If you were in New York right now you’d be running around bumping into things and hyperventilating over the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – or “Met” for those who have no time for excess syllables.
The show features the work of Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo and her utterly chaotic tailoring for the Comme des Garcons label, creations described in a terrific piece in the Village Voice this week as “dresses without arms, or padded in the least flattering places; sweaters run through with holes; gowns constructed so they nearly stand by themselves; veils through which a wearer can’t see.”
Whether or not you are the kind of person who has been secretly pleading for a leading fashion brand to bring an opaque veil to market, it’s worth clicking through to the Voice piece to see just how Ms Kawakubo would have you dress.
If your reaction to gazing upon the Kawakubo madness is “I’m not going out dressed like that,” then you are not alone, and it is not only individuals who are unable to make the connection between her “work” and “outerwear”.
The Shutterstock photo agency, when asked for examples of Comme des Garcons imagery, clearly also thinks the whole thing is some sort of massive prank, and instead serves up images such as this:
Or even this:
John Waters: genuinely Rei Kawakubo’s biggest fan
While few people even know how to get into the typical CdG creation, let alone have the brass neck to wear it, for film director John Waters, Rei is the beginning and end of his wardrobe.
He describes her as “the genius fashion dictator,” and writes, in a chapter dedicated to her in his book Role Models, “my look for the last twenty years or so has been ‘disaster at the dry cleaners’. When I can afford to buy a new outfit, something has to be wrong with it. Purposely wrong….(Rei Kawakubo) specializes in clothes that are torn, crooked, permanently wrinkled, ill-fitting and expensive….Ms Kawakubo is my god.”
According to Waters, reviews of her collections have included descriptions such as “’unwearable’, ‘post atomic’, ‘that shrunken, hopeless look’, ‘as threadbare and dishevelled as Salvation Army rejects’, and, best of all, ‘fashion is having a nervous breakdown’.”
It’s hard to tell which is more inspired – Ms Kawakubo’s excellent sense of style, or John Waters’ magnificent obsession. He describes his first encounter with the brand in New York in 1983. The store “looked like a morgue,” and “many pieces looked fresh out of the sale bin at the Purple Heart thrift shop in Baltimore, but as Vogue later put it, “Destruction has its price and it’s not cheap’.”
He goes on to describe the experience of thrift store shopping with Divine, who would take his own “pricing equipment” in order to pay what he felt was fair.
Waters also describes how he went about crafting his own look in the days before he could afford anything but Maybelline eyebrow pencil to draw his moustache on, before returning to the theme of being “proud to be … cult members on ‘Planet Rei’.”
Wondering what to wear to visit his parents one day he rejects his Comme des Garcons “off-white shag rug favourite – the sports jacket that looks so much like a dirty bath mat that strangers always laugh in my face.”
The supermodel Linda Evangelista tells him Rei Kawakubo was “the first to make polyester cost more than silk.”
And it goes on for many wonderful pages.
It’s one of the greatest chapters written about fashion in any book, anywhere and it makes one wonder if all those fashion plates who rolled up to the Met in their tinsel for the ball that inaugurated the exhibition knew quite what they were allowing themselves to be associated with.
Those social media superstars only measure the success of an event in “likes” anyway.
Unlike the enigmatic Rei who nobody “likes” – it’s either love or hate, baby, nothing in between.
Role Models, by John Waters, is published by Corsair, £8.99
Rei Kawakubo/ Comme des Garcons. Art of the In-Between is at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art until September 4