Fashion Free from Norms: Rei Kawakubo
Bright lights and crisp white walls house the pieces of designer Rei Kawakubo. In an industry fixated on conventional appearances, a stark contrast looms. Showcased in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, from May 4 2017 to September 4 2017, the public can explore the innovative constructions of Rei Kawakubo. Kawakubo, herself, acts as an intermediary figure between art and fashion through the innovation and artistry witnessed in her pieces. Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Kawakubo was a student of aesthetics, prompting her experiments with design and public perceptions of attractiveness. Kawakubo was aware that the aesthetics within the fashion industry tended to be driven by traditional styles and mass produced trends. Yet she rejected these standard notions. Additionally, within the industry, strict labels are instilled in relation to diverse looks in order to appeal to specific demographics of individuals. The rigid boundaries fashion defines are then challenged by Kawakubo’s work displayed in the exhibit entitled Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, where Kawakubo exposes nine dichotomies and creates a bridge between the polarizing concepts of Absence/Presence; Design/Not Design; Fashion/ Antifashion; Model/Multiple; High/Low; Then/Now; Self/ Other; Object/Subject; and Clothes/Not Clothes.
The brand name, Comme des Garçons, translated to “like boys”, reveals her interest in contesting common perceptions of gender. In contrast with the 1980s hyper-feminine female fashion, Kawakubo created progressive pieces that did not shape the female body, appearing to be more consistent with masculine style. The androgynous pieces produced by Kawakubo marked movement away from gender norms and demolished the traditional appearance of femininity within fashion. This concept gives rise to equality on an aesthetic level, where females are no longer bound to stereotypical, gender specific styles. Likewise, this ideal of hybrid identities is apparent with regards to age, as Kawakubo contrasts the aesthetics of a child with an adult. The fusion of stylistic differences within these stages of maturity are witnessed through youthful aspects such as color, shape, and texture presented in adult apparel. Culture is also incorporated within these contrasting identities as Kawakubo incorporates both western and eastern styles; thus, showcasing the aesthetic beauty within this profound unity of culture.
In addition to challenging identity, Kawakubo challenges conceptions of “the body,” instead substituting her own desire shapes. Kawakubo imposes unconventional shapes protruding from her pieces, redefining and reframing the dimensions of the human body. Kawakubo is thus not limited to the defined structure of humans and incorporates the usage of irregular shapes to alter the view of the body. In defying individuals’ orthodox structures, Kawakubo commemorates deformity and abnormalities, an unusual ideal in a trend-driven fashion industry.
In these manners, Kawakubo rejects many common conceptions, including both social constructs and normative human forms, and creates a harmony within the diversity of the world. Kawakubo reveals that the polarities within society can coexist and be crafted into a form that provides balance. The fluidity in structure, concept, and design of Kawakubo’s pieces frees her from norms and allows for the crafting of her desired reality through the aesthetics of fashion.
Image source: https://www.dezeen.com/2017/05/01/rei-kawakubo-comme-des-garcons-art-of-in-between-exhibition-opens-metropolitan-museum-art-new-york/