Comme des Garçons began in Tokyo in the late 1960s as a hobby for Rei Kawakubo and has been internationally recognized for its modern, break-the-mold approach to fashion and art, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two. The brand now operates out of Paris and Tokyo, with stores carrying its various unique lines in both retail and more conceptual settings. Kawakubo began by designing only for the female form but then ventured into menswear in the late 1970s. Some consider the designs of Comme des Garçons as works of art as opposed to wearable pieces, which has caused them to appear in various exhibitions the brand’s birth. I was lucky enough to find myself in Paris while the Cité de la Mode et du Design, situated at Les Docks, was showing an exhibition of Kawakubo’s spring/summer collection for 2012, titled “White Drama.” This collection was revealed at Paris fashion week in the fall and will be on display until October 7, 2012.
The exhibition is displayed alongside a collection by the Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. Be sure to check out both to experience the designers’ contrasting approaches to couture. The curator, Olivier Saillard, has done a phenomenal job juxtaposing the collection of Comme des Garçons with that of Balenciaga, while also paying homage to the modern and artistic venue housing these exhibitions along the Seine.
True to its name, the all-white collection is housed in a concrete, industrial-looking room providing a simple canvas for the dramatic collection, allowing it to speak for itself. The space is filled with six plastic bubbles, each containing three to five garments. Kawakubo has said that the collection is a representation of the stages of life, including pivotal moments such as birth, marriage, death and transcendence. It is left up to the viewer to decide which inflatable bubble or piece within the bubble represents which momentous event. In addition, the order in which these events take place is open to interpretation, without birth starting the collection and transcendence ending it like one might expect.
The pieces incorporate different shades of white and a variety of materials, such as wool, silk, satin and lace. Dramatic hemlines are matched in length by knee-grazing sleeves or small holes for hands, which all together create romantic, remarkable pieces.
The first bubble contains simple, classic dresses (compared with the rest of the collection, that is), one with its sleeves tied together by a bow, evoking a matrimonial ceremony and a bride carrying a bouquet. But the design and structure also evoke the image of a young girl’s frock matched with a bow on her head. The ideas of childhood and marriage are then contrasted with a few structured, almost skeletal, cloaks enclosing a few of the dresses. Walking through the collection, I became unsure of previous bubbles I had proclaimed to represent certain stages. The various details reference different stages of life to each viewer while subtly introducing the question of what each milestone means to each individual.
Coming to the middle of the collection, I was surprised by the first pop of color, in the form of a cartoonish hat with black features. This injection of black is a reminder of the designer’s fondness for all black in previous collections, which further highlights the significance of her premier use of nearly all white. Color appears only once more, in a separate bubble, in the form of graffiti by artist Oyama Enrico Isamu. Each mannequin stands topped with a striking headpiece, veil or hood designed by London set designer Gary Card. The last bubble contains garments covered in flowers, incorporated in other pieces to a lesser degree, perhaps alluding to the afterlife. Comme des Garçons flawlessly achieves the quintessential modern collection while evoking the timeless themes that mark a woman’s progression through life.
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