Photography: Kim Weston Arnold
Your average Comme des Garçons show is a far cry from the typical fashion week fare. In fact, it’s easy to forget that ‘fashion’ is what’s happening when so much of what’s coming down the runway doesn’t even have a clear-cut place to put one’s arms and legs. It’s really more akin to a roving art exhibition — which is probably why this May, designer Rei Kawakubo will have the honor of being just the second living designer to enjoy an exhibition at the Met’s Costume Institute.
The knowledge that every famous fashion person in America will soon have to dress in some kind of riff on a Kawakubo look for the museum’s corresponding gala (perhaps you’ve heard of it) had people on the edge of their seats, wondering what the 74-year-old, notoriously press-shy designer had up her sleeve for the brand’s Fall 2017 collection. The answer? “The Future of Silhouette,” an 18-piece collection that saw models done up like something from a Miyazaki film — large, plush, and simultaneously jarring and cuddly.
Made from bundles of recycled fibers, black rubber and mesh, brown packing paper, a white fabric as pure as the driven snow, and a shiny silver material reminiscent of insulation (you know, the kind you might buy from Home Depot), what came down the runway served to obscure the female form with curves, dents, ruffles, and cloth tumors. The ironic sight of a bunch of size 2 models done up in enough fabric to make them look like a brigade of abominable snow women caused critic Cathy Horyn, writing for The Cut, to wonder “is the future of fashion … fat?”
Some of the looks, like the first two in white and another in a surprisingly delicate lace, instead turned the bodies of their wearers into exaggerated Kardashian stereotypes. The juxtaposition of these with the bulbous, recycled fiber looks brings to mind that of art history’s two most famous Venuses: the Venus de Milo and the Venus of Willendorf. Both are centuries-old subjects of the male gaze and powerful symbols of its ability to both elevate and relegate women. And like the Venus de Milo, most of the models found themselves without access to their arms. Perhaps it was a comment on the objectification and loss of agency suffered by women — or, given the title, a dystopian glimpse into a future that holds only more of both those things.
But personally, I like Horyn’s read better. Perhaps Kawakubo is leading us towards a tomorrow where all garments are graying rainbows made from an amalgamation of anonymous fibers, where all outfits contain enough breathing room to hoover down a Thanksgiving dinner, where gender and body shape are no longer relevant because we’re all just big blobs of fabric bouncing off one another. Though I’d prefer, if possible, to keep access to my arms.