Junya Watanabe, Tao, Comme des Garçons

When discussing the magic of fashion with a friend, I realized that only a special few designers evoke that feeling of wonderment. How do they do it? Where do they get the ideas that change and define a season? I have often had this sensation at a Comme des Garçons or a Junya Watanabe show, at a McQueen or a Hussein Chalayan show and, in the past, at a Maison Martin Margiela show. It’s what I come to Paris for.

This season, Junya Watanabe set out to redefine the skinny suit. I am always challenged by his explorations, be they in denim, military, Liberty or African prints. But today he undertook a more humble pursuit, exploring the trouser suit, predominantly the fitted jacket in gray or black sharkskin, and then in tiny black and white checks. With each model, the checks got larger and more defined, sometimes used in two-scale combinations and eventually with the checks turned to circles. The patterns seemed to echo the exterior of the venue, l’Institut du Monde Arabe. Jackets were all over the place, sometimes with open peek-a-boo backs, morphing into sleeveless tunics or ultra-short tailored dresses worn over black leggings with flat shoes. As the checks expanded, so did the form, and once again Watanabe was exploring his cocoon tops, this time in contrasting black and white squares reminiscent of a collapsing football. But the show’s progression was rather linear; while beautifully constructed, it was somewhat repetitive—there were no real highs (other than the tall head wraps).

That exhilarating element of surprise came from Tao, the youngest of the Comme des Garçons camp. Her girls stomped out onto the runway with utter conviction in their tall pink mohawks and flat, heavily studded biker boots, sheer T-shirts and giant wrapped macramé harnesses. While Tao is hardly the first designer to tackle punk (in fact it’s a favorite of Comme des Garçons), she managed to give it her own young spin. Oversized macramé aprons and smocks were made of knotted organza, tulle and even black lace over fluoro. The aprons were worn over leggings, cycle shorts and sheer nude tunic dresses. There were also reworked safety pins, shredded lace ribbon leggings, oversized and inside-out striped sweaters, tie-dye and other punk fare that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Saint Mark’s Place for the last 20 years. Yet with the addition of these bold wrapped and bound macramé gestures, it all looked young and energetic again. Short, black, bouncy and full-view ribbon circle skirts completed the look. In a word: cheeky!

But this season it was Rei Kawakubo’s own Comme des Garçons collection that really inspired that magical “what just happened?” feeling. One by one, wigged girls stepped slowly into a spotlight, then moved in jerky movements from spot to spot, to scratchy music that eventually built to a final crescendo of chaotic sound. The first girl out wore a leather police shoulder brace over a sheer T-shirt that seemed to suggest the protection of a fragile interior. Paired with a skirt constructed from multiple tapestry and sequin fabrics in an array of colors, a whole new form of deconstruction and construction, I noticed, was at play. After the skirts, there were dresses and a variety of jackets, boleros and tunics that all seemed to be constructed out of shoulders of other jackets or repeats of the form of the shoulder harness. This created a completely new landscape that ran over the body in a patchwork of classic fabrics. Military-green boleros and bodices were shown with red leather belts that were as three-dimensional and as shoulder-shaped as the jackets. The nude transparency of the season before was still there, in the form of sheer long nude trenches and nude dresses and bodices created out of other bodices. Rei closed the show with a sheer T-shirt, an oversized polka-dot miniskirt with an extra-long train back, belted and harnessed in black leather that evoked a feeling of sexual empowerment.

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