Golden-haired storybook good queen in frou-frou frockcoat over a skirt of a thousand laces with bubbles in front. Giant walking flower with Marilyn Monroe bombshell coiffeur. Princess Leia in purple ruffles and a discombobulated Betty Boop sweater.
For her Comme des Garcons’ show on Saturday, Rei Kawakubo sent out 16 witty, madcap characters and with them, infinite joy. Their remarkable compilations incorporated 18th-century notes, floral madness, pillow play, impossible mille-feuille constructions and frills and froth galore, the riot of color and outrageous form creating an exuberant runway Wonderland that seemed to exist for the pure, fantastical fun of it. It was masterful.
As always, with Comme, one sought the deeper meaning: the relevance of the 18th-century for today? An ebullient argument for repurposing? Backstage after the show, Kawakubo’s associates offered this season’s nutshell descriptive: Comme des Garçons Camp. Had one left pondering (as at least one dummy did) what all of this had to do with archery and kumbaya around the campfire — waste of time. E-mailed show notes clarified the title. In fact, Kawakubo meant that other camp, the kind most of us love in a flamboyant friend but don’t aspire to personally. Specifically, she referenced Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp.” Rusty on that one? That’s what Google’s for.
Several years ago, Marc Jacobs name-checked Sontag’s epistle as an inspiration for a glitzed-up, glammed-out Louis Vuitton collection. Now as then, the reference makes for heady stuff. One could delve in and write a dissertation comparing the works of these two genius women. Or, on deadline, you can literally close your eyes, move your cursor around Sontag’s “Notes” (never close out of Google prematurely), stop on a random number and extract a point of connection.
Indeed, the love of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. No kidding!
The dividing line seems to fall in the 18th century.; there the origins of camp taste are to be found. Tricked-out frockcoats!
The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Neon, flowers, tartan, crinoline, piled on in one look!
All of that, and so much more. Kawakubo’s collections are invariably compelling in their thought process and extraordinary execution, that typically speaks with razor-sharp insight to the cultural moment. Sontag noted that “Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation — not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy.” For her part, Kawakubo wrote, “Camp is really and truly something deep and new and represents a value we need.” We need to smile? We need surprise and joy and wonder in our lives, and fashion can be a source of all? Kawakubo answered, decisively as ever, with a resounding yes. Kumbaya to that.