Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Highland Fling

Rei Kawakubo

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, b. 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969). Headdress by Stephen Jones (British, b. 1957). Ensemble, spring/summer 2006. Navy wool gabardine, red, yellow, white, and black tartan cotton, and yellow, brown, and white tartan wool; silver metal and brown leather; Union Jack–printed cotton. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Comme des Garçons, 2007 (2007.306a–d).

Rei Kawakubo has on occasion displayed a surprising affinity for contemporary British street fashion. Some of her earliest Paris collections alluded to punk and neo-romantic styles through the filter of her own strong deconstructivist aesthetic. For example, her sweater with holes—the result, Kawakubo explained, of her deliberate disabling of a knitting machine—was a refined rendering of the loosely woven web sweaters on Kings Road.

In this ensemble, several tartans, with their rich political narratives and association with the history of the Scottish resistance, are combined in an untraditional jumble. At the end of the eighteenth century, when Scottish plaids were first systematically codified, every pattern and color-way conveyed familial ties. Like Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, Kawakubo manipulates the highly symbolic textile for its radical, as well as its traditional, connotations. The original tartan ensemble was a long rectangle of cloth wrapped around the waist and fixed by a belt, with the excess fabric thrown over the shoulder in a togalike drape. Kawakubo plays with the premise of the tartan as draped cloth to develop her design. The designer’s rebellious and anarchic conceit is expressed in the punk reference of the Union Jack headscarf and Mad Max, post-apocalyptic headpiece, designed in collaboration with the British milliner Stephen Jones.

Comments (79)

  1. costume history fan Says:

    While Kawakubo is obviously playing with tartan and Western street dress, the draping of the “skirt” reminds me of the draped trouser-type garments of men’s traditional Thai dress, and even the upper part of the jacket is not unlike traditional Thai women’s jackets. I wonder whether Kawakubo is deliberately blending elements of Eastern and Western dress.

  2. Fernando Chavez Says:

    I love this desings. Rei definately outdid himself, I can see some Vivienne Westwood influence, e.g. the crown, the tartan and overall construction. What I find amazing is that she can make it her own and make it appealing. I adore it.

  3. Gloria Guinness Says:

    This ensemble reminds me of so many things: women in 1940s Paris, dealing with wartime restrictions and making do with what fashion they could cobble together for themselves before stepping out the door; echoes of zoot suits; the minor nobility of Sarawak; and the costumes of “The King and I,” ie the ones worn by the royal ladies before they were stuffed into crinolines. I find it a fascinating outfit because of its clashing possibilities and cultural crosscurrents. There’s also a bit of Harlem in its Renaissance days, don’t you think?

  4. danyel latorre Says:


  5. lorena Says:

    hi, I wonder whether Kawakubo is deliberately blending elements of Eastern and Western dress. happy holidays

  6. giancinephile Says:

    One thing that must be addressed in fashion is the system itself. If designers like McQueen and Kuwakubo deconstruct the notion of femininity with their clothes and continue to produce these highly subjective interpretations of things that deviate from the notion of the many, then it must continue to reflect that notion. What Kuwakubo and McQueen for example has started creating a fashion consciousness that is in tune with a counter culture working against a dominant culture. At the runway, we may see these pieces in their pure creative vision as expressed by the couturier but sometimes when they are put inside a museum, they seem to be returning to that same notion of fashion synonymous to glamour and conventional beauty. The essence of creative vision and subjectivity is easily lost once it comes in the context or realm of the fashion system.

  7. elana Says:

    The red tartan sash would be incredible belted over a black body-con dress, with little heeled booties and a big knit hat. The black top/jacket, any modern woman could wear with her dark denim and a great pair of shoes. The skirt, with a little knit tank on top and flats, is exactly what I want to wear everyday. I like Rei’s clothes because they are unusual and avant-garde, yet very wearable for the average woman when paired with basics. But I also love them because, worn together in an intelligent way and with an artistic eye, the same item which made the basic tee-and-jeans outfit POP becomes something else entirely, something more thought-provoking and dare I say, more fun. How refreshing to have the option!

  8. Lynne Says:

    As individual pieces, each is a wonderful accent piece. Taken as a whole, it overwhelms me.

  9. Gary Petronius Says:

    I happened to come across this lovely image. How did the model get to drape the blanket between her thighs ? It must be an uncomfortable frisson though. I assume that she had her right arm amputated in order to be able to better balance the accumulation on her head. I would propose to place all these charming models as spectators everywhere in the museum galleries to delight the madding crowds.

  10. Rex Says:

    heap of laundry tossed
    landed on a mannekin:
    she called it a dress

  11. L.A. Consing-Lopez Says:

    I love how this peice reflects the true benefits of globalization, that a designer from Japan could find such inspiration from Scottish tartan to create a fascinating hodgepodge success.

  12. Donna Says:

    “Tomato Dress”
    red, splattered, lycopene-filled
    stains will not come out, even with oxy-clean
    delicious, goes with lettuce
    but i think i’ll stick to simple white.

