Rei Kawakubo/ Comme des Gracons, Art of the In-Between
Though I love the art of Fashion, I am not the one to ask about Fashion. Architects often have a certain look that trends with fashion, yet consciously attempts to be somewhat counter. When I was a graduate student, the style conscious among Architects dressed in all black. One evening in London, a friend and I were trying to leave a trendy, architectural reception. The coat check had become a bit overwhelmed, overcoats were scattered and now the evening was ending in gridlock at the check line; every single coat was black, and all approximately the same cut and length. Today, many en-point architects favor the workman jacket, part of the urban craftsman look. Like Cathart, just slimmer, sleeker and five times the cost. I always feel I should be more deliberate, and focused, in my own dress. My dress evolution probably stopped in high school, and over half my clothes still come from the same couple of shops. Somewhat sad since my father was such an enthusiastic, sophisticated dresser, with closets and closets to match. Once in a while, I can come out and appear as though I inherited some of his sense. I start with these personal notes because most of us can observe around ourselves that, Fashion expresses the group we identify with, are a part of, or with whom we want to be associated. Whether our style is self-expression or, aspiration to be a part of a specific group, Fashion reflects decisions we have made about Social, Economic and even Political values. I have never wanted my clothes to be a distraction to my time, collogues or clients; I felt the work should express greater importance than the clothes I wear. If I have any fashion dogma, I think back to watching Dick Cavett interview Perry Ellis, asking him about the everyday people whose dress he admired the most; Ellis talked about those who appear very tidy and neat and, how one never really thought what they were wearing, but recalled more about who they were and what they were saying. This was a long time ago, so I certainly have misremembered, and shaped the words into something I could adopt as my own. Now, my wife is also completely correct in saying this is ridiculous and that I am once again living in my own ivory tower. People cannot help but be influenced by how one dresses, and Style does express how you see yourself and how you want the world to see you. Fashion both reflects the present moment and, actively engages aspirations for the future.
The current show at the Met, Rei Kawakubo/ Comme des Garcons, Art of the In-Between, is a retrospective of Kawakubo’s fashion explorations. We see her experimentation of material, form and construction. The work is bold and challenging, but also aware of history and the need of convention for meaning. Most striking to me was the installation itself: clean white, fragmented geometric forms creating a picturesque sequence and more importantly, spatially unique containers to encapsulate each of Kawakubo’s investigations. In this brilliant installation, I feel Kawakubo asserts several key ideas. Fashion exists not on a pedestal, like most all costume museums seem to present, nor on a run way, but in real, inhabited spaces. Each grouping is of a different moment in time thus, the space which it inhabited and first gave expression must also be different and unique. The exhibition contains spaces that differ in scale, shape and density, like the moments of the past they also occupy. Lastly, the human body is at the center. The geometric volumes lead one exhibit to exhibit, like wandering through Arles but more importantly, the volumes shape the negative space around the mannequins. The architecture has no subject, no melody, no aria on its own; only the interaction with the mannequins, the friction of color and texture, the silhouette measured against depth can create any kind of sound here. As playful and curious as the installation forms are on their own, they resonate only because the protagonists have begun to sing. Strangely parallel to a Loosian position, the architecture is secondary to the human body, the impact of its presence, resisting Reproduction through photography, is only truly understood through actual experience. We are drawn to trespass, wanting to touch, embrace, grab and pull on these garments. Kawakubo compels us to wonder about more than clothes and the body, we conjecture about moods, moments, mysterious characters, dramatic scenarios. She reaches us because her work causes us to reach within ourselves. How humanizing art can be and thus, in this exhibition, if one had doubt before, Fashion is indeed Art.
On the Saturday evening I attended the show, mostly fashionistas and design students filled the room. I think other types will easily follow along, the opera fans, the gallery hoppers, the school kids on field trips. The engagement of space and mannequin, architecture and body, idea and imagination, overridingly make a case for the relevance of Fashion to life. So why don’t most people think far more about the clothes they wear? Fashion one would think is in the best position to bridge Art and Life. Though the show challenges us to consider the impact of fashion across time and space, I imagine most viewers, even those art and design inclined as myself, are not headed to buy the wildest Comme des Garcons; and that is probably not the point. But why not? We all have such different interests and, only so much time in a day. Every day, we all make choices about things that are not primary, but necessary; what food we choose to eat can truly be political and, how we vote at some point, effects what we eat. Is Modern life so complicated? For myself, I do not see throwing out my khakis and button downs anytime soon, but maybe a trendy workman coat also concedes a small willingness to ripple against the flowing rush of the day. Art in its many forms moves us all, deeply; but usually, in private, quietly in our chairs, sofas or gallery floors, within our mind and heart. But these thoughts should not be locked away, through exhibitions like In-Between, our souls seem awakened. We need to tie on some torn, brown, puffy paper; don some crushed, asymmetric velvet, reject those that talk to our fears, and embrace the messy, hopeful, human present.