Ode to Orlando at Comme des Garçons

A runway show split over four acts, with four different lighting set-ups, four distinct soundtracks, and so much more. With Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons, we’re often left with little more than guesswork as we extract meaning, if any, so skillfully concealed. Today, however, we had a clue: she’s recently been tapped to design the costumes for a new production of Virginia Woolf’s gender-fluid, time-traveling classic Orlando at the Vienna State Opera — clearly on her mind at today’s outing.

The first section was punctuated by John Coltrane’s 1960 track ‘Syeeda’s Song Flute,’ which he wrote for his daughter, and bathed in yellow light. The outfits ended in skirts, whether separates or attached to empire-line tea dresses, and the coating and jackets were rather 18th century. It was, of course, almost entirely black. The second section was bathed in pink light, set to the music of the Gerry Hemingway Quintet 2011’s Caribbean-tinged ‘Backabacka.’ The silhouettes remained similar, though this time they wore trousers, with rolling frills in various candy stripes. The forms were sliced and suspended, and shirts gathered in renaissance ruffle-cuffs.

The third section was dimly lit in green, and almost impossible to make out, with Carmen McRae crooning her 1962 cover ‘If You Never Fell in Love with Me.’ It also featured the most femme look in the collection: a black empire-line dress worn with a ruffle sleeved shirt and Nike Air Max 95s — of course. For the final section Kawakubo switched the lights on. The harsh light was soundtracked by a jazz drum solo and the boys fell about backwards and directionless wearing full printed looks, with 90s saturated visuals and images of sci-fi industrial spaces.

All of it was gender-defying and all of the boys wore pearls and sported Vita Sackville-West-esque hairdos. It was almost vampiric in its flamboyance, and lack of respect for timelines. Perhaps a comment on the blood-sucking nature of the industry, as well as a neat way to address the ongoing gender debate — vampires are traditionally androgyne — while keeping the punk spirit that we associate with Comme des Garçons. While our time traveling gender-bending garçons are sure to stir things up, those jackets and coats are more than enough to satisfy any customer.