When You’re Expecting the Unexpected

Before the ticket arrived for the show today, a mail went out informing us that the venue was small. Then the ticket arrived, informing us that the venue was the cavernous Beaux Arts de Paris. Things are never that simple chez Comme des Garçons; the house had built a scaled-down reclaimed wood cabin inside the huge space, making it indeed small. This kind of attention to detail, and the meta-ness of sitting in a venue within a venue, was just the beginning.

In Rei Kawakubo’s safe space, things unfolded slowly to the drawl of Tom Waits’ opening track ‘Somewhere’ — “There’s a place for us / Somewhere a place for us / Peace and quiet and open air.” The sadness in Waits’ voice, coupled with the opening looks that had built-in sculptural pregnancy bumps bursting through the clothes, was poignant, calm, and shocking. Was Kawakubo talking about the collection within the scope of the collections, the pregnant possibility of clothing? Some of the pregnancy bumps had jagged cartoon broken-egg forms to them, making it somewhat violent. After all, it was Kawakubo that said of her infamous ‘lumps and bumps’ collection of spring 1997, “I realized that the clothes could be the body and the body could be the clothes.” And we certainly were treated to lumps and bumps as things got more deformed and exaggerated, hips kicking out of the sides, and entrails spilling out, tying themselves in and out of the jackets and dresses. After a brief silence, dragging metal could be heard and then a look emerged with chains tumbling out of the sleeves and trouser legs, binding the body to the clothes.

There appeared to be hints in the newsprint and repetitive writing of the brand name over and over to the point of making it illegible. After a bit of post-show investigation we discovered the newsprint was an allover print of a scanned article from Colliers published in 1937, written by celebrated war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, called “Only the Shells Whine.” It describes some horrific scenes of WWII, including the story of an old woman rushing to save a young boy in a square in Madrid, only to be left holding his hand as a piece of shrapnel from a falling shell tears him apart. 

In a rare interview recently, given by Kawakubo to Jess Cartner-Morley at The Guardian, she spoke, as ever, through her translator husband and president of Comme des Garçons, Adrian Joffe. “She thinks,” he said, “it is a misconception — by me, you, everyone — that what she feels and what she has said about believing in freedom, about the energy that comes from emotional freedom, has anything to do with her work. It is not directly connected with the work, the torture, of making a collection. In a sense, this is the total expression of who she is, because she has been doing it so long and because there is no team. Rei equals Comme des Garçons.” In a collection so brutal and violent as this, we can only thank Kawakubo deeply for sharing it with us.