  13. Ashlee Says:

    many different fabrics went into this gown
    but i still wouldnt wear it to town.
    no matter how much craftsmanship was put in
    it still looks like my dirty-clothes bin.
    though some say it’s mod
    i dont want it on my bod
    unless i was disguised as someone who
    i’ve taken a dislike to.

  14. Ashlee Says:

    heap of laundry landed on my head
    i cried

  15. Arthur Says:

    Is it right that a fashion manufacturer can “donate” its way into the Metropolian Museum’s collection? Did they get a tax deduction as well as this free advertisement?

  16. someone Says:


  17. Emma Woods Says:

    I like all of this dress exept the crown.

  18. Maggie Says:

    The draping and tying of the two tartans make a dynamic garment with lots of brio, but the jacket, while grounding them, seems unnatural and clumsy.

  19. myra Says:

    interesting but can an ordinary person wear it-I could not

  20. Dani Says:

    This ish delicious…and fergilicious.

  21. john Says:


  22. kaylee Says:

    well, have to say that I really love this. can I have it? please?

  23. Lacey Says:

    Pretty but you couldn’t actually do anything in it for fear of it unraveling

  24. Tally Says:

    very cool! i could wear it right out the door.

  25. HELLO Says:

    interesting but i dont really like it very much =[

  26. Laurie Aron Says:

    I think Rei Kawakubo has done some very insightful and brilliant things, but this isn’t one of them. I’m not embarrassed to look at it and say, HUH? It has a random influence salad quality. I have to admit, thought, that I’m greatly biased against plaid in any form.

  27. yael fisher Says:

    i have just one question: how do you put it on????

  28. meg Says:

    this is the weirdest outfit & i feel sorry for Scots cuz this is so ugly- did u c the hat?

  29. meg Says:

    I mean seriously- a crown? Now, all of u who’d where that- I have no words to xpress my shame on what u would wear. U r pathetic.

  30. Darlene Eklou Says:

    That style is what I’ve seen some homeless people in (minus the hat). I would call this, the tied up look.

  31. practical? Says:

    Highland Fling this in the garbage!

  32. Nacho Says:

    This dress is disgusting.

  33. martin Says:

    Nacho should go to another exhibition

  34. delaney Says:

    this capteres the hilands fun side with wild partys. whith the plaid it shows what the hilands has to offer and the coat its blue gray show what the sky is like there

  35. Moo Says:

    If I saw anyone wearing this I think I’d puke.

  36. Farnsworth Says:

    This insipid ensemble looks like a gradeschool home-ec project on crack.

  37. Mandingo Says:

    Long live the royals!!!!!!!

  38. Josephine Says:

    I like the sparkling dresses. I want to wear them.

  39. Neil Says:

    Jeffrey Sebelia created a very similar “couture” design for “Project Runway”. Inspiration, slavic pandering, or psychic channeling? You decide!

  40. GoldenPuppy Says:

    If I created this for my art class, I’d be laughed out of the country.

  41. HOOT Says:


  42. Yana, Sarah and Lisset Says:

    the hair hat is disgusting i would never use it is hair on hair

  43. Allison Says:

    Not my cup of tea, however I’m not really one for plaids though I understand Rei’s influence. However, I believe there could have been a better amalgamation of pieces than this. This is a bit too bold.

  44. ovoy Says:

    What’s with the crown thing? And the whole thing clashes. There’s a giant stripe of black, a giant stripe of red, and the a huge wad of leapord print… weird…

  45. Sophia Burnham Says:

    Beautiful. I love the clash between East and West here. Great dynamic.

  46. Carolyn Says:

    Ummmmmm… it has a good color contrast but it seriously lacks shape and i wouldn’t ever wear it. :[

  47. Katti Says:

    Somehow the plaid just makes me think bag pipes and kilts, good thing the jacket and hat don’t say celtic :)

  48. Rachel Says:

    Looks like a ragga-muffin. Too much Plaid!!!!

  49. Lizzie Says:

    this particular piece moved me in a direction of violence and serenity

  50. c willow Says:

    yucky. I could drape fabric and sew it and call it art. It would look better and I’m 13

  51. Nat Lane Says:

    Nat and Lane are father and son from New Orleans, LA. All of the fashion exhibits are spectacular. The Egyptian Exhibit is nice. Only have 1 more hour have to go.

  52. haley fay Says:

    rei kawakubu was mad,
    so she rumpled her mother’s good plaid.
    what was meant for the milk maid
    is now proudly displayed
    in the fashion exhibit — how sad!

  53. sirius Says:


  54. sirius Says:

    maks me want to shout!

  55. Josh Says:

    Rei has gotten a little tired in her old age.
    Therefore, she doesn’t really have time to drape or sew anymore……
    Now she just knots the fabric onto the body…..
    I suppose you can call that “innovative”

    I call it blah.

    ps. it also looks like a weird vivienne westwood knockoff…..Viv would have done it better.

