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Comme Des Garçons SS16
Comme des Garçons SS16Photography Virginie Khateeb

Up close with Comme des Garçons’ coven of witches

For SS16, Rei Kawakubo revives a past inspiration in a bewitching tribute to the strong but misunderstood women

Rich. Witch. In Rei Kawakubo’s Japanese accent, the two words can easily be mistaken for one another. But they’re the two key words that underlined Comme des Garçons’ latest discourse of expressive bodily forms that defy any banal talk of wearability or commerciality. Backstage, Kawakubo’s partner Adrian Joffe was on hand to summarise the collection: “Witches. These are strong women that are often misunderstood by the world.”  

That bears resemblance to the source of inspiration for Comme des Garçons’ AW04 collection, which Kawakubo talked to Susannah Frankel about in a Dazed archive piece from the September 2004 issue. “I was thinking about witches. Witches in the original sense of the word, in the sense of a woman having power. The original witches were benevolent but because people didn't understand them they bullied them. We're left with a bad image of them.”  

“Witches. These are strong women that are often misunderstood by the world” – Adrian Joffe  

The inspiration might have been an echo but the actual collection was no redux. Over a decade ago, the AW04 show had witches in the making – apprentices in their Victoriana inspired black and girlish ruffles. This time around, these witches dressed in riches emerged with shockingly burnt out red hair, swathed and swaddled first, in a vaguely Wiccan-passage of fur and feathered ensembles that cloaked the body in both black and white (are they good or bad – who knows). They wore the witchiest of elongated pointy shoes of course.  

Then the silhouettes became knotted, ruffled and sculpted out of the most sumptuous of velvet in shades of blue and teal.  The soundtrack was the clue in to another primary reference as tracks from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet were woven together. It’s no surprise that the dark and surreal auteur finds its way into a Comme collection. Isabella Rossellini’s character Dorothy “The Blue Lady” Vallens – the initially witch-hunted seductress – and the patch of her velvet robe fondled by Dennis Hopper’s character is enlarged into a circular velvet vortex. Your eyes were mesmerised by the shine and sheen of this deeply tactile collection. The colours and depth of the velvet constantly changed under the show spotlights that switched on and off. It was the perfect fabric for Kawakubo’s strong witchy women to be cocooned in. Now you see it. Now you don’t. That’s the kind of black magic that Kawakubo is fully adept at.  

When Joffe spoke about these misunderstood women, you couldn’t also help but think of Kawakubo herself – a small figure in black, casting spell-binding collections, that mysteriously work their way into the current of fashion, whilst being elusive to an an audience at large. Her work can often be misunderstood by the uninitiated. The brilliance of Kawakubo’s sorcery though is that it is powerful without, a) physically communicating – Kawakubo doesn’t emerge for a bow and you’ll be lucky if she throws you a verbal clue after the show, b) having a lot of looks – there were only 16 this time, and c) that it stays with you long after, unlike most fashion week ephemera. You left once again, bewitched.