by Hakim Faiz Baloch
COMME des GARÇONS can be literally translated to mean ‘like some boys’ or ‘as boys do’. I’m not a self-proclaimed or definition-bothered feminist, but the idea of accepting male actions as nature or an inevitable occurrence strikes a cord – an itch you just can’t shake.
But given that it can also be taken to mean ‘like the boys’ – a phrase that entitles the adoring and presumably female audience with a certain degree of empowerment, suggesting that perhaps by donning these garments, they will become somewhat like the boys. A false sense of achievement, a pitiful attempt at belonging, a temporary farce? Or a lasting symbol of pioneering gender fluidity, sexual liberation, a very coherent marketing logic and an audience that was and is still ready to take notes? The notoriously reclusive Rei Kawakubo, founder of CdG, hoped for the latter as she launched a brand that would spell out the rules, write the guide book and blaze a trail that no fashion house could come near for fear of burning out.
Kawakubo erupted onto the scene in 1981, barely batting an eyelid as jaws dropped at the novel sight of impractical clothes, dark, droopy silhouettes, and excessive reliance on large amounts of rather unglamourous black polyester. Prevalent trends did not matter, for the path she blazed was refreshingly uncompromising and lonely. Later decades would see this first impression continued and even built upon by collections that explored the relationship of the human body to clothing, and ‘made unfinished hems, asymmetry, a palette of unrelenting black, and overblown and deconstructed silhouettes’ part of fashion lexicon – as Lynn Yaeger of Vogue attempts to put mere words to such a vast and complex plethora of revolutionary art. The Guerilla Stores of 2004 to 2008, from Berlin to Glasgow, saw COMME make one of many contributions to fashion trends – alongside the notable input of blurring gender norms well before androgynous fashion had become the zeitgeist. The Japanese creative juggernaut had emblazoned a brand that was simultaneously unrepentantly aloof and alluring. The Sia of the fashion world, Kawakubo lets her abstract designs do all the talking, allowing the complex narratives and commentaries spin articulate webs and make connections, such that you get it, but not really. It is on the principle of this infamous ‘not really’ that CdG operates, the basis of its very appeal.
When asked into offering an opinion, the fashion enthusiast or even the somewhat educated daily wearer of clothing finds appeal in the pieces of COMME, both in its extensive collaboration projects with giants like Nike, or even by itself with wearable lines like COMME des GARÇONS Play, because of the freedom it allows – the freedom to hide from the world without judgment. As counterintuitive as that sounds, it makes all the more sense when one pores over interviews with Kawakubo. With her husband by her side, as her translator and CEO of the fashion house, this metaphorical giant of a woman who sends shockwaves throughout the fashion world with her avant-garde fashion shows-come-theatrical performances, is but a poor dear who doesn’t take well to fame. She creates as a form of self-expression, a projection of her opinion of how humans ought to cover or reveal themselves. She is a textbook introvert, and juxtaposing her very nature with the audacity and flamboyance of her creation, is her finding a place for herself, and effectively one for more like her.
2017 was the year the Met chose to honour yet another living designer with a solo show, since that of Yves Saint Laurent in 1983. Brushing aside the criticism Kawakubo has faced for not featuring black models, and ignoring the sheer Daily Mail-ery of the claim that people of colour have no representation on the CdG runway, despite the use of Kawakubo’s fellow Asian models, the curator in charge of the Met’s Costume Institute, Andrew Bolton reveres the designer as one of the few who can hold her own in the ever-changing tides of the fashion world. She has worked hard to detach her brand from any face – and in this facelessness, she allows the art and creativity to take root wherever it pleases. She is not the creator of this force of nature, but a facilitator and safe-keeper. ‘Pretty’, ‘party’ and ‘celebrity’ are just a few words that do not make it to her vocabulary, as she makes you question how wacky makes its way to wearable or how the silhouette will spell the future for fashion.
