While the Metropolitan Museum of Art is no stranger to showcasing clothing as art, only once before has any living designer had a solo exhibit there. That designer was Yves Saint Laurent, and his exhibit and gala were held more than three decades ago. Since that time, the museum has had an unspoken rule barring similar shows. That rule is about to be broken, and for good reason.
This coming spring, the museum will hold an exhibit and gala honoring Rei Kawakubo, the 74-year-old brain behind Comme des Garçons. Widely regarded as one of the most influential names in 20th and 21st century fashion, Kawakubo is perhaps the most well-known of the postwar Japanese avant-garde designers and is often credited with changing how people think about and define clothing. Big names have already been announced to generate buzz, like co-hosts Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams and sponsors Apple and H&M, but there is no doubt that the main talking point will be the 120 Kawakubo designs, picked from the entire 35-year range of her collections.
Andrew Bolton, the curator for the museum’s Costume Institute, said that he wanted to breach the museum’s longstanding policy to show that “fashion is a living art.” He could not have picked a better subject to demonstrate that truth. Kawakubo has been an unstoppable force of creative expression since her first collection debuted in 1981, challenging conventions not only in fashion but in society as well. A single look at her runway garments reveals that they are far more than clothes; from the provocative red hue and long, sweeping curves of 2015’s “Roses and Blood” collection to the construction of tops from shoulderpads in her Spring 2010 show, the details and themes of Comme des Garçons shows are meant to evoke not a desire to purchase, but rather raw emotion. It is the perfect example of art created using the medium of textile.
Although it is easy and enjoyable to get caught up in fashion trends, taking the time to interact with work like Kawakubo’s is the very important and often-overlooked other side of that coin. Her reactionary, critical, bold statements in fabric are powerful in part because her audience is so enthralled by trends and by the industry at large. For younger people, many of who are most familiar with Comme des Garçons’s accessible diffusion line, PLAY, the exhibit will be an enlightening look into Kawakubo’s more thoughtful seminal works and the history of anti-fashion. For those who are already devotees of Comme des Garçons Ready-to-Wear, the event will be no less important, a crowning achievement and celebration for a woman more than deserving of the occasion.
Which is your favorite Comme des Garçons Ready-to-Wear collection? Let me know here or find me on Twitter @BillChangNY