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