How cool is Long Island City?
Cool enough for Rei Kawakubo to pay a visit. Fashion’s most elusive deity will make her way there tonight to accept the Isamu Noguchi Award at the museum also named for the Japanese-American artist.
According to Brett Littman, the institution’s director, the award honors professional creatives whose work, like Noguchi’s, telegraphs bravado and an expansive world view. “For us, the award celebrates innovation, global awareness and, of course, Eastern-Western exchange, which was very important to Noguchi,” he said in a phone conversation.
The Comme des Garçons designer is the first fashion person to receive the award. Since its inception in 2014, it has typically gone to those involved in architecture and industrial design. Past recipients include Norman Foster, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Tadao Ando, Elyn Zimmerman, John Pawson, Naoto Fukasawa and landscape designer Edwina von Gal.
Littman didn’t hide his enthusiasm at Kawakubo’s acceptance. “We were totally thrilled,” he said. “It’s the extra cherry on top that she thought it was important enough for her to come to New York and to accept it personally.”
During an interview at Comme des Garçons’ headquarters in New York, Kawakubo at first took issue with the suggestion that she often declines awards. She then acknowledged that she has in fact said “no” to several honors that had nothing to do with her work. “This was involved with creation, so I thought I could accept,” she said, her comments translated, as always, by her husband, Comme des Garçons president Adrian Joffe.
The presentation will take place at the museum during its annual benefit. Noguchi, an early creative pioneer to Long Island City, set up a studio there and in 1985 established the museum as a site to house his work.
Tonight will not be Kawakubo’s first visit. She and Joffe walked through with Littman earlier in the week. Asked what she thought of it, she answered with an enthusiastic “beautiful,” adding that Noguchi’s large-scale pieces were her favorites.
Separately, Littman elaborated on her opinion. “She said, ‘I love the museum, but I don’t like all of Noguchi’s bases,’” he recalled of their conversation, translated, as always, by Joffe. “The further [detail] was that she didn’t like when he put a stone on wood; she felt that it announced the sculpture too much. But when he put [a sculpture] on a base of same material, she felt that it was very beautiful. And she really liked when Noguchi just put the sculptures directly on the floor.”
Kawakubo’s visit comes almost exactly two years after her visit to New York for the Met gala that celebrated the exhibition “Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.” Since then, Kawakubo framed her fall 2018 ready-to-wear collection around Camp, drawing on Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” The Met will explore that same topic at the exhibit opening with its gala on Monday night.
Asked if she’d been surprised that the Met would do an exhibit like that in such short order, Kawakubo smiled faintly through her answer. “She’s not going to answer that directly,” Joffe offered. “She’s intrigued by how they have interpreted the theme. She’d love to see a pre-pre-pre-preview tomorrow, but we haven’t had an answer. She’s interested to see it, but unfortunately, we can’t stay [for the gala].”
Kawakubo then took the benefit-of-the-doubt high road. “Are we 100 percent sure,” she mused, “they didn’t have that idea before?”