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.