Since I was a child, growing up in the 1980’s, I have admiringly followed the work and career of Rei Kawakubo. When I was too young to know what, precisely, avant-garde fashion was, I sensed that this designer was doing something special, unique, and somehow, important.
From the pages of W and Vogue, I pieced together an education in the adornment and presentation of the female body as idealized and imagined, often by male designers creating for the pleasure of male gazes. Kawakubo was starkly different in every way: female, Japanese, trained in fine art but not in fashion, and wholly original in her rejection of simplistic prettiness and conventional beauty. Her work lit a fire of possibility in my mind.
The Costume Institute exhibition featuring Kawakubo’s womenswear for Comme des Garçons at the Metropolitan Museum is called “Art of the In-Between.” Fitting with this title, the show presents over 120 examples of Kawakubo’s work in groups of textually defined dualities. These are: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Under each heading, we are offered a selection of sculptural fashion objects (it seems wrong and incomplete to call them “outfits” or “clothes”) with an essay exploring the items in the suggested context. These essays seek to place the items in a chronological or conceptual context, but often raise more questions than they answer. (See them in the exhibition guide, here as a PDF.)