Financial Times – September 30th, 2018

Comme des Garçons SS19 show report

Rei Kawakubo was ‘fumbling around in the dark’ this season. And the result was incredibly moving

How do designers approach the challenge of coming up with something new each season? In many cases they don’t — doing nothing with your design style is certainly a method that’s working well for Celine’s new creative director Hedi Slimane. But, for those designers really looking to challenge the parameters of fashion, and even clothes themselves, the quest to find a new trouser cut, or fabrication, can bring with it a high degree of angst.

Shortly before the Comme des Garçons SS19 show, the brand sent out a statement in which the designer Rei Kawakubo described her frustration with a process that must always seek the “next”. For the past 10 collections she has shown huge abstracted shapes on her catwalk, like sculptures, which have then inspired the commercial collection that goes in store. But Kawakubo, who was the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in 2017 and is one of only a few designers whose work could be described as art, is finished with that cycle.

For SS19 she wanted to do something new, but had found herself “fumbling around the dark”. The result of that fumble was a “mini show” which she described as “quiet, serene and internal”. It was small, staged before only 100 or so guests, and curiously affecting. The 30 looks, featuring deconstructed men’s tailoring and richly embellished outerwear, tattoo-print stocking mesh and chained Nike trainers, looked pretty normal from the front, but from the side revealed strange lumps and tumours. The first look, a beaded evening suit, was severed across the stomach to reveal a pregnant swell. Further looks were similarly “feminine”, although the slashed stomachs became more vicious and jagged as the show went on. Then things were tied up, quilted, or worn with chains. The tumours became more unnatural also, great padded details that protruded from the hips and ribs.

It was a real heartbreaker. With its Tom Waits soundtrack, exposed and swollen stomachs and white-haired girls (as though the women had prematurely aged), Kawakubo conjured quite the mood. Do I know that this “internal” show was about the griefs of childlessness? Or the sacrifices of a professional woman, now in her seventies, who has dedicated her life to building a €200m brand? Or that those brand responsibilities have near devoured her — like a cancer? I have no idea. But that was what it looked like. Kawakubo’s fumble made me painfully sad.

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