative premise. The cutout paper-dolliness of looks like the red and pink felted coat-dresses that opened the show, or the lilac jacket and pants that followed – all that was amazingly odd and phenomenal at the same time. In fact, this wasn’t just about fun dressing up – hello, it’s Rei Kawakubo’s work! – but rather a comment on the state of the industry (there was a sort of creativity crisis in the end of 2000s and the beginnings of 2010s, to be honest). If the fashion industry was happy with coverage that reduces its most elevated endeavors to two dimensions, then Rei was going to reduce the industry itself to an equally flat proposition. A handful of ultra-clichéd fashion patterns – camo, leopard, florals, polka dots – were used in the most literal of ways. The “eveningwear” was all about sequins, the ultimate evening cliché. How flat! Kawakubo mocked fashion and us, the viewers, but at the same she created wearable, geometric art-works that still make you sigh with delight. Here’s Iris Apfel photographed by Jeff Bark for Dazed & Confused wearing the most striking pieces from the collection. Naturally, the 13 year old me needed that issue. And the today me still cherishes it for this stunning editorial.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Dover Street Parfums Market

25 years after the launch of the first Comme des Garçons perfume, 15 years after opening the first Dover Street Market in London, Comme des Garçons opens Dover Street Parfums Market in Paris. It’s a place you never knew you needed so much. Located two minutes from Musée Picasso, this outpost of DSM is dedicated to beauty with a selection of perfumes, cosmetic and make-up brands from around the world. From avant-garde independent young labels (Kerosene, 19-69, Ormaie…) to the most established and classic references, it’s an explosion of scents, sounds and textures. Skincare, body and hair care products are also part of the proposal, with a majority of sustainable and organic brands aimed for all the human spectrum. It’s about authencity, diversity, originality and inclusivity. Special guests include Gucci with its Alchemist’s Garden line; Byredo’s unique corner; events by MAC cosmetics (and their Instagram-big Comme Des Garçons tattoo kit available only here); Julien D’Ys’ hair installations; and Thom Browne who is about to launch his very first perfume range entitled 09.27.65. Dover Street Parfums Market has no commercial visuals, logos or gifts with purchases. As for the interior, Rei Kawakubo designed a forest of pillars with egg shaped shelves carved within them. Mainstream beauty stores and department stores are becoming even more bleak and charmless in my eyes now.

11 bis rue Elzevir / Paris

Orlando. Comme Des Garçons SS20

Rei Kawakubo presented a collection of unbridled opulence and transporting fantasy in the second of three shows themed on Virgina Woolf’s ever-inspiring novel, “Orlando“. The men’s show back in June was Act I, this is Act II. Act III is coming up in Vienna in December, at the premiere of Olga Neuwirth’s opera adaptation of the mentioned literary masterpiece. The narrative of the Comme des Garçons show ran in tandem with Woolf’s time travelling protagonist, jumping from Elizabethan times through the 18th and 19th century to the present. And, Kawakubo also added her own chapter: the future. The first part of the show, the Elizabethan period, was overfilled and stuffed with ornaments and details, and the garments seemed to be decaying with their splendour the same moment they appeared on the runway. With every look, the amount of decorations seemed to decrease. The last silhouettes – would never call them clothes – were all-black, minimal in cut and big. The future is unknown and uncertain. Or maybe black is the symbol of transformation, Orlando-wise? As always, Kawakubo raises many questions for you to answer yourself.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Gathering of the shadows. Comme Des Garçons AW19

Rei Kawakubo’s autumn-winter 2019 is the second season when the Comme des Garçons designer no longer does abstract bodies. In the collection she entitled as a Gathering of the shadows, you could sense danger: nearly all-black looks, executioner hoods, armor-like shapes, a soundtrack that definitely caused goose-bumps (think heavy, militaristic machinery, helicopters and English Victorian hymn in children voice). Some thought the show was all about defensive aggression and the terror of today’s world. Kawakubo knows what’s going on, with nationalism intensifying across the world. But maybe this wasn’t a line-up that was solely about the occurring circumstances? Rei’s shows are here for your free interpretation. I saw something very sublime about this one. A coat made from slices of leather; a black taffeta dress worn under a shell-like jacket; fishnet body-suits worn under every garment. It was avant-garde, as shocking in 2019 as back in the 80s, when Japanese designers – lead by Kawakubo – arrived to Paris with their Hiroshima chic.

