Rei Kawakubo and Coco Chanel — do you confuse them, too? We’re to be forgiven, given their shared views on originality, each in her day insisting it’s impossible to achieve in fashion. “Only those with no memory insist on their own originality,” Mademoiselle famously maintained. Kawakubo, too, has noted the elusive nature of pure invention, particularly the longer she works at her craft. The more she discovers, achieves, creates, the harder it is to top herself. Kawakubo spent much of last year with her thoughts occupied by the opera project “Orlando.” After accepting composer Olga Neuwirth’s request to costume her production at the Vienna State Opera, Kawakubo turned the project into a trilogy, drawing on the novel’s themes not only for the production itself, but for her men’s and women’s spring collections.
With that extravaganza behind her, for fall Kawakubo focused again on pure fashion and the obstacles to invention. “Is it not impossible to make something completely and utterly new, since we are all living in this world?” Kawakubo mused rhetorically in her program notes. “So continuing my work as a perpetual futurist, I worked from within the CDG world.”
That, of course, is a verdant world to mine, as Kawakubo’s compilations are both signature and iconic, her constructions wonders of imagination and craft. Certain elements recur in her work over and over again in new, ever fantastical iterations. Here, she made specific references to past collections. A trio recalled spring 2012’s “White Drama” with its ecclesiastical undertones, one look a dressmaker’s primer on the multiple ways to shirr fabric, another, a lumpy, bumpy descendant of the legendary “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” from spring 1997 that still amazes, nearly a quarter century later. And throughout, gorgeous, ethereal lace veils that fell from sky-headdresses evoked the mesmerizing, weirdly beautiful Broken Brides collection of fall 2005. Then there was a look that drew a direct line to fall 2012, the season in which Kawakubo declared, “The future is two-dimensional.” To wit, as then, this dress was wide from side to side but perfectly flat like a paper-doll dress — from the front. Only now, the back view was a big pink bubble. Within Rei’s CDG world, it seems, the future is ever in flux. That’s how she keeps us fascinated.