There’s a place for her. But where?
Rei Kawakubo is at a creative crossroads. The designer told us so herself in a statement, a manifesto of sorts, e-mailed before her show on Saturday. It was a remarkable correspondence from a woman who typically lets her runways do the talking, and whom most of us view as unwavering in her confidence, her work, her art.
Kawakubo wrote that 10 seasons ago, she changed the direction of her Comme des Garçons show to see how far she could “take making powerful clothes, even to the point where the clothes become abstract.” She has decided that that approach is no longer new: “I looked for what is next, what is next, but I couldn’t find it.”
This show was about Kawakubo’s search, both as a creative and as a woman. As such, it felt deeply personal. With “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” on the soundtrack, the first model appeared, her abdomen padded to look pregnant, her black tinsel jumpsuit slashed with a horizontal zigzag to show her belly. She and all the models had white hair worn in messy, workaday ponytails, signaling that the burdens of being a woman and a creator are lifelong and grueling. You must create constantly, and find your place, somewhere.
The pregnancy theme continued until the baby bump morphed into bulbous protrusions at the hips and backside, in clear reference to Kawakubo’s seminal lumpy-bumpy collection of spring 1997, only now, the padding broke through the clothes exposing the “skin” underneath — bodysuits featuring logos, floral “tattoos” and newsprint. In context, the logos, also on Kawakubo’s spiffy Nike sneakers, registered not as merch-mongering but as statement of self, Kawakubo asserting, “my creations are who I am.”
It was all jarringly emotional, with some particular points of impact. Midway through, two models came out in chains — the shackles of womanhood? Of creative expression? Of expectations? Imposed by the self or externally? And near the end, when, on the soundtrack, Tom Waits’ “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Waltzing Matilda),” stopped abruptly on, “I begged you to stab me…You buried the dagger.”
Lighthearted it wasn’t. “Advancing ahead while fumbling around in the dark” is a risk, Kawakubo wrote in her e-mail. And yet she chose to show at the École des Beaux-Arts’ Palais des Études, on a bright white runway installed under the expansive skylight. It happened to be a beautiful, blue-sky day. There is hope.