Village Voice 05.10.2017 : Page 16

18 May 10 -May 16, 2017 VILLAGE VOICE.com “pods” — shelter them, and keep them a bit apart from us. Bare fluorescent bulbs to the Met in 1983. line the ceiling, giving the room an aura that measures somewhere between the ce-Kawakubo’s lawless eye may be the result of her having never formally studied lestial and the commercial. The exhibition design isn’t unlike the Comme des Gar-fashion, or apprenticed for a couturier, which runs contrary to the industry stan-çons boutique in Chelsea, and lest one get too woo-woo about her, Kawakubo has dard. After finishing a degree in the history of aesthetics at Keio University in To-kyo, she worked for a textile company for a few years before becoming a stylist. She long maintained — in her usual, paradoxical style — that she is a businesswoman before all else. “All art is commercial,” she told Bolton in an interview for the exhibi-started to design out of necessity: She couldn’t find clothes that were interesting tion’s catalog. “It’s always been commercial — more today, in fact, than ever before.” enough. Soon, she was selling her garments in small boutiques around Tokyo, and Out of her mouth, this isn’t cynicism; it’s a practical constraint, yet another contra-in 1969 she formally founded her label, calling it Comme des Garçons — a name diction to wrestle. that translates from the French as “like the boys” — just because she liked the way Ideas can be arduous, uncomfortable things to bring into the world, which may the words sounded. be why Kawakubo’s clothes can appear arduous and uncomfortable to wear. Taken Yet Kawakubo has always challenged how gender plays out in clothing. When from her autumn/winter 2015–2016 “Ceremony of Separation” collection, two gar-she first began, she’s said, she imagined clothes for a woman “who is not swayed by ments here categorized under what her husband thinks.” After the theme of Life/Loss are al-all, originality, newness, can’t most literal interpretations of take root in the dust of old insti-grief and the weights we carry. tutions; it requires light, fresh One is made of black lace, the air. In her collections “Persona” other of white polyester. For (autumn/winter 2006–07) and each, the fabrics have been cut, “The Infinity of Tailoring” (au-stuffed, and tied to create satch-tumn/winter, 2013–14) tradi-els, which are then stitched to-tionally masculine-cut suits gether to encircle body, almost appear inflated, pouffed, with smothering it. It’s remarkable sleeves stitched atop sleeves, how dynamic these clothes are, draped to seem simultaneously how they never settle into place, brutish and soft. The dresses on how their gravity remains uncer-view from “Two Dimensions” tain. Does this evoke a death (autumn/winter 2012–13), made sentence, or a lifeline? Do the of vibrantly colored polyester clothes buoy or anchor the body felt cut to look like flat cartoons beneath? of dresses, exaggerate what This play between lightness might be considered a childlike and heaviness, between burden femininity. They’re oversize, and relief, recurs throughout her almost monstrous, and pure collections, complicating the delight to behold. presence of a wearer — a woman Beyond any feminist — and the skin she’s in. In interpretations, Kawakubo is a Kawakubo’s clothes, sexuality, philosopher-designer, her work at least the socially sanctioned propelled by the concepts of mu kind, is secondary to a rightful (emptiness) and ma (space), self-possession. Her designs from which arrive the idea of the aren’t “man-catchers” by any “in-between,” the uncharted ter-traditional standard. And in ritories reached via paradox. The comparing red-carpet photos exhibition captures and frames of the few celebrities daring the depth of her thinking along enough to wear Comme to this nine themes: Absence/Presence, year’s Met Ball — among them Design/Not Design, Then/Now, Rihanna, Caroline Kennedy, and Self/Other, Model/Multiple, Photograph by Paolo Roversi © Comme des Garçons Tracee Ellis Ross — with images Fashion/Antifashion, High/ of those who went a more con-Low, Object/Subject, and ventional route, one sees quite Clothes/Not Clothes. By design, clearly how bland popular ideas the show is not a history of her of beauty are and have always work, and in the spirit of been, and how a woman is re-Kawakubo’s singularity, “Art of warded, and how she is cheated, the In-Between” isn’t a tradi-by becoming an acceptable ob-tional retrospective. The word ject of desire. spiritual creeps with disingenu-Kawakubo’s clothes also lib-ousness when used to describe erate by leaving room for possi-even the most transformative bility, for the next idea, for the material achievements, but this garment to come. The ecru cot-show preserves the sensation ton dresses from “Clustering Beauty,” her spring/summer collection of 1998 (De-that Kawakubo’s designs arrive from an unmapped elsewhere. No didactic texts sign/Not Design) are brilliantly constructed to appear unfinished: fully formed, but crawl up the walls. The clothes aren’t presented in chronological order, and not all also full of promise. Two dresses made of white synthetic wadding from autumn/ her collections are represented. Untethered from titles and time (although visitors winter 2017–2018’s “The Future of Silhouette” collection (Bound/Unbound) look can pick up an exhibition guide and read along), all is instead arranged thematically like warping cocoons. They’re sleeveless, inhibiting a woman’s movement, wrap-to foreground the “in-betweens” from which her works spring. ping her up, trapping her. Then again, she’s untouchable under there, out of sight, The show presents itself more like a visitation, as though the garments alighted and as any butterfly can attest, she might just be metamorphosing at this very instant here. The gallery has been built out in spare, open-air architectures, distilled almost into a beauty beyond beauty — into a woman the likes of whom we’ve never quite to pure geometries, to both frame and house the clothes. Some thrust forward as seen before. stages, pushing the garments into our world, while others — cylindrical, conical “All my effort is oriented toward giving form to clothes that have never been seen before,” Kawakubo once said

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