Just going to say it like it is. It’s not really fashion month for me if I don’t get to see Comme des Garcons. If ever there was a fashion show that requires physical presence to really understand every facet behind a 2D catwalk image, then this is it (not least because Rei Kawakubo doesn’t – and probably will never – live stream their shows). It’s one of the few pivotal shows that stops fashion month from spinning on its axis, where suddenly everything else seems so… trivial in comparison, purely because Kawakubo operates on a very different and independent playing field.
In an interview with Pop, Raf Simons talked about why he, Phoebe Philo and Marc Jacobs went out for dinner together back in May, saying “We were all talking about whether it is possible to stay sane doing what we do.” Staying sane within these giant conglomerates, whilst performing well (in both sales and in critic-pleasing collections) is what our most pre-eminent designers are tasked to do. It makes you wonder how free of an environment is it to be able to create without restrictions.
In contrast, Kawakubo’s sphere is one, which she has created herself, with rules dictated by herself. Her universe includes Play, Girl, Comme Comme and various strands of commercial output, which make clothes that people can actually wear and buy into. This frees her up to go in the opposite direction of what is sane. Her shows have become these very visceral and emotional outpourings – inspired by the passion of red to the ceremony of separation and now the duality of supposedly duplicitous women. Witches, specifically. Not the cartoonish kind that wrinkle their noses to make magic or fly around on broomsticks. But strong women that are misunderstood, according to Adrian Joffe.
That bears resemblance to the source of inspiration for Comme des Garcons’ A/W 04 collection, which Kawakubo talked to Susannah Frankel about in a Dazed archive piece from the September 2004 issue. “I was thinking about witches. Witches in the original sense of the word, in the sense of a woman having power. The original witches were benevolent but because people didn’t understand them they bullied them. We’re left with a bad image of them.”
The inspiration might have been an echo but the actual collection was no redux. Over a decade ago, the A/W 04 show was about witches in the making – apprentices in their Victoriana inspired black and girlish ruffles. This time round, these witches dressed in riches emerged with shockingly burnt out red hair, swathed and swaddled first, in a vaguely Wiccan-passage of fur and feathered ensembles that cloaked the body in both black and white (do they do good or evil?). They wore the witchiest of elongated pointy shoes of course.
Then the silhouettes became knotted, ruffled and sculpted out of the most sumptuous of velvet in shades of blue and teal. The soundtrack was the clue in to another primary reference as tracks from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet were woven together. It’s no surprise that the dark and surreal auteur finds its way into a Comme collection. Isabella Rosselini’s character Dorothy “The Blue Lady” Vallens – the initially witch-hunted seductress – and the patch of her velvet robe fondled by Dennis Hopper’s character is enlarged into a circular velvet vortex. Your eyes were mesmerised by the shine and sheen of this deeply tactile collection. In the showroom, that velvet is the richest sort I’ve ever seen with very long fibres so that when you brush your fingers over it, the texture changes immediately. At the show the colours and depth of the velvet constantly changed under the spotlights, which were switched on and off at will. It was the perfect fabric for Kawakubo’s strong witchy women to be cocooned in. Now you see it. Now you don’t. That’s the kind of black magic that Kawakubo is fully adept at.
When Joffe talked about these misunderstood women, you couldn’t also help but think of Kawakubo herself – a small figure in black, casting spell-binding collections, that mysteriously work their way into the current of fashion, whilst being elusive to an an audience at large. Her work can often be misunderstood by the uninitiated. The brilliance of Kawakubo’s sorcery though is that it is powerful without, a) physically communicating – Kawakubo doesn’t emerge for a bow and you’ll be lucky if she says throws you a verbal clue after the show, b) having a lot of looks – there were only 15 this time, and c) that it stays with you long after, unlike most fashion week ephemera. You left once again, bewitched.
This write-up was adapted and originally posted on Dazed Digital.