Wearing: Rick Owens SS2015 dress; Margiela techno tabis
"I called it the Ceremony of Separation. It's about how the beauty and power of ceremony can alleviate the pain of separating, for the one departing as well as for the one saying goodbye." - Rei Kawakubo
What with all this talk or separation, departure and goodbye, is this Rei Kawakubo's way to warn us of her potential retirement?
This is the fourth collection in which Rei Kawakubo has left all her inhibitions behind, abandoning all hopes for wearability and practicality, not that Comme des Garçons was synonymous with the latter to begin with. It started in the spring of 2014. Prior to the change in design strategy, most runway pieces would be produced for the masses alongside some watered down pieces. Then came that spring collection; the first instalment that pushed the boundaries of pragmatism even by Comme standards. Clothes no longer looked like clothes. They became sculptures that reduced mobility and visibility for the wearer greatly. While Kawakubo-san welcomes anyone who would take up the challenge, she does not expect anyone to do so. As each collection metamorphosed, the number of looks sent into production plummeted. Kawakubo-san picks out what would be reproduced. Loyal clients are allowed to order the runway pieces that have been chosen. The rest of us lowly devotees can only wait for the tamer interpretations to hit the stores.
A little over a week ago I had the pleasure to attend a Comme des Garçons party marking the arrival of the new fall/winter collection in the Singapore boutique. So take this as a report of sorts.
Rei Kawakubo's forte is creating opulence with modest materials. Polyester, cotton and wool, woven and treated to create the illusion of silk, lace and leather. The lace motifs and empire waistline one usually associates with weddings are used in a melancholic context, which brings to mind her other famous collection, Broken Bride of Spring 2012. The gold cage reminds one of watabōshi, the hood of Japanese bridal costume, combined with the traditional funeral veil that has heavy trimming at the hem. I have no idea what those shoulder pad/helmet-like things are.
It was only after a closer inspection of this faux leather coat did I realise that the embroidery on the gold hoods were haphazardly arranged like a child's doodles, which was then translated on the flat surface of the coat. The reworked motifs such as cages and ribbons have been reinterpreted in a much subdued manner on plain coats and shift dresses. Some were too plain for my liking. Others, like the coat with caged hem below, managed to balance the outré with the commonplace. Ribbons once again featured heavily in this collection, which has been making a frequent appearance in the last few years. There's something restrictive and freeing about this holey cage, or is it caged holes?
The Homme Plus collection has not gone through the same exaggerated evolution as the mainline. A jacket still looks like a jacket despite having extra zebra sleeves. If you had searched beyond Vogue's frontal 2D shots you would have seen the disturbing illustrations by the South African artist Roger Ballen, who had also worked with the equally freaky Die Antwoord. The biker jacket and blazer were made of faux leather, available for sale in stores and various online retailers such as Farfetch (here and here).
And then I met Mr. Joffe himself, whose attendance was unbeknownst to me until my arrival. I had a lovely chat with this gracious and soft-spoken man abut his digital doodles and Yoox. He came with some of the Comme des Garçons staff from Japan, one of which some of you might recognise in a photo below. He was wearing the grey slanted suit from the latest Homme Plus collection. Anyway Mr. Joffe. Despite being a person who holds so much power in fashion next to Rei Kawakubo, he was not one who put on airs. Some people were reluctant to approach him, while some others couldn't wait to get hold of him. If it wasn't for the power vested in me by this Wonderland coat I might have been standing in a far corner muttering 'Senpai please notice me'.
I have never seen this many Comme des Garçons-shrouded people in Singapore in my entire fashion life, ever. There were women in some major runway pieces like the sequinned flat seam dress of FW2012. Some dudes in the 'Preme collab (ugh). But overall it was a fun visual feast for the evening. Just look at the well-dressed attendee on the left. I do wonder if I've been going to the wrong parties.
"When fashion is driven by creation, I suppose it can be called an art form. But I have no concept of art in my work. Clothes are only completed when somebody actually wears them. If they were art, they could be more abstract. As long as something is new and has never been seen before, I don't mind if people call it art. Wear them if you dare." - Rei Kawakubo
It's almost the end of 2015. If you're wearing Rick Owens head to toe you're so passé.
Yet here I am doing the very thing.
