Rei Kawakubo is held in such awe and esteem as fashion's leading conceptualist—and so well known as a woman of few words—that most people wouldn't dare imagine her having a sense of humor. Yet was there a sly dig at current fashion's fast-forward consumption of trends going on in the collage of fabrics in her Spring collection? The first look she sent out had a black leather shoulder brace over a nude netting T-shirt and a patchworked skirt of brocades and red glitter. As the composites of materials continued, it transpired that chopped-up shoulder parts of jackets were appearing in strange places—as if Kawakubo were casting an ironic eye over the current obsession with shoulder pads, and literally trashing it. Backstage, she didn't have any comment or explanation for that. She just said, with what may have been a flicker of a smile, "I'm an adult delinquent, to the end."
Kawakubo deliberately works at an isolated distance from the mainstream. Just recently, though, she'd have needed to be a hermit or a saint not to react to the way the wider industry has been cannibalizing her ideas. Thanks to her last collection alone, both military drab and the use of sheer, nude fabric are running rampant through the Spring shows, shortly to be followed by an instant mass-market response. Kawakubo returned to both points in this collection (via army tailoring and transparent beige trenchcoats) as if to flag the fact that, actually, she was the one who started those trends.
It's never wise to second-guess a Kawakubo motivation, but her soundtrack of serene music suddenly shifting to a scrambled, fast-forward cacophony, then back again, and the slow-then-quickened step of her models seemed to mirror the idea of the pace of intellectual creativity versus the voracious speed and noise of consumer culture. Still, the mood of the show didn't position Kawakubo as a woman in a funk about the state of affairs in current fashion. And if she actually was taking a sidelong swipe at the mass market's shoulder-pad mania in this collection, and declaring it over? Well, that would not just be funny, but dead right, too.