comme des garcons was all about optimism in the face of the darkness
“Many small shadows come together to make one powerful thing.”
“A gathering of shadows,” is how notoriously reticent Rei Kawakubo described her latest show. It explained the darker mood in the air -- fierce-looking models (brilliantly cast by Midland’s Rachel Chandler and Walter Pearce) stomping militaristically, facing each other off in square formations, like human chess pieces ready for battle.
A battle for what? Despite her refusal to be drawn on such subjects, Kawakubo is not ignorant to what is going on in the world -- as a woman with businesses dotted around it, she probably has an acutely prescient view on just how bad things are politically, and what it means for the thousands of her devoted employees. You get the sense that Kawakubo can’t bear the thought of them as an army marching into battle.
But this wasn’t just another melancholic musing on the sad state of politics and culture -- like the utilitarian details, protective elements, swaddled silhouettes that we’ve seen elsewhere. There was the threat of something very extreme here: war, destruction, death. At the heart of every worsening political situation, these are more than just theoretical fears, they are very real possibilities for so many people around the world.
So it was dark, the kind of unbridled darkness that fashion designers very rarely lean so deeply into. Swinging spotlights only heightened the mood (and shadows), the models stomped aggressively close to the audience and a thumping sound-collage of the Anglican children’s hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful, with Beach House formed a jarring, slightly disturbing soundtrack.
There were Victorian mourning violets, shrouded in dolly black bows and fuzzy black textures; big spherical shapes and abbreviated Infanta farthingales; Grim Reaper hoods; and gaping holes in garments emulating open wounds. There was even an illustrative print on CdG tartan with the words ‘No War’. Several of the clothes were actually sculpted leather and latex, artfully curved like the protective contours of Medieval armour.
Yet for all the heaviness in the air, the show closed with an unexpected glimmer of hope. In the pitch-black darkness, the models formed a circle holding hands and staring up into the bright lights as if they were casting a spell or engaging in some kind of ancient moonlit ritual to ward off evil energy. “Many small shadows come together to make one powerful thing,” Kawakubo offered by way of explanation. It may sound corny to say, but that was a powerful hint of optimism, strength and sisterhood in the face of darkness.