“For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty.” – Rei Kawakubo
Stepping into an exhibit of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo’s clothing feels like entering into a fantasy world of color, curves and whimsical wigs.
The fashion/art exhibit is aptly titled “Art of the In-Between.” About 140 of Kawakubo’s items of women’s clothing are on display through September 4, 2017. The earliest pieces are from the 1980s. Kawakubo is the second living designer to have a solo exhibition at The Met.
Who could actually successfully pull off wearing such avant garde ensembles? (Rihanna for one, at least according to the Met Gala photos.)
Amazing piece worn by Rihanna at the Met Gala, look created by the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons Fall 2016) pic.twitter.com/PGwYWiS2iv
— 6iKstones (@6iKstones) May 6, 2017
Rihanna’s outfit was on display at the Kawakubo exhibit, squeezed in between samurai-style inspired ensembles.
Not many celebrities dare to wear Kawakubo’s outfit as Rihanna did. But this is fashion as art – not for mass appeal or consumption.
Visiting the exhibit felt like my most New York-y experience of my recent trip to the city.
My favorite piece was “Good Taste/Bad Taste.”
In fact, watching the intense and serious spectators at the exhibit was almost as entertaining and intriguing as the fashion itself.
Perhaps most compelling character was a tiny preschool-aged girl dressed in all black, with a pink purse and a fuchsia hat. Wherever she walked, she drew stares and squeals of delight as she posed in front of the fashion exhibits.
Kawakubo began her career focused on shades of black. But from there, she moved on to bolder colors and experimented with form.
As The New York Times pointed out, “..what Ms. Kawakubo creates is not all even recognizably clothing. The pieces may be elaborately bulbous or bulging; tatty or fraying; they may or may not make allowances for their wearer’s arms, or faces, or vanity.”
You should visit this exhibit to feel something different, not if you are looking to see a red carpet glam gown.
There were the spiky headpieces that reminded me of characters straight out of an illustrated Dr. Seuss book.
There were plenty of wigs that reminded me of something a British barrister or judge might wear to court.
The entrance was immediately greeted by misshapen figures. The clothes have curves and lumps, and bumps of their own.
As The Atlantic noted, Kawakubo “has long been alternately hailed as an innovator and demonized for creating aggressively unattractive clothing that is out-of-step with its time.”
But this radical departure from traditional designers is what makes the Met exhibit a “surprisingly timely reminder of the need to embrace bodily differences and vulnerabilities.”
I was fascinated by the embrace of curvy bodies, something traditional fashion most certainly rejects. Of course, the curves were from randomly placed pads — not from the shape of any body.
There was a tubular pink dress that was quite playful.
And of course there is the classic New York color: black.
There were also some twisted over the top wedding dresses.
I don’t think I saw a single item of clothing on display that I would ever aspire to wear, but I certainly still walked away intrigued by this whimsical sense of style.
The New York Times perfectly described how Kawakubo differs from other big name fashion icons:
“Many designers work with the goal of making women look good. Ms. Kawakubo seems to work with the goal of making woman look again.”
- Rei Kawakubo/Commes des Garçons Art of the In–Between, The Met Website
- “Rei Kawakubo, the Nearly Silent Oracle of Fashion,” The New York Times
- “7 Key Themes in Rei Kawakubo’s Career,” The New York Times
- “A Conversation about Rei Kawakubo, Founder of Comme des Garcons,” The New York Times
- “Here’s What You Need to Know About This Year’s Met Gala,” People
- “The Alienating Garments of Rei Kawakubo,” The Atlantic
- “Rei Kawakubo’s Designs for Comme des Garcons are Liberating for the Female Body,” Artsy