The Met Ball for 2017? Lumps, bumps and black thanks to Rei Kawakubo


The designer fashions undisputed queen of conceptualism will be the subject of the Costume Institutes exhibition next year

Rei Kawakubo will become only the second living designer to have an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute, in May 2017. Following Yves Saint Laurent in 1983, Kawakubo is arguably as influential. The designer, who founded her label Comme des Garons in her native Japan in 1969 and began showing her collections in Paris in 1981, has been the figurehead of all that is strange, conceptual and artistic in fashion since then.

Comme des Garons, spring/summer 2010. Photograph: Penske Med/Rex/Shutterstock

The Costume Institutes curator-in-charge, Andrew Bolton, says: By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time. The ultimate compliment comes from fellow designers; Karl Lagerfeld, Nicolas Ghesqure and Marc Jacobs are fans, and Jacobs wears Kawakubo-designed skirts. The film director John Waters dedicated an entire chapter of his 2010 book Role Models to Kawakubo, calling her a genius fashion dictator. She specialises in clothes that are torn, crooked, permanently wrinkled, ill-fitting and expensive Ms Kawakubo is my god.

A Rei Kawakubo design for Comme des Garons SS17 collection. Photograph: Gil-Gonzalez Alain/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

The May exhibition at the Costume Institute provides the theme of the annual Met Gala, the celebrity-packed event chaired by American Vogues Anna Wintour. With this years Manus x Machina exhibition dedicated to technology, this made for some interesting outfit inspo for the guests. Zayn Malik wore a much-memed robot arm, while Kim Kardashian had a dress that owed something to C-3PO, and Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom had matching Tamagochis pinned to their clothes.

Comme des Garons in 1992. Photograph: Ken Towner/ANL/Rex/Shutterstock

A red carpet dressed in Comme des Garons will be a different story. Notable collections include the brands all-black Paris debut. Dubbed Hiroshima chic by some critics, it contrasted wildly with the OTT glamour emerging in the 80s. This was followed by the Dress Meets Body, Body Meets Dress collection in 1997, where dresses came with extra lumps and bumps beyond those on the body of their wearer, and an autumn/winter 2012 collection, where clothes were designed to look two-dimensional. All were in some way in opposition to the state of fashion, with the 2012 collection a comment on how fast fashion has given a throwaway feel to the wider industry. The exhibition promises 120 designs all on mannequins at eye level, displayed without glass.

While her designs are esoteric, Kawakubo with her husband Adrian Joffe, who acts as president of the Comme des Garons group has made an empire over 40-plus years in fashion. There are perfumes, T-shirts and shirts under the Comme des Garons umbrella. This results in an annual turnover of around 204m, flagships in New York London and Tokyo, and the huge Dover Street Market store in Haymarket in London, which sells all of the Comme des Garons lines plus brands ranging from Cline to Palace. Kawakubo is also shrewd: working with alum Junya Watanabe to set up his own line, and helping fashions current bright young thing, Gosha Rubchinskiy, by operating his business. With Comme des Garons backing, Rubchinskiys label has grown 350% over the past year. Arguably, Kawakubos success is cold, hard proof that creativity and commercialism can co-exist in fashion. This exhibition pays tribute to that achievement.

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