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What do Clothes Wear?

Kawakubo takes over the MET

by Charlotte Reine 

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “wearing clothes is the most basic human gesture, even the most human gesture of all.” The MET annually exhibits extreme garments and this year, they have chosen to honor Rei Kawakubo.

“My approach is simple. It is nothing other than what I am thinking at the time… the result is something that other people decide.” – Rei Kawakubo

Kawakubo is a renowned Japanese fashion designer. Her unique style ignites conversation between the chic and the unfashionable. She is the founder of both the luxury brand Comme des Garçons and the distinguished multi-brand retailer, Dover Street Market.

The clothes displayed in the exhibition range from gloves to jackets to dresses. The colors used vary from section to section, but throughout the exhibition color makes noise. At times, the theme of the section was supposed to tell a story, or represent a larger idea or implication in regards to the subject.

“Child/Adult” (as seen in the above image) is an interesting take on using not only physical space, but the space within the garments themselves (seen in the rightmost dress) but also color to represent a innate implication. Moreover, in the “Object/Suject” section, body shape is played with, thus showing the endless creative mindset Kawakubo has, seen in the image below.


Not only are the clothes unconventionally brilliant, but the layout of the exhibition is too. Walking into the space immediately brought me wonder and excitement. Mannequins dressed with the highest form of fashion are not only in front of you, but they are next to you, above and under you, and even reflected by using mirrors to create a seemingly never ending “all you can eat” fashion experience.  To Kawakubo, “my clothes and the spaces they inhabit are inseparable – they are one and the same. They convey the same vision and the same message, and the same sense of values.” Kawakubo sees fashions and their environments being a Gesamtkunstwerk, a complete work of art.

This notion of her designs corresponding to the spaces they are put in is definitely understood throughout the exhibit and provides an explanation for why the structure of the exhibition was realized as it was. It was interesting to consider why certain garments earned different heights and amounts of space than others. Throughout the exposition, I wondered if the great height that some of the garments were at would render it difficult to see their exquisite execution, except it surprisingly had the opposite effect and made the clothing seem larger than life.

One of my favorite museum experiences happened during my visit to this exhibit. To me, fashion has always been a part of my life. For that reason, I always enjoy going to the new fashion exhibition at the MET. However inspiring and beautiful the previous exhibitions were, Kawakubo’s creations of both garments and space played with more than just fabric. Each item of clothing was intentionally placed to add to the signification of the garment and the themes were clearly communicated…or so I thought. After slowly making my way through the exhibit, I overheard lots of conversations from other museum-goers. It soon became apparent to me that what I thought I understood well was in fact totally different to the interpretation that others received. I treasured how my understanding was my own. It was the first time that the fashion world that I thought I knew so well forever changed in my eyes.

What do clothes wear? Clothes wear individuality, style, personality, and signs of character from both the designer and the individual wearing it.

As Kawakubo said herself, the result of her work is the decision and therefore the meaning that its audience assigns it. This exhibition undoubtedly makes our jobs of making this decision as an audience easy: astonishing. 

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