Monday, June 30, 2014

BEAUTY: Clothing--Comme des Garçons

Comme des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo, the house's creative director, has a mind that would be a fascinating place to visit. Her collections always feel effortlessly esoteric, as if the machinations of her brain are naturally obscure and thus hard to follow for us normal folk. I feel the same way when I listen to the mind-boggling multi-media artist Matthew Barney speak. Oh, I understand what he is saying, what he means, and how he got there. It's just that I would never have gone down that road. Her collections consist of entire leaps of thought, strange non-sequiturs, and mash-ups of the unlikeliest kind. It must be like Mister Toad's Wild Ride in her brain, with ideas careening and bouncing off each other like pinballs. Some collide and create the head-scratching, jaw-dropping dense artistic statements for which Comme des Garçons is known.

But this collection, upon closer inspection, ends up being not so obscure after all. It was a clear and concise anti-war statement (Kawakubo wrote slogans on her pieces like "Soldier For Peace" and "Peace, Love, and Empathy") that joined the other marvelous anti-war clothing statements this season like Frankie Morello's "Make Art Not War" collection at Milano Moda Uomo, and Craig Green's powerful "silent protest" and Matthew Miller's anti-war collection both at London Collections: Men.

Tim Blanks writing about this most recent Comme des Garçons collection at, as usual, articulates it perfectly:

"It is impossible to be a thinking person and not be mortified by the world's descent into sectarian mayhem, from Nigeria to Syria to Ukraine, and beyond that, to the school shootings, the rapes, the acts of random violence that darken the urban landscape by the day. And Rei Kawakubo is a thinking person. But her protest was mostly in the form of metaphor, those few word pieces aside. The show opened with cadet-smart outfits infected with primal animal prints, which were quickly joined by camouflage netting overlays, like an effort to cage the beast within. Another print looked like a child's scribble of shells exploding in the sky, a reminder of who war's real victims usually are. A double-breasted suit in lilac silk shantung, as straightforwardly alluring as any item Kawakubo has ever shown, was ensnared in a camo netting coat, which maybe had something to say about the way that war camouflages beauty. 'Anything war can do, peace can do better' was the expression of optimism on the back of one of the finale's graffiti pieces. They're only words, but words are all we have. And that might have been Kawakubo's final, poignant comment on our fundamental powerlessness in the face of the global epidemic of violence."

This is a perfect example of why I find haute couture at this level so fascinating. It is exactly like conceptual or abstract art. It is the artist finding something within or without and wishing to express this raw sentiment, this idea that has moved the artist. But how to do this? Painters work with paint, sculptors can work with wood, marble, steel, and writers of course use words. But artists who work in fashion use fabric and clothing materials to recreate this sentiment, to convey this idea. And very complicated, profound ideas can be communicated within this medium.

And about those shoes... Blanks is a scholar as well: "For a hundred or so years, from the late 14th century onward, a fashion persisted in Europe for a style of shoe called the krakow, with a toe so extravagantly long (called a poulaine) that it sometimes needed a whalebone or a string tied to the knee to keep it from getting in the way while its wearer was walking." The inference of course is that the shoe is so unwieldy and so impractical, it could only be worn for lounging or posing, pastimes that have nothing to do with combat...

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