Geniuses are different. Some create music that spans centuries. Some have triangles named after them. Some become baby billionaires. Some make stuff the rest of us can only wonder at. Take Rei Kawakubo. Her two-word backstage brief on her spring Comme des Garçons collection was, “Invisible clothes.” Only they didn’t look invisible at all. They were abundant and audacious; you’d never fail to notice a girl walking down the street dressed like that.
What you saw was broodingly majestic. Wanting something “operatic,” Kawakubo showed to the music of Henryk Górecki — beautiful, though hardly a joy ride. It proved right for the moment, as this was a sober, theatrical affair. The show had the weird vibe of costume drama exploded into stunning head trip. Along the way, it referenced past collections (a giant flat T-shirt recalled the groundbreaking 2-D collection) while serving up an oddball cast of characters: maniac Elizabethans; a scarlet Bo Peep; a girl who became a curtain; another who lived in a tree trunk; Anna Cleveland as a Grim Reaper in frills, each wearing her pilings and insanity with sheer serenity. We should all be so at peace with ourselves.
It was fantastical, as out-there crazy as could be. It also delivered a treatise on clinical perfection, a triumph of shape, structure and puffery (as in stuffed, not shallow). One could hold seminars on which is more curious: how Kawakubo conjures these sculptural wonders in her mind or how she translates them from imaginings to the stuff of the material world that can, no matter how strange or cumbersome, be put on a girl and walked down a runway. She executed all to utter perfection, down to the most minute dressmaker detail; on the curtain get-up, the pattern matched at the back seam as if it were couture.
After the show, explanatory notes came via e-mail. “Invisible Clothes,” the title restated the backstage parlance. And then, “This is the purest and most extreme version of Comme des Garçons.” Oh! That’s what “invisible” means? That at its most extreme, Comme des Garçons isn’t just about clothes, but something deeper? Genius!