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In Case You Missed It: Snaps Of The Commes Des Garçons Clothes From Last Year’s Exhibit

In a few hours, they will be rolling out the red carpet for this year’s Met Gala, and while the theme “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and The Catholic Imagination” conjures resplendent vestments and the most luxurious couture, the clothes on exhibition will be inevitably out-shadowed by the show on the museum steps. The curated selection of clothes, carefully and thoughtfully prepared for months, will take a backseat for the Olympics of fashion: the spectacle of which celebrity is wearing which designer and which fashion muse knocked it out of the park this time with her bombastic dress.

Do you still remember the clothes that were the actual causes for the celebration last year? No? Thought so.

Having had the fortune of being in New York around the time of its opening, I got to visit the “Rei Kawakubo/ Commes des Garçons: Art of the In Between.” Not during the gala, unfortunately, although I did catch a glimpse of Naomi Campbell stepping out of the Hotel Carlyle on her way to the Metropolitan Museum (I was on my way to see Woody Allen play the flute with his jazz band). It was a few days after, but there was still a sizeable crowd that Saturday morning. There was a fashion show, too, of sorts, care of the expectedly fashion-forward visitors: a man in a patchwork denim jacket, a woman in a white Kawakubo tutu dress with black harness posing like there’s no tomorrow in each of the suites. There were, of course, the ordinarily-dressed tourists, some of who were aghast at some of the clothes on display. “Who would wear that?!” said an old woman, scowling.


Red dresses with lumps and bumps from spring 1997


Clothes from the Body Meets Dress collection in 1997?


A masterwork fashioned from brown paper bag, from fall 2017?


Madcap origami dresses from the suite Design/Not Design?


From the collection that matched biker jackets with ballerina style


The exhibition displayed some 150 clothes of Kawakubo she did for Comme des Garçons, each of them an artwork in itself, an exploration of a garment’s relationship with the body. Since the designer launched her career in 1981 in Paris, she has carved a name for herself making clothes like no other designer: choosing to work with inexpensive fabrics in the beginning, fashioning clothes out of paper bag material, putting lumps and bumps in her dresses in areas of the body where no lumps and bumps should be. “For something to be beautiful,” she once said, “it doesn’t have to be pretty.”

It is in sticking to her point of view that she became influential; that she knew how to make the foundations of clothing like the best of them, despite the lack of formal training, gave the rawness of her work that stamp of authenticity.


Kawakubo's prom dressed encaged in black tape


Tartan clothes from fall/winter 2000?


A supreme example of how Kawakubo combines construction and whimsy?


Spot the teddy bear amidst the ruffles. ?


She once said that if you're asking where to wear a certain piece, then maybe you missed the point.


What’s alluring to her is not exactly the popular idea of what’s attractive. “Comme des Garcons is a gift to oneself, not something to appeal or to attract the opposite sex,” Kawakubo once told an interviewer. She is not interested in the accepted ideas of black and white; she is interested in the in-betweens—which was how her show was curated. Each section was an expression of what’s in the middle of “Bound/Unbound,” “Fact/Fiction,” “War/Peace,” “Abstraction and Representation.” These are the titles of each suite in the show mounted inside one of the Met’s cavernous spaces, which was painted in all white—all the better to showcase the genius imagination and craftsmanship of each garment. Most of the clothes are not for the faint-hearted, or as she once said, not “for the woman who is swayed by what her husband thinks.” But they are exemplars of strenuous work and stupendous creativity, of fashion as art. But are they beautiful? As per Kawakubo, “Beauty is whatever anyone thinks is beautiful.”   


Clothes from the War/Peace suite


Clothes from the War/Peace suite?


A fantastical piece from the Fact/Fiction suite?


An exuberant blue dress with feathers in the Fact/Fiction suite?


What Rihanna wore at last year's Met Gala, from Kawakubo's fall 2016 collection


A duo from the Life/Loss suite


Photographs by Jerome Gomez