For some reason Moby is being played on the random 8track playlist some algorithm has decided would be right up my alley. Moby is so not 2015. Is 8track still 2015? I can no longer keep up.
Word on the street is that Rick is so mainstream now that the youths are trading his geobaskets for Yeezys, or obscure Reeboks, depending on their allegiance and level of snobbery. I cross-checked with Google and sure enough there is an increase in searches for him. I can only surmise that his collaborations and theatrical runway shows have well upped his street cred. That and the various hip hop artists who were namedropping him left and right.
Here's the thing though. Those people who jumped ship were either unhappy with the new direction, or were bored with the so-called goth ninja aesthetics, implying that they weren't aware of Rick Owens leaving behind the drapey Madame Grès inspo to begin with.
And then there are people who just dislike anything mainstream. If the hashtag has over 5,000 hits on Instagram, it's time to move on to the next designer. Gotta keep it fresh, y'kno.
But Rick Owens himself has moved on. And so should we. Gone are the languid dresses, replaced by tough armours such as bomber jackets, samurai coats, harnesses, and paratrooper boots. The former may still be available in stores since they are now classic staples, aka his money-makers. Despite the loss of ethereality, the Rick woman is now grounded, hardy and powerful. As someone who used to complain that his clothes was restrictive and impractical at times, I welcome this gradual change with open arms.
I still remember the first time I fell in love with his clothes. It was the Crust (FW2009) collection, followed by Stag (FW2008). Yes, in that order. Those clothes were meant for space warriors. In between then and now, he made clothing fit for a bored queen whose only job was to sit on the throne. The garments were restrictive in the torso area, or were far too long to be of any use when walking. Now the queen is back in action, swathed in clothing no less luxurious yet allowing her movement and protection. One just needs to compare the size of sleeves between the samurai coat I'm wearing versus his trademark biker jackets. So much more room bejaysus. You can bet that the feminist in me is rejoicing at the new direction he has taken.
Rick Owens still reigns as the prince of darkness, and probably will be for a long time to come. But you know what's the best bit? Fashion is but a secondary importance to our existence. And if it doesn't work out at some point, he said it's okay to walk away.
With every fashion season I grow a little tired of seeing highly polished looks on the Parisian runway. This is not quite a complaint though, because there are still beautiful clothes to look at. Rick Owens comes to mind as his works slowly evolves into a more grown up version of what it used to be ten years ago. Comme des Garçons on the other hand has sprouted into a psychedelic, steroid-fuelled version of itself in a span of four seasons. But underneath it all, one knows what to expect out of these designers, as well as the rest of the avant-garde clan like Yohji Yamamoto, Ann Demeulemeester et al. Even Vetements is starting to get formulaic. The last time I was genuinely excited by something novel out of Paris is the day I learnt to appreciate Raf Simons's menswear collections quite recently.
Perhaps this is the fashion fatigue talking. While I still have the capacity to appreciate the works of the old guards, it doesn't quite provide the fresh thrill that innovation brings to the table, with the exception of Sacai. Paris Fashion Week as a whole is certainly still the most important platform on the fashion schedule, but it's hardly the brewing ground for breakthrough in aesthetics.
Fortunately London has reinvented itself as the hotbed for new ways of thinking. Tweeds and trenches are taking the backbench. Proportions are blowing up, deconstruction is kicking in, stark minimalism is going away, and gendered clothing is approaching singularity to make way for genuine androgyny. Below are just a few London designers whose works are making waves on the forefront of fashion.
There are many things I dislike in fashion - one of them being denim, but I maintain that there's always someone out there who's able to change my mind. Faustine is one such person. While most designers approach the design process with a moodboard or a theme in mind, she reinvents iconic pieces from scratch. Literally. Take the ubiquitous trucker jacket, for example. Instead of cutting patterns to create a piece of garment, she weaves them thread by thread to create the 3D textures and colour gradation. This process is evidently painstaking and time-consuming, but it's an excellent way to manipulate an everyday item into an artisanal piece.
