Brianne Chapelle, Contributor
At the end of October, the Met released the theme for the always-anticipated Met Gala accompanying the annual exhibit at the Costume Institute: a monographic look at Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, an avant-garde Japanese fashion label. The label is often very drastically sculptural and envelope-pushing. It seems the Institute and curator Andrew Bolton will focus on issues of taste, the ways in which art and fashion ultimately intersect and what that means in our contemporary culture. I am particularly interested to see how they tease out the issue of “fashionability”, which has a stake in both art and fashion.
Curator Andrew Bolton is quoted in the press release as having said of Rei Kawakubo that, “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.” The work of a living designer is, here, being historicized while they are still innovating. That’s interesting in and of itself. It seems that this is intentional to an extent and that the fact that this designer challenges convention is part of the draw. Usually the Met Gala theme is not a living designer or even a person at all; instead, it’s more thematic in nature, addressing a topic or idea. This is the first time it has focused on a living designer since the Institute chose Yves Saint Laurent in 1983.
In the press release, Rei Kawakubo says of herself: “I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design…by denying established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm.” Comme Des Garçons is not an overtly recognizable label, but that’s exactly the point: to counter norms. Avant-garde art has never really had the reputation of being mainstream either, and, by definition, counters accepted culture. Your typical person certainly doesn’t attend an event like the Met Gala in the first place — it hosts the big names in fashion and industry gurus who would likely recognize the magnitude of this label and its artistic contribution.
I think that part of what is special about this is it brings an exposure to Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons’ work that would possibly remain a niche interest otherwise. Museums are in a powerful position, one in which they can teach us. Amelia Diamond from Man Repeller articulated it perfectly in her piece about the theme announcement saying, “But that’s why we go to museums, right? To learn. To peel back layers of different worlds; to be overcome by the combination of historical facts and imagination. In many ways, it’s already like a fashion show in that we want so badly to be inspired. We don’t have to “get” everything. But we are so human when we seek to try.