The inimitable Rei Kawakubo, designer and sole owner of Comme des Garçons, is the recipient of the CFDA’s international award this Monday. Forever the contrarian, she’ll be absent, instead sending John Waters, whose devotion to Comme is well-known, to accept on her behalf. (Oddly enough, he’ll also be accepting for another absentee, Johnny Depp, winner of the style icon award.) The company statement that she’s too busy prepping her men’s show later this month comes as no surprise, considering the notoriously taciturn designer is never one to reveal her thought process, let alone give a speech.
It’s fitting that Kawakubo would receive her award during the period of one of her most complex collections. In March, Kawakubo showed vibrant wool felts cut in overly simplistic patterns in what many dubbed “the future in two dimensions.” The exaggerated yet flat shapes floated around the body, leaving everyone wondering if Kawakubo was commenting on the digital age. When most of the public absorbs the season through images, why not give them something phenomenal in 2D? Or could Kawakubo have been reacting against fashion’s reliance on embellishment and “luxury” fabrics, embracing silhouettes rendered in unremarkable felt, not in the baubles and beads decorating a sleeve?
That’s the magic of Kawakubo: you’ll get a hint, but you’ll can never know with any certainty what’s she thinking. Her fall 2010 collection, where she mixed Scottish plaids with engorged pillow-like patches, is a prime example. Her only clue: “inside decoration.” Were we revisiting her iconic Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body collection of 1997? Or, more macabre, was she inspired by the shape of internal organs? We’re left to wonder.
As Comme des Garçons has evolved over the years, including its equally seminal Junya Watanabe line, the essence of Kawakubo seems to be an irrevocable push towards the future. Her ascetic commitment to art is ever-changing, but never self-aggrandizing. There is and will always be a coyness, a wink, a sense of humor to Kawakubo. She’ll always try to pull the wool over your eyes—well, wool felt anyway.