A land­mark ret­ro­spec­tive of avant- garde de­signer Rei Kawakubo’s work takes cen­tre stage at this year’s MET Gala, writes PJ Pascual

Philippine Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Rei Kawakubo’s iconic looks for Comme des Garçons take cen­tre stage at the 2017 MET Gala

The an­nual MET Gala is con­sid­ered the Os­cars of fash­ion in the East Coast. This year’s gala, how­ever, pulled out all the stops as the con­cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion trans­ports vis­i­tors into a world filled with cre­ativ­ity and art: the world of avant-garde de­signer Rei Kawakubo.

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Be­tween ex­am­ines the de­signer’s fas­ci­na­tion with the bound­aries of space and time. Her pieces chal­lenge the view­ers’ thoughts on how beauty, good taste, and fash­ion can be rein­ter­preted in her own vi­sion. A the­matic ex­hi­bi­tion as op­posed to a tra­di­tional ret­ro­spec­tive, this is The Cos­tume In­sti­tute’s first mono­graphic show on a liv­ing de­signer since the Yves Saint Lau­ren ex­hi­bi­tion in 1983.

The ge­nius be­hind this ex­hi­bi­tion is An­drew Bolton, who proved his met­tle by spearheading the con­tro­ver­sial China Through the Look­ing Glass ex­hi­bi­tion in 2015. For the Kawakubo event, he ex­plores pieces that look more like sculp­ture than clothes in an ex­hi­bi­tion that chal­lenges ideas about the role of fash­ion in the mod­ern world. Bolton worked closely with Kawakubo to in­ter­pret her vi­sion and to recre­ate the works that made her mark in fash­ion.

The ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures 140 pieces of Kawakubo’s wom­enswear de­signs for Commes des Gar­cons, dat­ing from the early ’80s to her most re­cent col­lec­tions. The items fea­tured were or­gan­ised into nine dom­i­nant and re­cur­ring aes­thetic ex­pres­sions of her work: Ab­sence/ Pres­ence, De­sign/ Not De­sign, Fash­ion/Anti-Fash­ion, Model/ Mul­ti­ple, High/ Low, Then/ Now, Self/ Other, Ob­ject/Sub­ject, and Clothes/ Not Clothes. Through­out the ex­hi­bi­tion, the de­signer tears down the imag­i­nary walls be­tween these realms by ex­pos­ing their ar­ti­fi­cial­ity and ar­bi­trari­ness. Her ideas about fash­ion demon­strate that in­ter­stices are places of mean­ing­ful con­nec­tion and co­ex­is­tence as well as revo­lu­tion­ary in­no­va­tion and trans­for­ma­tion, pro­vid­ing her with end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties to rethink the fe­male form and fe­male iden­tity.

The main body of the ex­hi­bi­tion was staged at the Iris and B Ger­ald Can­tor Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall on the sec­ond floor of the mu­seum. The space was trans­formed into an open, brightly-lit white box with geo­met­ric struc­tures in or­der to fa­cil­i­tate viewer en­gage­ment with the pieces on dis­play. As one en­ters the ex­hi­bi­tion, there is a sug­gested path­way to fol­low. It be­gins with four ensembles en­closed in a cylin­der, re­flect­ing the de­signer’s en­dur­ing aes­thetic. The spare white space re­mains stark; not even bear­ing small cap­tions with which to iden­tify in­di­vid­ual pieces. In­stead, guests and vis­i­tors re­ceive an ex­hi­bi­tion guide with gallery text and ob­ject la­bels— some­thing that en­cour­ages them to come to their own con­clu­sions and ideas about the de­signs on dis­play.

It is a tes­ta­ment to the en­dur­ing ap­peal of Kawakubo’s un­usual and iconic de­signs that the ex­hi­bi­tion helped raise a to­tal of US$13 mil­lion on the nig ht of the gala. And it isn’t too late to catch this creative spec­ta­cle; the ex­hi­bi­tion runs un­til 4 Septem­ber 2017.

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