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Comme des Garçons SS17 PFW womenswear Dazed
Comme des Garçons SS17Photography Evan Schreiber

Rei Kawakubo does Comme des Garçons in its most extreme form

At her SS17 show, Kawakubo reminds us what CDG is all about with 17 looks demonstrating the enduring iconoclasm of her design lexicon

“Invisible clothes.” Those two words uttered by Rei Kawakubo might seem laughable after witnessing the cavalcade of strong, bold and almost forceful Comme that came charging at us at her latest show, were it not for the fact that you were so eager to read between the lines of those cryptic clues. However, it turned out to be the perfect oxymoronic phrase to sum up those 17 ensembles, especially as further explanation revealed that the collection was “the purest and most extreme version of Comme des Garçons”.

It’s all but formally confirmed that Kawakubo will be the subject of the next exhibition of Met’s Costume Institute (if true, it will be the second time in the gallery’s history that a living designer has been feted in a exhibition), and so this feels like an especially pertinent time to be considering what the essence of Comme des Garçons really is. What we saw yesterday was the most instinctive, visceral and overtly direct expressions of what Kawakubo has been articulating with Comme des Garçons and its associated universe for the last few decades.  

“What we saw yesterday was the most instinctive, visceral and overtly direct expressions of what Kawakubo has been articulating with Comme des Garçons and its associated universe for the last few decades”

This in-yer-face core for Comme was accompanied by a Colin Stetson reworking of Henryk Gorecki’s “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”, which might bring your mind back to the AW15 collection and its ode to the passing of life. Here though, sorrow strangely soared into joy because the most radical of Comme iterations were there for the taking. Girly coquettish Comme? She was there in the Peter Pan collared dresses and puffed-up girlish sleeves that were tripled up. Fetishistic Comme? A coating of patent sat atop a sensual red velvet, blown up with frills. Comme cocoons for shutting off the world? Anna Cleveland demonstrated this deftly with the opening and closing of her own black bubble, revealing and hiding a pleated minidress. Comme’s respect for heritage and tradition? A giant straight edged frock in CDG uniform tartan. Comme for mourning? Physical constructions of black holes and shapes that threatened to suffocate and engulf the body were also here in abundance.  

Banish the word retrospective though. The riffs of Kawakubo’s greatest hits were only faint. What was most apparent was the fundamental pillars of Comme. Adrian Joffe, who was at Kawakubo’s side backstage talked about the idea of not being able to tell where clothes ended and the body started, which perhaps has been an ongoing raison d’être for much of Kawakubo’s output – in that she consistently questions the boundaries of how fabric should be placed in context with the human body, throwing away conventions and eschewing the pragmatic.  

Another way of looking at the invisibility that Kawakubo was thinking of was the intangible and often nuanced feeling that a Comme des Garçons garment imbues the wearer with. In other words, not seeing fashion merely as garments or things to wear, decorate and enhance the body. What was “invisible” here wasn’t necessarily the clothes, but the state of being that Comme clothes engender in you. And that felt as powerful as the rousing voices of Gorecki’s chorus built up and the spotlights in the Élysée Montmartre that flickered off one by one.