Met Gala: In Between with Comme des Garçons

Every year, the world waits for the best and worst from the annual Met Gala, and New Yorkers wait with baited breath to get a glimpse of the accompanying exhibition.

For the past few years, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has pushed the envelope with their chosen theme (last year’s edgy Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology brought fashion to a new era). This year, the institute honed in on one singular living designer- the 74 year old trail blazer Rei Kawakubo, the founder and genius behind Comme des Garçons. Over the span of her vast career, the avant-garde designer and her label have reconfigured, recontextualized and reimagined the silhouette of wearable fashion, introducing structural and unconventional forms that have influenced the fashion world for more than 40 years. The Art of In-Between (through September 4, 2017) celebrates the Japanese artist’s enigmatic and boundary-pushing career, and is the first thematic exhibition of a singular living artist at The Met since it’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in 1983.

Kawakubo’s work/Comme des Garçons has become synonymous with the intersection of art and fashion, challenging beauty ideals with bold (and often unusual) shapes more practically found in sculpture and 3-dimensional design. Her signature asymmetrical, drapey garments flourished in the 1980s, when the fashion world was coming off of the influence of punk and embracing New Wave, bright colors, and big shoulder pads. Comme des Garçons created its own language with collections primarily in black, grey and white, upsetting the long established Parisian fashion world by scoffing at notions of traditional aesthetics, and turning form, shape and practical design values on its ear.

Kawakubo’s work lives in a space that is between two ideals- constantly vibrating between artistic expression and wearability in her own created definition. This duality was inspiration for the exhibition’s design, which is divided into eight aesthetic themes, rather than chronologically. Starting with dresses from her first Paris runway show in 1981 to recent work, the expansive exhibition presents binaries that Kawakubo blurs with her work; Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Design/Not Design, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes.

Unlike past exhibitions at the Costume Institute, the selection of 150 pieces of womenswear confronts visitors head-on, arranged at eye level, devoid of physical barriers. The sculptural pieces weave Kawakubo’s narrative, which has challenged the fashion world to rethink their fundamental principles, and has come to define the aesthetics of our time.

Words by Lori Zimmer

(Image credit: Washington Post)