How on earth would Rei Kawakubo follow up last season's collection? That's what many reviewers were asking themselves before the start of the Comme des Garçons show this evening. Would this be another complete break from fashion? After rejecting clothing and making "objects for the body" last season, it was a distinct possibility. Or would the fashion system and its clothing be fondly missed and fully embraced with open arms by Kawakubo once more? The answer was a mixture of the two. In many ways, that mixture—which was in no way a compromise—was a more surprising move today.
Has Rei Kawakubo moved the goalposts within the space of a season so comprehensively for the fashion industry? In a sense, she has. The sight of those monstrous shapes—literally, largely knitted monstrosities—enveloping the models with their oversize frames, knitted cages, and multiple arms was no longer a shock. As the first model appeared in her gigantic, David Byrne-style Stop Making Sense jacket, it actually all made rather a lot of sense. This gigantic, tailored, Prince of Wales-check item seemed perfectly feasible to be worn in a certain way, perhaps not day to day but certainly on special occasions. This was a clothing collection, but one where the boundaries had been redefined.
Of course, not everything had so much ease; the ability to move your arms or see properly at times is an issue. Then again, women in burkas face similar drawbacks, and that seems largely the result of obligation, as opposed to the decidedly free choice of wearing Comme. But unlike with Kawakubo's last collection, much could be altered in the styling, thus making the clothing less inherently outlandish or impractical.
But who cares if the clothing is outlandish and impractical, anyway? What Kawakubo now seems to be asking her customer to do is to consume clothing in a different way. She also seems to be making a point about the fashion system overall and redefining what it can be; for example, the sales of her last collection, with its ultraexpensive and outré single pieces, were very healthy indeed.
Kawakubo herself defined the lineup in the following way: "The theme of the collection this time is MONSTER. It's not about the typical Monster you find in sci-fi and video games. The expression of the Monsters I have made has a much deeper meaning. The craziness of humanity, the fear we all have, the feeling of going beyond common sense, the absence of ordinariness, expressed by something extremely big, by something that could be ugly or beautiful. In other words, I wanted to question the established standards of beauty."
What seems to really haunt Kawakubo is the demanding, rapacious monster of fashion itself, consuming everything in its path and always insisting on more from her. It might be a case of cod psychology, but those heavy knitted chains—like something Jacob Marley's ghost would wear—the knotted sleeves, and the massive, enveloping, suffocating shapes all point to a nightmare pursuing Kawakubo. At the same time, it could all be a beautiful dream. Only she can really decide. But one thing is for sure: Without her, fashion might indeed be a nightmare and would certainly be a far poorer place.