The latest Comme des Garçons collection hardly falls into the category of fashion. Obviously, none of the outfits would be either flattering or merely functional. Unless your desired look is a "monster" - the very name Rei Kawakubo called her collection of bizarre creatures. But what monsters did she mean? The monsters of the real world, of fashion industry, or of our own mind?
The collection is incredible. It’s a transformation of fashion to art.
Therefore, it is impossible, perhaps even inappropriate, to view the collection from the same perspective from which one views Lanvin or Dior shows. Why not? Even though, they all “did the same thing” (the setting was a catwalk at PFW and the performance consisted of walking), they all oscillated on completely different levels. By that I don’t meant that one is better than another. It’s just that Lanvin or Dior is still operating within the realm of fashion and luxury, a category to which they have been faithful ever since. Whereas Comme des Garçons has confidently moved from fashion to the realms of art. Performance art? Not really, Conceptual art? Perhaps.
But if I dare to call the collection a conceptual art what is the concept? Let have the creator speak:
"The theme of the collection this time is MONSTER. It's not about the typical Monster you find in sci-fi and video games. The expression of the Monsters I have made has a much deeper meaning. The craziness of humanity, the fear we all have, the feeling of going beyond common sense, the absence of ordinariness, expressed by something extremely big, by something that could be ugly or beautiful. In other words, I wanted to question the established standards of beauty."
I believe that later in shops you'll find very different clothes - wearable pieces for which this collection is only a point of reference. Not only that it's a quite common practice, to adjust clothes for retail, but it's also the fact that these pieces are impossible to be worn. It’s hard to think about anyone strong enough to wear such ensembles. They are destined to remain behind a vitrine in a museum. Even though it was only an ordinary catwalk that was turned into a stage, such performance was to be seen only once. If repeated, its power and meaning would be lost. To retail them and actually wear them would mean to strip them off their aura. Yet, it wasn't truly a performance art although I describe it in terms of one. The models who would be normally assumed to have the role of performers became only a mere bases whose function was only to let the clothes speak for themselves. In a way, it's nothing new, models have been called "coat hangers" for a reason. But here their role was exploited to the fullest and they were stripped off any other possible function beyond walking.
Recently, more and more people have started to call fashion art. Often it’s only because they've mistaken the appreciation of fashion for appreciation of art. However, a mere feeling of “liking” is not enough to justify the equation of fashion = art. The reason for that is simple. The great art goes deep beyond the surface, while in the case of fashion it is the surface what matters the most. I'm aware that some people would object to such a claim. I know that many believe that being a fashion designer is actually being an artist. In some cases, it's possible that an artistic genius decides to devote his/her life to fashion. But to be honest, it'd be usually for economical reasons. Everyone needs money and art rarely pays the bills. Unless you're Damien Hirst, of course. In other cases, designers are skillful artisans with a certain degree of creativity who might have some artistic impulses but their works are mostly driven by the market. They create what they believe will sell. And this belief is not based on mere intuition but on a vast market research, trend forecasting and figures from last seasons.
Nevertheless, a closer look reveals that both art and fashion go in parallel with the way they reflect their subjects and tackle certain issues. I'm sure everyone has noticed that in art a sense of ugliness has been preferred over beauty (e.g. Tracey Emin's infamous My Bed) lately. The same goes for fashion. Often, you see creations which might be praised by the fashion folks but misunderstood by the rest of the public. The clothes are often unflattering and ugly, but in contrast to Monsters they are still functional. Their surface appearance also gives the wearer a hope of being something more and a belief of understanding fashion more than others. Because after all he/she is going against conventions and that must be for a reason. There might be one, but such cases are rare. Often, the hopes and beliefs are only fake aspirations.
In his latest collection, Alber Elbaz tried to take fashion to extremes but he took it to extremes which were still within the boundaries of fashion. Or rather within his own boundaries. Whereas, here, Rei took fashion out of its boundaries, confidently exploring what the world outside had on offer. As I said before, I believe that the clothes are destined for a museum, not for a real world. In real life, clothes should be a "base" that enables one to showcase his/her very own personality. However, these pieces would be rather suffocating than empowering. They would say nothing about one's personality because Rei's message is too strong and there's no room for its further development.
It takes time. I wasn’t prepared to see this kind of collection even though Kawakubo is certainly not famous for being conventional. One needs to swap fashion lenses for the art ones. Then, everything starts to make sense.
Sorry. I got carried off. But is there anything better than fashion/art that makes you think?
Apparently I miss my regular dose of essays.