"I’m making pieces that people are wearing anyway. I know they’re wearable and they look good because they already existed, I didn’t invent them. To me it’s really about the texture, the materials, the détournements. It is about creativity within a universe. It’s not a pair of jeans at all, it looks like it, but it is an elaborated pair of trousers." - Faustine Steinmetz
Ah, where do I even begin with this one. Craig Green has come quite a long way since his interpretation of an ambiguous nomadic lifestyle for his Central Saint Martens show. Be that as it may, there is still an Oriental underpinning in his recent collections. From the use of shiny fabrics reminiscent of the checkered Chinese laundry bags to tie closure details, as well as the absence of gendered markings in terms of silhouettes and cuts (skirted trousers, boxy coats, long jackets), the only way to describe his clothes would be futuristic Mongolian space monk. Initially fashion insiders were sporting his signature quilted plastic pieces, but last season they were replaced by his parachute-like jackets. When I was in Dover Street Market in Ginza I had the pleasure to try on one of the quilted jackets which you can see here. Unfortunately it was in white and I do not trust my ability in keeping it pristine beyond two wears.
Tigran is a Russian designer whose works I had been hoping would outshine his fellow Russian counterpart Gosha Rubchinskiy. For some reason the latter is receiving more press. This despite churning boring 80s-inspired sportswear such as t-shirts and track suits which were not much better than that yawn-inducing overhyped brand called Supreme. But anyway, Tigran. His works have that DIY quality that drives you to do your own version only to find out that it doesn't turn out quite as nice because you aren't Tigran Avetisyan to begin with. He's one of those blokes who plasters political messages on his garments. Yet they aren't gaudy like Hot Topic punk shirts. If anything it rings closer to Raf Simons with additional angst thrown into the mix. While he is still somewhat 'greener' than the other designers on this list, I do enjoy the collections he's turned out so far.
Prada and Comme des Garçons are the epitomes of bad taste gone good, while Jeremy Scott's Moschino is bad taste that stays bad. Now London has a new representative of bad taste that has a great potential, and his name is Nasir Mazhar. He's pretty unabashed in plastering his name all over his clothes, but I am very much impressed by the skilful placement it. The logo has become a design element more than an advertising tool. This alongside the terrific combination of technical fabrics of contrasting textures and colours, with additional graphic details that work together in a cohesive chaos. The final result is proper luxe sportswear that have been promoted from Sports Direct to the runways.
His runway shows and editorials paint an inclusive view of what fashion could be. Models of all shapes and ethnicities have participated in them, with the exception of the older generation however. Ah well, one thing at a time, I suppose.
You see, us girls are used to wearing long shirts and tops that go past our hips, whereas it's only okay for boys if they're walking down the runway or are the cast member of Games of Thrones. The last time tunics were acceptable big time amongst men was when Shakespeare was writing his sonnets.
Liam Hodges loves patches, patchworks and frayed edges. His clothes are raw, aggressive, and long, which is evident from his obsession with tunics. Liam probably wanted to change the perception about clothing proportions for lads. While Rick Owens is a long-time tunic endorser, he is the prince of darkness and therefore not quite relevant in the mainstream crowd until hip hop stars namedropped him. Liam's aesthetics, however, has its roots in the amalgamation of popular youth subcultures and is thus more approachable. The closest OG counterpart I can think of would be Raf Simons. The problem is that Raf is on a much higher price point, which makes him as accessible as a full-time well-paying job in fashion journalism. Thank goodness for someone like Liam Hodges who is making canvas kaftans. Did I mention he also has some neat knitwear?
While I have plenty of wonderful things to say about the lot of designers above, one of the few complaints that I have would be how steeped these aesthetics are in youth culture, bar Craig Green. Perhaps this can be attributed to their fresh entry into the fashion ecosystem, but one can only hope that they will move away from the youth-centrism without compromising their vision.
Bov left the house shortly after her husband had departed for work. It was a chilly morning but her iridescent blue Issey shawl cocooned her in its warmth. The occasional gusts of wind caused it to ripple majestically like an ever-changing sculpture. She was off on a deplorable journey that called for discreetness. Her flamboyant choice of dress was inappropriate for the occasion, not that she cared.
She was tired of hanging about with that milksop Len. It was nice to get away from the godawful sleepy town, that much she could admit. But if she had to listen to him yap one more time about the next upcoming writer penning another piece of existentialist philosophy, she swore she'd smack him square on the lips with a giant trout.
