Rei Kawakubo

Rei Kawakubo — a designer’s designer if there ever was one — is to be the subject of a solo exhibition next spring at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sources told WWD.

It is understood this will mark only the second time in the institution’s history that it is devoting an exhibition to a living fashion designer. The last one, a vast retrospective dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent organized by editor Diana Vreeland, opened in 1983.

The Japanese designer behind the Comme des Garçons label and Dover Street Market specialty stores, Kawakubo is a fashion maverick whose Paris fashion shows remain a highlight for the international retail and design cognoscenti. Azzedine Alaïa and Marc Jacobs are among designer peers in her global fan club, while celebrity fans include Rihanna and Lady Gaga.

She has done collections based on two-dimensional shapes, the color red and the “Ceremony of Separation,” the latter show a lump-in-throat spectacle opening with a dress composed of neatly knotted white hobo sacks.

Her fall collection was a take on “18th-century punk” employing couture floral fabrics and pink vinyl carved into armorlike, 3-D wonders.

It is understood the Met showcase is to rival the scale of “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” in 2011, one of the most visited shows in the institute’s history.

According to the Met’s web site, “Kawakubo’s empire combines an industrially inspired socialist work ethic with a nearly fanatical desire to purvey clothing as an ever-changing product of its sociocultural environment, citing both neorealism and futurism in runway collections and advertising.”

A spokeswoman for the Met declined comment.

But given her following in fashion, the Kawakubo exhibit is certain to continue the Met’s string of recent successes with its spring exhibits. The most recent, “Manus X Machina,” curated by Andrew Bolton, saw its run extended through the upcoming weekend because of demand. The exhibit’s visitor totals have been running just behind “China: Through the Looking Glass” and “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty,” the Met’s fifth and eighth most popular exhibitions, respectively, both of which were extended and curated by Bolton.

“China: Through the Looking Glass” attracted 815,992 visitors in total, and “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” reeled in 661,509.

At a Friends of the Costume Institute dinner in his honor in Beverly Hills in June, Bolton told WWD, “I’d love to do an exhibit with living designers — John Galliano, Rei Kawakubo, Azzedine Alaïa and Issey Miyake — but there was a policy at the museum that was put into place after the Saint Laurent show Diana Vreeland did in the Eighties where we don’t do shows on living designers.”

Although they got around it by conceptualizing the Prada/Schiaparelli exhibit as a “conversation” between a living and dead designer. Bolton said he dreamed of putting Alaïa and Kawakubo together. “To me they represent the opposite spectrum of the fashion landscape. Alaïa is almost fanatical about technique, and you have Rei, who’s all about concept,” he mused at that time.

Bolton will have more time to mull over the exhibit in the months ahead. He was busy with Anna Wintour Tuesday afternoon signing copies of the “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” catalogue.

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