Each year we watch the stars climb the stairs of the MET in their elaborate fashion forward gowns in anticipation of what the exhibit holds inside! This year’s exhibit was Rei Kawakubo. The exhibit was breathtaking with stark white walls featuring different fashion vignettes, some displayed at eye level while others were above eye level and some in cubed off boxes. Each vignettes either contained vibrant pops of color or muted black and white tones.
Rei Kawakubo founded Comme des Garcons in 1969. Throughout the years, the Tokyo-based designer has consistently redefined the aesthetics of our time by disrupting (upending) accepted characteristics of fashion. I love the fact that her fashion designs are different from the norm and take on a whole new interpretation while redefining the aesthetics of our time.
I recently visited The MET in order to see Rei Kawakubos recent exhibit “Art of the In-Between” which examines nine different expressions of “in-betweenness”; Absence/Presence; Design/Not Design; Fashion/Antifashion; Model/Multiple; High/Low; Then/Now; Self/Other; Object/Subject; and lastly, Clothes/Not Clothes. The concept of this exhibit is to reveal designs that occupy spaces between dualities as well as expose the artificiality of today’s conventional dichotomies. Kawakubo’s art of the “in-between” has generated incredibly meaningful and innovative designs that offer endless possibilities for interpretation.
Although the viewer can interpret each of the nine expressions of “in-betweenness” in their own way, there is a specific meaning behind each instillation. I wanted to point out three of my personal favorites:
High/Low (Good Taste/Bad Taste):
Street style and its aesthetic have always fascinated Kawakubo, which prompted her to examine the ambiguous relationship between High/Low fashion. The Motorbike Ballerina (one of my favorite installations in this exhibit) is made of ensembles that combine leather jackets and tutus in an attempt to merge the “high” culture of ballet with the “low” subculture of bikers. The Motorbike Ballerina was a way of exploring bad taste and good taste by using various textiles to reflect each class. Textiles such as nylon and polyester are often considered as cheap and vulgar compared to the beautiful tulle present in tutus.
The unfolding of modernism is an ongoing project that relates back to Kawakubo’s experiments with the “in-betweeness”. Exploring the “Then and Now” focuses on the designer’s relationship to time. The rhythm of design is clearly brought to life in this particular exhibit; birth, marriage and death as seen in the Broken Bride, White Drama and Ceremony of Separation. These fashions are meant to advocate a personal level of freedom seen in the life-stages of our society. The ideologies are encoded in the birth-marriage-death continuum. One of my favorite quotes from Kawakubo is the following “The right half of my brain likes tradition and history, the left wants to break the rules”. This is a perfect way of interpreting this exhibit and understanding how Kawakubo comes up with such innovative designs and concepts.
This particular exhibit explores Kawakubo’s intuitive approach to garment making, as she never received formal fashion training. I found it so interesting to learn that her creative process normally begins with a single word or image that is later conveyed to her patternmakers. The ensemble in this section highlights various strategies that often recur in Kawakubo’s collections; fusion, imbalance, the unfinished, elimination and design without design. All of the modes of expression are rooted in a principle that relates back to the Zen Buddhist aesthetic known as “wabi-sabi”.
Although I have seen many exhibits at The MET, “Art of the In-Between” was one of my favorites. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons is widely recognized as among the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years. She has done an incredible job of blurring the divide between fashion and art while transforming the notions of identity, body, beauty of course, fashion.