This was one of the first intriguing designs I encountered recently, courtesy of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum.
But is this fashion? It’s certainly not wearable! Or is this art? Maybe sculpture?
The arms are bound up like in 4th century B.C. Tanagra figures – with the addition of lumps in odd places. They reminded me of this small bronze Hellistic statuette of a veiled and masked dancer from the 3rd – 2nd century B.C. Greece in the Met’s own collection
Another image that greets you early on is this exuberant, overblown paper costume, that recalled another unwearable outfit – Woody Allen’s Hydrovac suit in the 1973 movie Sleeper with Diane Keeton. Ok, so I let my imagination go a bit wild, which is what the designer did throughout her career. Not a comparison the artist intended, I’m sure!
Many thoughts and questions raced through my mind when I went back for a second visit to a provocative fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum by Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons (CDG) called “Art of the In-Between” (closing September 4, 2017).
For those of you who thrive on imaginative, ambiguous, thought-provoking concepts that are open to many interpretations – and avant garde artistic endeavors – you’ll love this show! What an appropriate name too. It certainly is in-between, on so many levels.
Be warned that this is a polarizing show. It was fascinating to watch the reactions of people walking in. Some of them looked energized, excited and blown away by the unique, dynamic architectural setting that greets you head on. This group had animated discussions about the designs, and took out their cell phones to capture a constant stream of photos and videos.
Not surprisingly, people in this group tended to be younger and wildly dressed.
On the other end of the spectrum, museum goes looked dazed (most often older men like Jay) or disappointed and eager to leave (like my daughters with high expectations from the Met Gala celebrity previews). In her New York Times review of this show, Roberta Smith called it Dressed for Defiance in her review, which is definitely worth a read for the context. Naturally this approach is not going to appeal to everyone.
But even the detractors thought the the environment of inverted, pulsing shapes, forms and levels was fun, and unlike any other exhibit the Met has put together.
“Art of the In-Between” grew on me the second time around, after the initial shock from the first visit had long worn off. Skimming the brochure helped since there were no wall tags posted anywhere, just dualistic floor titles like Design/Not Design, Fashion/Antifashion, Fact/Fiction and Clothes/Not Clothes.
Kawakubo synthesizes so many artistic traditions that my head was swimming. The variety of materials – from packing paper, plastic, lace, feathers, was stunning.
Naturally there were wedding dresses with decorative jewelry that reminiscent of Buddhist Bodhissatva statues. The difference between this and most collections is this is called Broken Bride and is envisioned as part of the cycle of birth, marriage and death. Not a happy thought for a wedding.
Headpieces were an integral part of this show’s experience, and varied significantly from collection to collection.
Having said that, here is a grouping without heads that reminded me of the years I spent in corporate American trying to look like my male counterparts by wearing suits that fit into a man’s world, but with feminine touches (think blouses with little ties at the neck). I was somehow delighted by this spoof on the classic grey suit with four poofy arms.
These two pieces, entitled Ceremony of Separation, struck me as more sculpture than anything else. The brochure explains they represent a poignant mediation on the fragility of life and the finality of death. I admit that I didn’t get any of that while in the show, and missed those wall tags that would have enlightened me about the designer’s intentions.
One of the reasons I wanted to see this exhibit was to better understand what inspired celebrities attending the Met Gala to make their own fashion statements. I was most intrigued by the over-the-top ensemble chosen by Caroline Kennedy. It seemed like as awful lot of fabric to me on such a slim person. (Would Jackie have ever worn this?) Vogue called her selection perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the night—and one of its best.
I went through most of the show without having any inkling of why Caroline Kennedy chose such a big dress with so many different patterns and colors, which turned out to be made by CDG. Near the end of the show, I finally found a bridge between her outfit and this show in a collection of Asian inspired clothes that actually felt more like fashion that other sections of the show.
The silhouettes evoked traditional Japanese and Chinese garb from various periods. The rich fabrics were packed full of gorgeous textures, patterns, flowers and colors, which explained Caroline Kennedy’s flower patterns and oversized gown.
Walking into the show, perhaps my initial expectations were too high after the blockbusters China: Through the Looking Glass (815M visitors) and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (661M visitors).
If I were designing the physical installation, I would have kept looking for a better way to integrate information about the designs to viewers. I had to work too hard, even now writing my blog with the photos on the screen and the large size 16 page brochure in front of me. I still feel like I missed a lot.
Having said that, if you’re a designer or a fashionista following fashion trends, it would still be worth the trip to see this show. And you have you have 8 more days to do it.
“Rei Kawakugo has consistently defined and redefined the aesthetics of our time…she upends conventional notions of beauty…Her fashions… resist definition and confound interpretation. They can be read as Zen koans or riddles devised to battle, bemuse and bewilder.” -Brochure Introduction
Just be open. This is not your mother’s fashion show. Expect the unexpected, and you won’t be disappointed.