I’ve been thinking about the “magic of decoration”, a phrase used to describe Galileo Chini’s work at that epic Symbolism exhibition in Milan. It’s a phrase that has permeated the season. I’ve lost count of how many shows where, key rings, earrings and hair clips have somehow been the main focus of a collection. There’s also been many a rich and sumptuous surface – and in particular dresses that shimmer and shine with fronds – making these bedazzled frocks excellent to capture on iPhone’s slo-mo. As I said in my Gucci post, surface decoration can often ring hollow for some, but when a designer coaxes out some nuanced depth, then voila… magic.
Surfaces that move you were epically in force at Comme des Garçons. First a disclaimer: I will say I perhaps have unconditional love for Rei Kawakubo – her universe, her unwillingness to compromise, her ability to communicate so many layers with the cut of a cloth. She’s a writer’s dream. She gives you collections with emotive heft and weight that leave vivid impressions on your brain, so much so that late into the night as you’re filing words, you don’t have to refer back to images or press releases. This season, there was no emotional avalanche. I didn’t leave with tears on my face or a disturbingly fast thumping heart. I did however physically skip outside the venue, high on having a) physically shook the hands of Kawakubo and b) having seen a mastery of decoration that would constitute a happy place for most vague aesthetes.
Kawakubo imagined punks rollicking in the eighteenth century. Rococo revolutionaries. Artful anarchists. She took the florid decoration from this century of revolt and enlightenment and amped it up to the heroically unyielding proportions that we have come to expect from the now tightly-edited CDG shows. The provenance of the fabrics was one of the most impressive aspects as Kawakubo had sourced the crème de la crème of haute couture fabrics from Lyon – brocades, silk jacquards, damasks. Lyon was once upon a time, Europe’s capital of silk, and is still home to elite fabric houses like Bucol and Prelle. Kawakubo in particular honed in on the florals that look like they’ve been lifted from a Jean Francois Bony painting. There was something particularly touching about this acknowledgement of Lyon’s formerly illustrious silk trade.
For me, it chimed in with Kawakubo and her husband Adrian Joffe’s championing of rooted designs in their burgeoning Dover Street Market empire, which is about to enter a new chapter as they move from their original Dover Street location to Haymarket in London. Unearthing the cult, the unknown and the things that deserve to be celebrated in fashion has made DSM the intuitive barometer that it is. In this particular Comme collection, it’s the savoir-faire of these insanely expensive and labour intensive fabrics, that Kawakubo is bringing to light. Those two words might evoke slow hands and doddering craftsmen but here, these supremely crafted floral fancies punch you in the face with their armour like structures, bondage trappings and almost grotesquely shaped cocoons. When pitted against the pink vinyl, reminiscent of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s SEX on Kings Road in 1974, the punk aspect of Kawakubo’s imagining gatecrashes its way in to fully disrupt this sumptuous display of finery.
Beneath the myriad of surfaces par excellence there’s a provocative message to use unquestionable beauty to combat mediocrity. In amidst talk of an out of control fashion industry, hungry for profit and product, a form of combat could well be the elevation of quality, as in the case of these incredibly lavish fabrics. They begged to be touched, fondled and yes, worn (especially in the less extreme iterations seen in the Comme showroom). If we’re going to live in a world piled high with clothes, clothes and more clothes, let them be as beautiful as these ones here.