It wasn't always like that, Bov reminisced bitterly. Three years ago she had fallen head over heels for Len. The romanticised version of him, that is. They were both young and starry-eyed, a perfect match for their idealistic selves that probably would not stand the test of time. Young people never cared for that sort of thing; not in this century, never in the last one either. Chemistry first, real life later. But Bov was also wedded to a prim and proper doctor whose reputation she was reluctant to jeopardise. So Len, being the wimp that he was, did not aggressively pursue Bov and left her for the big city soon after. Had he sent a dozen roses, some Comme shoes perhaps, she'd have cracked.
As it turned out, some years later the planets were aligned in her favour and Bov got lucky for the second time. While in a jazz concert with her husband, they met dear old Len. He was done with school and most importantly, not as wimpy anymore. Her bosom heaved above her Yohji corset. Clearly Len could see what she wanted, even if her husband was blind to it. It was thus arranged that their affair would take place outside of her small town, away from prying eyes under the guise of taking 'ukulele lessons'. At this point it is perhaps necessary to mention that Bov had come to the conclusion her husband was denser than mercury. She had no fear of him ever finding out.
What she did not suspect was how quickly she would get bored of Len. All those years studying law only to end up living a middle class lifestyle. Why wasn't he going to any fancy parties which she could invite herself to? She didn't learn to read about the bourgie life to be stuck in the rut like everyone else; wearing off the rack clothing any wench could afford.
Bov spotted Len's cheap scruffy boots from the distance, the boots he donned outside of work. I think they were from uhh.. Asos or something, she recalled. She put on a half-hearted smile as she approached him.
"So what's the plan today?"
"I thought we could have a pleasant tête-à-tête over coffee this fine morn, my poppet, before taking a saunter by the river."
Oh great, Bov muttered under her breath. If he mentioned focken Foucault again he'd better wish that there isn't a rock hard baguette within reach.
“I’m not an artist, I’m a businesswoman,” Kawakubo says. “Well, maybe an artist/businesswoman.”
There's Comme, and then there's Comme Comme.
With over twenty labels under the Comme des Garçons umbrella (known affectionately as Comme), one can hardly keep track let alone differentiate one diffusion line from another. This seems to be a common branding strategy adopted by the big Three - Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto both have at least five lines under their names. But I digress. Today's sermon from the Gospel of Rei will shed some light on one of them - called Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons, henceforth known as Comme Comme.
So what exactly is Comme Comme? Unlike Junya Watanabe, Tricot or Tao lines, Rei Kawakubo is named the head designer so essentially one is still buying into her vision. More specifically, it is an extension of Comme's offering that has been mellowed down. If Comme is the Friday night acid trip in some rando's basement, Comme Comme is the slightly tipsy wine date next Tuesday. These clothes are targeted towards fans of Comme who don't enjoy being gawked at but still would like to buy into the aesthetics, or for days when the hardcore clans aren't in the mood to look like crumpled pieces of paper. Basic staples are produced every season, like drop crotch trousers and cutaway jackets made of boiled polyester.
“We never liked the idea of diffusion because it kind of waters things down. It dilutes the idea. When you think of every single diffusion line, the name is shorter: Ralph Lauren becomes RL, Donna Karan becomes DKNY. When we did a second line for Comme des Garçons we deliberately made the title longer — Comme des Garçons Comme des Garçons — because it wasn’t a diffusion line, it was an extension: the thing that comes off the real thing, so you keep the spirit. The concept behind it is not lesser than the first Comme des Garçons line.” - Adrian Joffe, President of Comme des Garçons
While I personally think that Mr. Joffe is just arguing semantics, Comme Comme does come across as a diffusion line - albeit one that plays an important role in complementing the mainline. Aside from recurring staples, Comme Comme reproduces various signature looks from older mainline collections, usually made in wool and polyester in dark colourways. I'd like to think this is Rei's way of thanking her fans for their support by giving them access to archival signature silhouettes, and/or another money-milking strategy, which I'm not ungrateful for. Below are just some examples I've pulled out from FW2014 collection.
Comme Comme is by no means a new line because it was allegedly renamed from an even older line - Robe de Chambre - another diffusion line created in the early 80s (source). However, I have found several Robe de Chambre pieces that were produced in early 2000, so whether or not that statement is accurate remains to be seen. Regardless, the consensus is that Comme Comme was conceptualised some time in the 90s.
The earliest Comme Comme runway show can be traced back to mid 2000, but if anyone can find anything earlier than 2007 please let me know. In the meantime please enjoy this video from Fall 2012.