Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between

A new exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art looks at the Japanese house's ability to challenge notions of fashion

Few labels blur the boundaries between fashion and art as much as Comme des Garcons. Started by Rei Kawakubo in 1969, it was the label's debut show in Paris in 1981 when its avant-garde aesthetic first created waves in the industry, as monochromatic clothes, distressed fabrics and out-there silhouettes made their way down the catwalk. In the following decades the Japanese brand has remained at the forefront of boundary-pushing style, with its influence celebrated with a major new exhibition opening at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art this month.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Comme des Garcons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The comprehensive display, taking in approximately 150 examples of Kawakubo's womenswear designs, will be the Costume Institute's first solo show about a living designer since its Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in 1983. 'There are very few designers working today whose body of work can sustain a monographic exhibition in an art museum like the MET. Rei is absolutely one of them,' said curator Andrew Bolton. 'She has influenced a whole generation, not only of designers but also artists and architects, through her practice.'

Studying fine art rather than fashion design, Kawakubo's unconventional background comes through in the diversity of the clothes. 'Rei is all about creativity, she's about innovation, she forces you to rethink notions of beauty, notions of the body, notions of fashion, notions of wearability, breaking down these barriers by creating hybrid identities,' said Bolton. 'She doesn't abide by any laws when it comes to techniques or construction. She conflates, sometimes in one ensemble, notions of the east and the west, or the male and the female, fusing ideas but also fusing garment types and fusing techniques and construction methods.'

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Favoured by such eccentric dressers as Lady Gaga, Comme des Garcons often hits the headlines for its more outlandish creations, but the exhibition will showcase the wide range of looks, themes and inspirations that have informed the brand's work. Rather than a retrospective, the display will be organised into eight thematic sections – Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Design/Not Design, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes – which explore how the unconstrained nature of Kawakubo's designs rethink traditional notions and blend conflicting ideas.

Comme des Garcons will also be the theme for the star-studded MET Gala on 1 May, ensuring this year's event is set to feature some of the most exciting sartorial moments in red carpet history.

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between runs from 4 May to 4 September at the MET, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028, tickets $25;

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