THE FIRST PROOF
Every experience has a visual and experiential representation through photography, illustration, product, video, digital, and physical environments. THE FIRST PROOF is another look at the formation of these experiences, focusing equally on creation and creator. It serves as an analysis of the creative inputs and outputs, and its influence.

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Tuesday
May162017

Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons Art of the In-Between

The first impression of the Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons Art of the In-Between exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum is the starkness of the room. In comparison to previous presentations, specifically Alexander McQueen and China Through The Looking Glass, this show lacks a lot of the theatrics that are associated with the costume institute.  The Met is transformed into a Comme des Garçons shop with its architectural minimalism - large geometric spaces encase the clothes, oddly much like the clothing does with the body. But that says nothing about the emotional complexity of the show.
 
 
Maybe last year’s Manus X Machina comes closer. Both shows focus on technicals, one in fabrication and another in construction. That is where the similarity ends. Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons Art of the In-Between, is probably the most introspective presentation from The Met. The display does matter in this case, it forces the viewer to look at the challenging garments, and if anything, there is a forced meeting with the woman.
 
 
Little is known about Ms. Kawakubo. She is extremely private and even questioned whether or not to be involved with this project. In an article in Fashionista, it apparently took thirteen years for the show to happen and that "Kawakubo is also famously resistant to explaining her work.” And just like wearing her clothes, Art of the In-Between requires a lot of explanation. 
 
 
The viewer is not coming here to see the clothes and how they have morphed over the years. At some point, it becomes apparent that certain techniques thread all the collections - the relationship of the garment to the body (it doesn’t conform), the color palette (black is key, but there are joyful brighter hues), and a dark romance (ruffles and crinoline). 
 
The audience is getting a very intimate portrait of a woman and creative. It is nearly impossible to go through each space and not follow the accompanying guide which we would prefer to describe as a “personal manual,” and for the first time it feels critical (it is pages long). Each section is carefully explained, and curiously about where Ms. Kawakubo was with the evolution of the process. It is key to note that The Metropolitan Museum needed to connect themes to guide the audience, but these are not necessarily how Ms. Kawakubo may perceive her work (she openly admits to creating titles for collections to placate the press). Her thought process is probably not exactly that linear. While highly visual, what we learn is that the visual isn't the only driver, there are many internal conversations. She isn’t about thematics the way McQueen or even Saint Laurent are; it just happens to be what she does. She doesn't go on journeys to places and times, the only journey is the cerebral one she has with herself. We have rarely heard her words, not understand what she was thinking when she was developing each creation. This show may be that rare occasion that we get to know her and in her own words while revisiting the output.
 
Some of her words: 
  • "Things that have never been seen before have a tendency to be somewhat abstract, but making art is not my intention at all. All my effort is oriented towards giving form to clothes that have never been seen before."
  • "One cannot fight the battle without freedom. I think the best way to find that battle, which equals the unyeilding spirit, is in the realm of creation."
  • "I remember reading about the way a novelist works. It is said that he doesn't think up an outline and write from the top. He wrires bits and pieces and puts them together at the end. That sounded familair to me."
 
 
It would be a mistake to see the lumps and contortions of construction as the take away (these clothes do come much closer to couture, and that should be noted), more importantly, one must walk away understanding the intellectual journey of the creator. The words “anti-establishment” are used. But is that correct? There is the commentary on the fragility of life, history, the image of the Japanese woman. These are themes that anyone can understand while still not getting the clothes. The words anti-establishment sound limiting. It portrays her as someone who is trying to prove convention wrong. The better way to describe Ms. Kawakubo is as abstractionist, creating a new convention. “In-between” may also project another image. There is nothing about her that is middling - if anything she decidedly broke the mold, changed the way she creates. And she didn’t do it to make a statement to anyone but herself.
 
 
This is a show that needs the visitor to take time, and listen as much as they look. You've seen the paperdoll dress before. Seeing it up close is an experience. But you may have never known the why. Learning the multitude of thoughts that linger with her approach, is even better. It is quite understandable that the boutiques and the show are designed in an austere manner; no distraction is needed when one is thinking this much. You must examine, and further examine. Focus and focus again. We paint a picture of a strangely heady show, because it is. And one can feel this as they walk through the presentation. And if Ms. Kawakubo feels the need to control the experience, then so be it. After all, it is her thoughts not just her clothes. 
 

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