In 2017, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will honor Comme des Garçons and its founder, Rei Kawakubo by dedicating its legendary exhibition to the designer. The 2017 Met Gala, which is the Institute's annual fundraising event, has also given this year's theme over to the designer.
To get yourself hyped for the Met Gala on May 1, why not check out some of the wild runways Comme des Garçons has gifted the world? And I mean wild. Kawakubo doesn't just toe the line when it comes to aesthetics, where she might clash prints and exaggerate silhouettes in a slightly uncomfortable (but still incredibly beautiful) way. Instead, she dedicates herself (and her label) to reinvent fashion as a whole. Her collections are literal works of art — not clothes, exactly, but wearable objects swanning down the runway, giving its audience real emotions and food for thought.
Each runway has a theme behind it, and the garments explore that idea by getting experimental with fabrics, textiles, and shapes. For example, in 2015 Kawakubo explored death by sending models in lacquered black veils and bulbous dresses that looked like coffin padding. Then in contrast, in 2016 Comme des Garçons toyed with the idea of punks in the 1800s and what that would have looked like, treating us to floral armor and weird corseted structures. Ahead are seven out-of-the-box Comme des Garçons shows you have to see — prepare to be blown away.
1Spring 2014: What If We Didn't Know The Rules?
In this collection, Kawakubo aimed to completely reimagine what clothes are and decided to treat them not as dresses and pants, but objects for the body. It was an art show of 23 pieces, each one marching down the runway to its own specific music, from soaring operas to synthesized electro. Kawakubo wanted to look at fashion through wiped eyes — as in, what if you had no idea what clothes were, so you didn't know the "formulas" and rules attached to cardigans, lined blazers, and skirts. Where could clothes go if you didn't know a dress had a vertical shape or was meant to be soft and pliable?
Vogue explained, "That's why, this evening, she adhered to none of the strict fashion show formulas. There had been no toiles, no fittings on the body; these were objects to go beyond the body, to reformulate what fashion is to the designer." It was an experiment on a runway — a philosophical question posed and answered.
2Fall 2014: Monster
A single word defined this Fall 2014 ready-to-wear collection: Monster. Model after model stepped onto the catwalk devoured by massive knitted structures that, at a certain angle, looked like blazers and dresses and blouses. But while you might slip on a collared shirt without much thought, these articles brought forth a sense of chaos. There was something uneasy about them — they gave off a sense of shiftiness and nightmare-like vibes, but also an exciting amount of creativity. They were both ugly and knock-you-in-the-teeth-beautiful, which was exactly what Kawakubo was going for.
She explained to Vogue, "The theme of the collection this time is MONSTER. It's not about the typical Monster you find in sci-fi and video games. The expression of the Monsters I have made has a much deeper meaning. The craziness of humanity, the fear we all have, the feeling of going beyond common sense, the absence of ordinariness, expressed by something extremely big, by something that could be ugly or beautiful. In other words, I wanted to question the established standards of beauty." The clothes we wear and how they define us gives us pleasure, as well as weighs us down with criticism and doubt. Mind: Blown.
3Spring 2015: Blood And Roses
In "Blood and Roses," Kawakubo mixed beauty and horror into one staggering collection, showing that even chaos brings its own kind of beauty. She used a single dramatic red throughout the whole runway — never varying to a different oxblood or dusty rose tone. It was just one aggressive, jarring red, and it made you both uncomfortable and intrigued. The results were Gothic-like capes with roses and slashed ribbons, power suits with tendrils that looked like running blood, hacked minis that looked like they made it through a civil war, and structured maxis that looked like they were made out of rib bones.
"It felt powerfully unnerving," Vogue reported, summing up the aesthetic perfectly.
4Fall 2015: The Ceremony Of Seperation
This show was all about mourning — from the lace, Victorian grieving veils, to the black, white, and gold color schemes. Kawakubo described it as "the ceremony of separation," contextualizing that moment where the dead leave their living. Everything about the show brought that forward, including the women wearing the clothes. The models slowly marched down the catwalk to sad violin strings like they were in a daze. And when they passed one another, they slowly circled each other, eyes locked before slowly sliding away, as if they were two ghosts acknowledging each other during their slide into the afterlife.
It was beautiful and heartbreaking and terrifying — in other words, it was Comme des Garçons.
5Spring 2016: Blue Witches
The theme of SS 16 was "Blue Witches," where, as Kawakubo's husband Adrian Joffe explained, are "powerful women who are misunderstood, but do good in the world.” Complete with curled, pointy boots and capes seemingly made out of raven's feathers, she gets the point across. And the collection was an architectural masterpiece — as are most of her ideas. Witches walked down the aisle protectively covered inside wool and feather wrappers masquerading as clothes, intricately knotted velvet capes, blue minis that were fastened by XXL ribbons, and furry frocks that looked like they were sprouting tarantula legs. If this was what it meant to be a misunderstood powerful woman, then sign me up to that mandatory wardrobe.
6Fall 2016: Punks In The 1800s
Fall 2016 was pure opulence, where it featured a parade of structures that were so smothered by flowers and trappings that it made you wonder what message was tucked in between those bulbous, upholstered dresses. "Is Rei Kawakubo calling for a revolution?" Vogue asked. "Or just illustrating, in a conceptual ritual of flowery circumstance, that luxury fashion has reached such a pinnacle of decadence that it must be in for a fall?" The idea was definitely to rebel, where Kawakubo explained the inspiration was imagining "punks in the 18th century, which was a time of so many revolutions.”
And riot she did. From hot pink upholstered "suits" (you couldn't decide if it was a suit-suit or a suit of armor,) to corseted vinyl dresses that looked regal AF, to Victorian traveling capes that looked like they were reinvented for the future, she got her vision across loud and clear.
7Fall 2017: The Future Of Silhouette
In the Fall 2017 collection, the audience were left with their mouths on the ground. It was madness, in the best possible way. Models stepped onto the runway confidently, their walk self-assured even though their bodies were wrapped up in oblong shapes that could only be futuristic blobs, coming in a variety of textures and materials. From lumpy dresses that looked like they were sculpted from vacuum dust to felt armor that looked like it was mimicking plastic separates, to brown paper bag cancerous sculptures, to tinfoil coats that looked like they belonged more in the oven than the closet — the show was cerebral and elaborate.
But what could it mean? Cryptic as ever, all Kawakubo told fashion journalists and editors was the name of the collection, “The Future of Silhouette.” If this is what we'll be wearing in the year 3000, sign us up.
And that's the beauty about Comme des Garçons — it's all about vision. Each collection is more exciting than the last, and makes you think. It's going to be interesting to see how A-listers pay homage to this kind of brilliance in the upcoming Met Gala red carpet — let's hope they too don't play it safe and honor the brand the way it deserves.