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Moving. Comme Des Garçons SS19

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Rei Kawakubo’s spring-summer 2019 seemed to be opening a new chapter, but then it appeared to be much more intimate and internal than one might have thought. The Comme Des Garçons designer stopped her short (but one of the most memorable during Paris fashion week), abstract, ‘no clothes’ shows after ten seasons, and returned to bigger line-ups that consist of ready-to-wear (or rather hints of ready-to-wear). But as usual with Kawakubo, nothing is that simple. “I felt this approach was no longer new, and I looked for what is new, what is new. But I could not find it,” went the pre-show statement. “What I thought of in the end was a profoundly internal approach… about what’s deep inside.” This was the season’s most deep and profound collection. It was about a woman, and women in general. Especially, about women today, about all the limitations, pains and struggles. Few models had heavy chains strapped beneath their tattoo-like, second-skin dresses. Others wore tailored jackets with ‘cut out’ shoulders, as if somehow violently dissected their bodies.

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Comme Des Garçons, ‘Lumps and Bumbs’, autumn-winter 1997.

Remember the ‘Lumps and Bumps’ collection?  Kawakubo seemed to refer to it. But this time, the shapes were more gentle, natural. Pregnancy bellies-like protrusions stack out from tweedy blazers and fluffy, black dresses. Some were printed with Comme Des Garçons logo, suggesting Kawakubo’s perception of her huge brand, which consists of a number of divisions and all the Dover Street Market Store, as of her child she has to nurture and protect. The grey hair, supplied by Julien d’Ys, spark conversations on age and self-acceptance. To create, and then publicly present, something so personal, disturbing, yet darkly beautiful, requires true power from the inside. It’s more than impressive to see how Kawakubo pushes her limits every season and sends out so many emotions through the medium of fashion (I mean her multi-faceted idea of fashion, not fashion that’s repeated by the rest). Truly moving.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Camp. Comme Des Garçons AW18

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In honour of International Women’s Day, taking a look at Comme Des Garçons autumn-winter 2018 is well advised. Rei Kawakubo is an icredible woman: she is assertive in everything she does, enigmatic, yet sharp. Her company is an empire (even though she would hate that word). Her main line of garments (counting of 16 this season) brings reflection and creativity in every sense of this word to fashion each season. This time, the spirit was more uplifting than usual. Actually, Rei was reading ‘Notes on Camp,’ Susan Sontag’s essay from 1964. As the author wrote, “Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, not judgment. Camp is generous, it wants to enjoy. . . . Camp is a tender feeling.” The feeling is all over in here. Clashed clothes, camo with polka dots, sequins and mattresses, flowers and Betty Boop. Mix. Mash. Destroy. Create. Simply incredible.

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

Enigmatic. Comme Des Garçons SS18

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As usual, Rei Kawakubo‘s Comme des Garçons leaves it open to your very personal interpretation. Many questions arise, for which no answer will be given in terms of a simplistic ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Why was the collection presented at the Brutalist building of Russian embassy in Paris? Why were some of the model’s garments and headpieces featuring Hello Kitty and My Little Pony toys? What was the idea behind clashing Arcimboldo’s 16th century painting with manga? Patchwork, graffiti, accumulation. Childishness, anxiety, volumes. Does Rei even care, you critics and bloggers?

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Collage by Edward Kanarecki.

That’s Rei

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Never enough of Rei Kawakubo. All garments from Comme des Garçons’ autumn-winter 2017 collection.

Publication: The NY Times Magazine April 2017 Model: Saskia de Brauw Photographer: Erik Madigan Heck Hair & Make-Up: Julien D’Ys