The flower arrangement, general décor, invitation jargon and the presence of Kawakubo were perhaps most of the very few CdG aspects of the night. Hollywood seemed to leave its reading glasses completely out of the equation as it dressed like it would for any ordinary Gala. But then again, after a year of creating sub-par movies, committing multiple faux-pas, continued cultural appropriation, and emergence and competition from more worthy and prolific talents overseas, the entertainment industry of the West has taken quite a few tough hits, and had little time to recover. The subsequent bruises were a general eyesore, as Kim Kardashian passed off a beach cover-up as red carpet chic, Kendall Jenner took minimalism too far in her no-fabric-just-crystals mantra and Jaden Smith decided to ask out his shorn dreadlocks as a final goodbye. And while I take great pleasure in the critique of ‘self-aware’ celebrity children like Smith, you must admire the vague connection between his gender-fluid self and the discourse Kawakubo promotes. For in his gender-neutral Louis Vuitton boots, and mourning garb, the young man was simply doing the best he could. Meanwhile, Caroline Kennedy, Rihanna and Helen Lasichanh, amongst just a handful others, were true to the event title. They went some way in proving that all CdG looks are not un-wearable, despite lack of arm holes, circular discs of fabric creating a foot of no-physical-contact radius and generally unflattering silhouettes.
Appearances aside, the bathrooms were the real MVPs of the night. Alongside facilitating the dignified emptying of the bowels of the rich and famous, they provided the perfect lighting for selfies and the ideal cold tiled floor and covered space that the smokers amongst them craved. Snapchats were taken and aired to a hungry public, and hourly updates were lapped up. And so by the end of the night, the Met Gala’s rule of no pictures was broken, while the New York smoking ban was also effectively avoided – and if I say so myself, that doesn’t sound like quite a success.
The Japanese creative juggernaut had emblazoned a brand that was simultaneously unrepentantly aloof and alluring.
Ryan Reynolds may have gushed adorably over his wife, and Humans of New York may have made us gush in turn as the picture and adjoining caption went viral, but the fact remains that the event was an undeniable failure. The attendees are not under any duress to dress according to the theme despite how much looked forward to it was by those of us who can only dream to make it even to the waiting list. And with a theme like ‘Avant-Garde’ the possibilities are endless. Anything out of the ordinary, unusual, strangely enticing, norm debunking, trendsetting and original was welcome.
Now, wearing CdG is not a feat, or the epitome of bravery and fearlessness – the woman who wore a meat suit has donned the COMME’s garb on at least two notable occasions . It is instead akin to cheating your way through actually coming up with something remotely interesting. We, the audience, watch you, the entertainers. Kawakubo knows how to hide behind the awe her clothing inspires, a true shy renegade – and espoused simplicity as she donned a slight variation of her uber simplistic work uniform, while Anna Wintour, chairwoman of the Gala, escaped scrutiny behind her usual choice of a timelessly graceful Chanel gown. The true turncoats, they simply ignored the dress code entirely, leaving the rest of them in their dust. Bolton had hoped for an array of mistakes, peppered with the few triumphs – safe to say, he was hoping everyone would have their thinking hats on. It was simply too much to ask for.
Perhaps this mishap is just indicative of the endlessly repetitive cycle of normalcy and ordinariness the world of fashion representatives have fallen into, with fashion houses missing out on key marketing opportunities like this one. Perhaps CdG’s entire ‘no face’ tactic is one to be followed: no brand ambassador, no stress and no associations. You are the people you choose to befriend. And Kawakubo has made it clear that she has neither the desire or the time for friends – thereby raising a brand that stands tall, proud and unabashedly celibate with few torrid affairs, far and between. The Twitter Fashion Police were busy, the memes were riotous and even my Indian home girls broke my heart with less than original and frankly ghoulish outfits. Pro tip: get a new styling team ladies and gentlemen of the upper echelons – or we riot at dawn.