The Avant-Garde Mystery of Comme des Garcons

Imagine being new to fashion and attending your first runway show. Upon arriving to the venue, everything seems normal for a high-profile event. The program says “Ready-to-Wear” and you think this means it’s a show saturated with high-end, artsy interpretations of street style. When the lights go down and the models strut out, you realize just how wrong you are. The clothing looks so much unlike clothing it’s baffling.

This is essentially the Comme des Garcons experience. The Japanese fashion label, whose name translates to “Like Boys,” has been an edgy, eccentric brand since Rei Kawakubo founded it in 1969. In a piece on Mad Perfumista, blogger Katherine Chan calls the brand an “anti-aesthetic.” This makes sense, as the clothes are often comprised of foam lumps, heavy fabrics and minimal skin exposure, going against most other designers’ signature looks. Chan’s article speaks about how Kawakubo’s designs challenge Western sexualization of the female body, choosing instead to use fashion to explore art, perceptions and stereotypes of our world today. The brand has become a successful counter culture, influencing big designers in small ways while also continually outpacing everyone else in the avant-garde.

Comme des Garcons’ Spring/Summer 2017 runway collection is one of their most interesting yet. Presented in their go-to location of Paris, the designs are voluminous and often gravity-defying. Black dominates, as is typical with this brand, but grey, white and even red plaid all make appearances. Each model wears an attention-grabbing headpiece; many look like a clear, abstract ice sculpture, while others are giant black hats, seeming to resemble a sort of lopsided, oversized beret. Most looks conceal the models’ arms, a bold choice which allows the pieces to essentially be fabric art hanging on a human canvas. People admire the works in wonder, yet few will likely take them to the streets. How, then, does this avant-garde fashion fit into ready-to-wear?

The brand does have some easily wearable items in their Play line: mostly shirts and accessories, many of which have a logo of a heart with eyes. These are available at Dover Street market and various Comme des Garcons shops, becoming what the general public knows best and probably the company’s biggest revenue generator. But its runway collections, the brand’s face in the fashion industry, rarely make it into consumer’s closets. While the clothes are captivating for shows, they simply are too complex and impractical to wear in real life.

Comme des Garcons is a fashion company overall, but their runway collections are absolutely outrageous and are more of an abstract performance art. While the brand is always a fascinating addition to fashion week, it would make more sense if the otherworldly collections made their debut in couture week. If Kawakubo decided to do this and instead showed something based around the Play line during ready-to-wear, the concepts would make a lot more sense. At the same time, maybe the experienced designer is enjoying the irony of her unwearable collections showing during ready-to-wear week. Commes des Garcons is an avant-garde mystery, so the world will likely see many more abstract collections and continue finding more questions than answers.

Ali Webb is a staff writer. Email her at violetvision@nyunews.com.

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