  56. Sterling Says:

    The dress is VERY interesting :)

  57. Adin Says:

    At first I thought that this was a mcQueen but when I saw who the designer really was I wasnt surprised. I have seen similar work by this designer that has rthe same feeling. I feel like this is a brilliant piece.

  58. arie Says:

    I like the collaboration and superposition of different tartans, this aspect represents British art with the different genealogy attached to the pattern of the Tartan. In response to street fashion, it speaks to the modern mish-mosh we wear. I feel like it’s a bit chiquita banana–Carmen Miranda, but also 1920’s Parisian fashion. Creative.

  59. marianne Says:

    I LOVE this dress! The use and matching of the different plaids is simply
    AH-MAZING! The draping is innovative and ingenius and interesting…I’d wear it in a minute!

  60. Arthur Oliver Says:

    This ensemble would look perfect if tweaked to fit an avantgarde Lady Macbeth out for an early afternoon picnic on the heath…

  61. Nick Says:

    This dress is cool in terms of the way it wants to portray British fashion style with the tartans and a very funky looking head scarf and head piece.

  62. AlexGW Says:

    I like the somewhat-crown-like headpiece and the amount of plaid, though the yellowish plaid towards the bottom isn’t my favorite. The blazery part on the upper-right part of the design is great too. Love the punky vibe to it, but it’s high fashion, entialing it’s great as a work of art, but I wouldn’t often see this worn in commercial fashion.

  63. christine Says:

    the colors are perfectly complementary and the contrast between puffy and tight draws your eye and gives it a feminine touch.

  64. Lily Monir Matini, Esq. Says:

    not a fan of tartan combo’d like this
    just too much fabric
    and it looks unfinished

  65. Isabela Says:

    I think this piece is very vintage but not my style….Any way its ok.

  66. Briannna Says:

    I really love the way this outfit was put together. The fact that there is no color coordination and the way it was just sort of “thrown on” is eye catching.The jacket is really cute as well because it looks like something that young girls would wear today.Personally i don’t really like the way the plaid and the stripes were put together because it kind of clashes. However, Rei Kawakubo did a great job on this.

  67. luciano borges Says:

    Superb design, buta -as a very plain, fat and ordinary person - I ask mayself how this come into my life

  68. Desmond Says:

    Innovative? Sure. Terribly awkward? Yeah. Comme des Garçons? Without a doubt.

  69. Emily Says:

    i love the plaid. it rules.

  70. Rachel Says:

    Um… I like the plaid, but it kind of looks like it was all just thrown together. Maybe it had a little TOO much work put in to it. But it looks very cool as well and artistic.

  71. Jane Says:

    I like how they put it together but I dont like the fabric.

  72. genevieve hattenberger Says:

    It looks like there was not really a technique in the elaboration of this garment, the designer maybe took the first 2 fabrics on her way and wrapped them very quickly arround the silhouette, then came home, because it was too late and time to sleep (and certainly even didnt take a final last look…), for me this is not something a woman can wear, its more a piece of art (artists mind expression). This” ensemble” is not really one for me, the top, the skirt, the jacket have nothing in common, I just dont know why they are together…my curiosity makes that “ensemble” interesting. But when I read the punk and neo romantic influence for the creation of this garment, I understand, it s just the mixing of 2 very different styles (the puffy skirt is neo-romantic..while the colors, plaids are punk)…but still…why?!!! these sooo different ones together. If I can say that style, the colors, the plaids , the draping , remind me the style of traditional creole woman costum, then somewhere its very exotic.

  73. lorenzia balmer Says:

    this is so different. i love it

  74. Adriana L Says:

    I absolutely love this! Each individual piece of the ensemble make it overwhelming, but in a good way. If I were putting together an outfit for myself, I would never think to match up those three very different piece of fabric, designs and colors. Everything contrasts, but works together so nicely. I find it masculine and extremely feminine at the same time.

    Reminds me for some reason of the gown Alexander McQueen designed for Sarah Jessica Parker to wear to the Costume Institute’s Ball back in 2006. Both equally fabulous!

  75. ...SSSINDY* Says:


  76. ami Says:

    omg omg omg omg I LUV THIS DRESS!!!!!!!!!!! not

  77. younjung tina kim Says:

    This ensemble is very interesting how the garment ran into various use of fabrics, and representing a political narrative with feminine touches to it. I guess this piece is inspired from the bustle period, the years between 1870 and 1890. By that time, the bustle had more attention to the back of the dress, however in this piece, the designer Rei Kawakubo had adopted the bustles that are mainly concentrated on the front. The dress looks very unusual and avant-garde, looking like it is a combination of ideas derived from both eastern and western ways of draping. Designers like Vivienne Westwood, and Alexander Mcqueen, for example, created designs like this piece too.

  78. Maria Eugenia Says:

    the mix of textures and volume, just amazing!

  79. Laura Says:

    I personally dont like it but more power to the people that do! Thats what the USofA is all about!(The power to speak what you think!)

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