Early in the morning we emerged out of Junya Watanabe and Sophia Neophitou of 10 Magazine said, “That’s all you need – one good idea. No theatrics, no elaborate set, nothing else.” That’s how direct Watanabe, and later Comme des Garçons‘ show were. One bloody good idea, explored deeply with conviction, feeling and an utter disregard for pleasing critics or buyers, just their own feeling of natural instinct and intuition.
In the Comme showroom, for both collections a different story will unfold as is normally the case. That’s ultimately the clever thing about the Comme empire. An explosive good idea can then filter into product that then physically goes on people’s backs and the link between the idea and the product is never at all tenuous. it boggles me when I go and see the extraordinary array of what is supposedly a dreaded word – product – if you treat the p word with respect and trust that the end customer isn’t just after easy t-shirts and sweatshirts, then you’re on to a winner.
But back to that one good idea. Let’s start with Junya Watanabe. Abstract. Graphic. Bold. These elements were drummed into you through cut out plastic, leatherette and patent formations and it seems Watanabe was less concerned with going down that well trodden patchwork, denim and biker path that has essentially been his bread and butter but more about an overt and optimistic expression. It was so joyful to see, the normally sedate Japanese editors next to me were bouncing up and down and clapping at each look. We all gave each a look, as if to say “Gosh, this is BRILLIANT, isn’t it?”
A cacophony of references came to mind as the show played out. For me it was primarily Robert and Sonia Delauney’s Orphism artwork and the latter’s brilliant clothing sketches. I also thought of Oscar Schlemmer’s 1922 Traidisches Ballett and their sculptural surreal costumes. A more realistic influence might have been Jean Paul Goude’s installation pieces that were at the Image Makers exhibition in Tokyo, which is coming to an end. A more modern reference could be Los Angeles artist Bruce Gray’s circular and colourful paintings. The list could go on and on but you could never accuse Watanabe of lacking originality because the final vision rendered on the body ultimately has an entirely different effect from a sculpture or a painting. The models weren’t wearing “artwork”. The graphics moulded to them and they became almost one being, accentuated by the plastic hats with Lego-esque hair pieces painted on and the swash of solid colour on one eye. Some familiar Watanabe signatures such as the striped t-shirts and the biker jackets were worked in with patent circle shoulders but by and large this was Watanabe pushing himself beyond his comfort zone, and perhaps borrowing a touch of spirit from his boss and mentor Rei Kawakubo.
Whatever the cause, the effect was that Watanabe’s show had me bouncing out of the venue, despite having a monstrous cold and fever. It was one good idea, which hit me hard and got me wondering how this will play out on a larger scale – on the streets, in stores and filtered down into other people’s collections as all things Comme normally do.
Later in the day in a derelict warehouse building with weeds growing outside and crumbling floors, we were into the red with Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons. Describing it as a “red” collection sounds simplistic and one quick look at the pictures and you might think it’s just that. In fact it was a cry to all of us to feel something, anything. Extreme emotion is can be hard to find in most fashion shows today and by rendering every silhouette in red – associated with emotions that range from anger and danger to love and passion – it was drummed into us that we should feel.
Of course, this would be a redundant exercise if the colour red was used simplistically. Kawakubo would do no such thing. Red rosettes that also resembled open wounds engulfed the body. Shredded up red leather was layered up into cape-esque silhouettes. Bandages twisted up and formed into rings tied around the limbs. What looked like blood splattered pleather was scrunched and built up into layers. Kawakubo retread techniques like constructing cages, body-morphing patchworks and contrasting textures that in one true shade of red, had an arresting effect on the eye. The brain reacts violently to red. Does it hail danger? Are we lustful? Do we think of blood and gore? Or does the heart flutter? I’d say we’re tipping more towards love and passion than bloodshed and anger but with Kawakubo, you just never know.
It may be pure coincidence that on the day the collection was unveiled, I was also reading about teargas used on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong and the first steps towards violent combat in Iraq. Kawakubo would never be blinkered to these events. That’s why her work does make you feel things. You reach in deeper than you would with other collections. It can’t all be about aesthetic pleasure. There’s got to be some pain too. I left the show in a different state from Watanabe’s. There I was bouncing. This time round, I had to sit quietly by myself and think about it.