Rei Kawakubo and the Met Gala

The calm before the storm of the Kawakubo/Gala celebration.

The Met Gala is only a few days away, and there’s a certain feeling in the atmosphere – it’s not good or bad per say – perhaps it’s anticipation, expectation, fear, or excitement. Who wouldn’t feel this way, when the theme of this year’s Met Exhibition is set to celebrate beloved designer Rei Kawakubo, her cult-alluring career and her style, which has been cemented in the industry in such an unexpected and enigmatic way that many look at her work and go “What the hell?” 

In fact, for the lady of the golden hour herself, the exhibit, entitled ‘The Art of the In-Between’, has actually been the basis of her anxiety for the past few months. So all the uneasy feelings are sentiment.

Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons RTW Fall 2015

Rei Kawakubo, with her Comme des Garçons empire, has always been more interested in aggressive deconstruction, outlandish shapes, unfinished seams, loose flaps, asymmetrical lengths, the study of androgyny, and the uncomfort of things beyond homogeneous trends that of the industry. Kawakubo, as a woman of colour, in the early days of her career back in the 80’s, made a radical departure from what was constitutional and glamourous within fashion into the depths of clothing architecture. The beginning of her career was not all about the common beauty, but it was, and still continues to be the exploration of unconventional beauty. Within the means of uneven jacket sleeves, tattered pants and even toile fabric, it isn’t fashion, it’s art. From her collections, her designs, her thought process, it’s not clothes, it’s a cerebral continuous motion of art installations that has delighted and divided audiences.

Comme des Garçons RTW Fall 2000

Despite the disparity of her avant-garde approach to the industry, which was actually not a positive reaction to begin with, Kawakubo has become one of the most influential visionaries to lead this movement. Her sartorial trailblazing outlook for Comme has allowed her, and her legacy of over 30 years to attract a devoted and large following. So beloved in fact, that she’s not only a designer, but a sheepish style icon, leader, and even a mentor to many, with those under her wing graduating from the headquarters of Comme to their own cultic labels with Rei Kawakubo influences helming their own collections (see: Junya Watanabe.) There is more to comfortable wear and discomfort to the beholder, which is something that Kawakubo has always held critical to her designs. It’s liberating and utterly incredible on one hand to wear, let alone touch one of her pieces; on the other hand, it’s rather disorientating for those who have never witnessed or understood the work of Kawakubo. Unfortunately, due her disdain of being in the public eye and her adamantly private lifestyle, Kawakubo’s pieces, and their stories don’t get much exposure or understanding. By not giving any interviews and never explaining the inspiration of her collections,  Comme des Garçons is rarely seen at premieres and events. It’ll be a rather eye-opening moment to see how the public and the Gala attendees translate her work – if they actually attempt try to pull a piece out of her elaborate archive, that is.

Personally, as an individual who begun their career and owes everything to the elusive house, to see how the Gala and the celebration will be played out come May 1st will be endearing, mortifying and hopefully humourous. Many are excited for the event, but some have been worried for the outcome of how Kawakubo’s work will be perceived. It feels like it’s a weighted task for the Met, since the unveiling of the theme to put together the exhibit and the Gala to present Kawakubo and her work in a certain way, with the Gala having been a reflection of everything luxurious and glamorous in the previous years, will be extremely different this year if attendees are to pay homage to Kawakubo’s unorthodox presence in fashion.

Comme des Garçons Menswear Fall 2015

She doesn’t design with the mindset of seductive silhouettes, she does… well, whatever she wants, and those are obtrusive and voluminous shapes. So while it’s not ultimately surprising that she’s been chosen to be this year’s theme of celebration, due to her expansive career and legion in the rights that of predecessor Alexander McQueen, who was celebrated with his own exhibit back in 2011, there is a certain burden that her work – which is less beautiful, less pretty, less wearable, more split and idealised notions of what fashionability is, will be difficult to intercept with audiences. Emotional context might go missing and ideas conceived from Kawakubo’s artistic philosophy will seem too incomplete or tardy for many; the retrospective means of her collections and her art will be viewed insincerely.

The Gala committee, too, is also another topic entirely with its own merit. From the likes of Tom Brady, supermodel Gisele and even Katy Perry, it’s probably not a big deal for the masses, but personally, it’s rather questionable and, well, raise some eyebrows. It is an unusual gathering of individuals to celebrate such an elusive designer and her work and I wonder how they, as icons of glitz and glamour, will interpret the mysterious and ghostly bounds of Kawakubo’s work.

It’s rather ironic to consider now actually – the dress code for the Met Gala has always, and will always be formalwear, whether it be that attendees remain blind to the homage of the house by wearing the latest and most fitted diamond-encrusted couture dress, or actually attempt to pull out a piece supplied by the house to be worn, Kawakubo herself has stated that she would wear what she usually wears. Everything from Kawakubo is mysterious and bolt straight – she rarely offer any remarks, if any at all, even down to her uniform: sunglasses in hand, a leather biker jacket and tiered black skirt, respectively. In fact, she doesn’t even want to be at the Gala and will not be at the red carpet herself. But again, that’s another story – that’s for after it all happens.

Comme des Garçons RTW Fall 2006

The Met has described Kawakubo’s empire as one that “combines an industrially inspired socialist work ethic with a nearly fanatical desire to purvey clothing as an ever-changing product of its sociocultural environment, citing both neorealism and futurism in runway collections and advertising,” and it was only recently conceived that Kawakubo took charge and was full autonomy to design and work on the exhibit, reflective of this work attitude. Of course in true Kawakubo style, there’s no better person to entrust with presenting Comme des Garçons than the designer herself, who has overseen multiple flagship store openings around the world, so there some glimmer of hope and sanction to know that while the Gala might not pan out perfectly, the exhibit can’t be a failure. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be a problem for the lady of the hour herself, nothing more than a breeze, actually. She’s even stated that time and time again she’s been disappointed when people like her work immediately, because it means she didn’t push the notion of unconventional beauty far enough. So the way everything is perceived for the night might be part of an ulterior motive for the designer. 

“It’s a Met show for Comme des Garçons, not a Comme des Garçons show at the Met.”

Until the red carpet event happens though, and until the critics (and public) put in their verdict for Kawakubo, everything remains at bay, like the calm before the storm. One thing is for certain, however, that when the Met Gala does unfold for the evening, it’ll be unlike anything ever witnessed on those famous Met steps. Kawakubo is the anti-fashion God of the industry, and with her legacy, her impeccable work ethics and political stance, she simply cannot do no wrong.

Comme des Garçons RTW Fall 2012