For a hundred or so years, from the late 14th century onward, a fashion persisted in Europe for a style of shoe called the krakow, with a toe so extravagantly long (called a poulaine) that it sometimes needed a whalebone or a string tied to the knee to keep it from getting in the way while its wearer was walking. At the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396,
when the Ottomans routed an army of European crusaders, the French
contingent was forced to cut off the tips of their poulaines in order to
beat a speedy retreat. Proving such a hindrance on the battlefield
would surely qualify the krakow as the early instrument of a
proto-anti-war movement. That notion certainly applied to its modern-day variant as seen in today's mesmerizing Comme des Garçons show, in which the toes of shoes curled like long, thin tusks and the clothes were the sartorial embodiment of anti-war sentiment. "Soldier of Peace" was the slogan graffitied on one brass-buttoned, militarily precise shorts suit,
alongside the words "Peace, Love, Empathy."
It is impossible to be a thinking person and not be mortified by the world's descent into sectarian mayhem, from Nigeria to Syria to Ukraine, and beyond that, to the school shootings, the rapes, the acts of random violence that darken the urban landscape by the day. And Rei Kawakubo is a thinking person. But her protest was mostly in the form of metaphor, those few word pieces aside. The show opened with cadet-smart outfits infected with primal animal prints, which were quickly joined by camouflage netting overlays, like an effort to cage the beast within. Another print looked like a child's scribble of shells exploding in the sky, a reminder of who war's real victims usually are. A double-breasted suit in lilac silk shantung, as straightforwardly alluring as any item Kawakubo has ever shown, was ensnared in a camo netting coat, which maybe had something to say about the way that war camouflages beauty. "Anything war can do, peace can do better" was the expression of optimism on the back of one of the finale's graffiti pieces. They're only words, but words are all we have. And that might have been Kawakubo's final, poignant comment on our fundamental powerlessness in the face of the global epidemic of violence. Still, in the context of a Paris fashion week, her statement had a sledgehammer force.