Rei Kawakubo's darkly humorous show for Comme des Garçons today used one singular theme—the skull—and awakened so many associations, from the magical to the macabre, that it was easy to see why the designer herself called it "the skull of life" (as opposed to the more obvious connotation). She combined the motif with a black and white checkerboard pattern, then used that graphic combination in many shapes and sizes: in a traditional memento mori engraving printed on jackets, as photographic multiples printed on shirts, or cartoonishly exaggerated into floaty little alien heads. It was like she was creating a new floral.

Skulls were cut out of shoes and painted onto the back of the models' heads. (This last trick was particularly effective, as though Kawakubo was reminding us of how little it takes to convey the idea of the skull, how atavistic our ability to recognize it is.) And even as she abstracted it onto demure fifties-style full skirts and fitted jackets, she never downplayed the power of the subject. It was hard not be reminded of Alexander McQueen's final menswear show, with its images of piles of skulls, and some of that darker element was here. A black leather jacket cut into lattice over a black and white striped shirt created an effect like prison bars. And the only color Kawakubo used was blood red.