Friday, December 28, 2007

Wabi Sabi

Rei Kawakubo

Rei Kawakubo

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, b. 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969). Dress, 1983. Black wool jersey. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, 2003 (2003.79.21).

The impact of Rei Kawakubo’s designs in Paris in 1983 was groundbreaking. Her runway presentation, with its unconventional models wearing body-obscuring layers rendered in coarsely textured materials, was received as transgressive and anti-fashion. In fact, the all-black collection was related in part to Punk styles seen on Kings Road, but it was all the more provocative for its Zen-like austerity and self-abnegation at a time when Christian Lacroix’s brightly colored pouf dresses were the rage. Anti-glamour and asexual, the collection repositioned feminine identity in a way that confounded many fashion journalists and critics. Some saw the designs as nihilistic, and a few even characterized them as misogynistic. But, as Kawakubo said at the time, she had merely wanted to make a statement that was “strong.”

This jersey chemise from this period of Kawakubo’s earliest international notoriety encapsulates her desire to test the limits of what is defined as beautiful or ugly, appealing or repugnant, diminishing or enhancing. Adopting Chanel’s strategy of reverse chic, she took lowly black wool jersey and transfigured it into a designer dress, an item of value. For both designers, the apparent plainness, even meanness, of their dresses represents a higher, more sophisticated aesthetic system. Their knowing client responds not to the immediate seduction of rich effects and materials but to the more elusive refinements of subtle finishes and detail as well as to a mode of self-presentation that seeks to avoid any suggestion of ostentation. Kawakubo’s design, with its interweaving of sleevelike bands across the torso, recalls the criss-crossing straps of a straitjacket and the body harnesses of Punk bondage apparel.

Comments (42)

  1. madeleine Says:

    gorgeous, on a model. i think it would be lumpy looking on anyone else

  2. Sophia Says:

    This design captures the essence of the wabi sabi idea and transforms it into something more relatable to the public - fashion. Beautiful.

  3. Adina Says:

    I was disappointed of the general trend of this fashion that goes to the trouble of developing innovative materials and techniques only to make ridiculuous, unwearable and hideous dresses

  4. Mara Says:

    I love most of these outfits but a few of them look really unwearable. Most of them are amazing!

  5. Laurie Aron Says:

    In black wool jersey, most dresses look simple, that is, the intricacy of the design gets lost in the opacity of the material. They are at cross-purposes.

  6. Alison Clarke Says:

    I thought the dress is very sophisticated being that it starts out simple near the top then has a few layers then becomes plain once more. The black would stand out in any evening party.

  7. Carolyn Says:

    It is alot of black but the style is very chic and sophistacated.

  8. Carol McCann Says:

    The fabric drapes beautifully and lends itself to this design. I would compare this dress to a well tailored men’s or woman’s suit, that is, it is elegant in it’s simplicity.

  9. bushbaby Says:

    divine!Simply DIVINE dahlinK!!!!!!!!!

  10. Moo Says:

    Since when is a black dress groundbreaking? Get a life.

  11. Mme Laurence Says:

    If you have ever spent any time at a loom, you will lsmile at the dress — an enlarged view of woven cloth; fiber grande, and I think it is fun. I don’t agree with the references to straightjackets & harnesses — it is the dress as pun.

  12. marina urbach Says:

    A productive topic for discussion: the relationship between fashion and art. I take issue with the idea that these designs are” ridiculuous, unwearable and hideous dresses”. Not only they are wearable, very much so: one of them saved my life when I went under a car in a street of New York, the fabric draped my body under the car, many times, creating a protective harness. I love the idea of the dress as pun, “an enlarged view of woven cloth”. The brushwork of Roy Lichtenstein comes to mind. Beautiful and yes, it is art.

  13. daniel Says:

    I think it’s CRAZY.

  14. Gloria Guinness Says:

    Strangely sensual. At first, I thought the weaving of the fabric was visual trickery and nothing more. I have now looked the images for longer and closer, and find it not witty at all, but instead, sensual and slithery. Jolie-laide but compelling.

  15. eva Says:

    These designs are going further than fashion and are pieces of beautifull art. Conceptual, form and materials are outstanding. Definetly one of my favourite designers. Also for wearing….

  16. Lina Says:

    It’s really fantastic!

  17. Sarah & Bette Says:

    We like the Vivienne Westwood pink dress best. It reminds us of the 17th century dresses that are very wide and take up a lot of space. The woman who wears the dress is declaring her importance. But we like how pretty the dress is compared to how weird a lot of the others are!

    Thanks for listening!

    Sarah & Bette

  18. marina urbach Says:

    “…find it not witty at all, but instead, sensual…” I disagree, it is very sensual indeed, and also witty: cleverly amusing, an intelligent expression of incongruity.

  19. Lucy Kessler Says:

    An interesting look for a jersey dress. Unique, and the draping is flattering for all figures. This is so far my favorite, I am into the plain dresses. :)

  20. Neveda Munro Says:

    This dress looks like its from the forties, and I would wear it any day. I love its colers (I usaully only wear black), And the ruffels are sooooooo bauteful. I admire this dress!

  21. Ilske Says:

    It’s elegant and it’s art. I like it

  22. Katie Says:

    Omg. This dress is a work of art only some people can wear it. I mean to thin you will look too curvy. Too cury you wil look to thin I mean like you have to be absolutely gorgeous to wear that.I mean with a long glossy pony tail and a long glass beaded neclace and some chanel #9 perfume you will be the coolest girl around.g2g

  23. Vera Says:

    Is being coppied a lot these days.

  24. Mone and Leah Says:

    nice dresses and i think this is really cool



  26. Susi Says:

    Oooh, I wish all the examples had detail photos like this, particularly the more embellished dresses.

  27. Lily Monir Matini, Esq. Says:

    intricate drapery
    would have been better with another color
    lost in the black

  28. Bob Amsterdam Says:

    My continuing objection to all your costume shows is that the labels are too hard to read. I’d be very grateful (and I bet there are also others who would appreciate it) if you would raise your text labels two or three feet closer to eye level.

  29. Elizabeth Says:

    absolutely phenomenal–rei kawakubo always sets my heart aflutter

  30. marina urbach Says:

    “intricate drapery
    would have been better with another color
    lost in the black”
    It is perhaps the other way around: the intricate drapery gets “lost” in the black on purpose, by design, so that it is subtle, very subtle. I own a navy cape/kimono/poncho/coat from the same period. It is very dark, so the drapery is at first not obvious, but it just goes on and on and on! This garment can be worn in many ways: like a very dramatic cape, or a subtle kimono, or like a regular coat.
    I adore this piece and would like to take it to my grave.

  31. Laurie Aron Says:

    I’d love to see the navy cape/kimono/poncho/coat.

    It occurs to me that very subtle design is a joy to the wearer and intimates of the wearer. It seems very Japanese, somehow. It’s beautiful without showing off, and it’s perfect because it just has to be. An unthought-out design would be pointless.

  32. The Tired Folk Says:

    Why oh why did we have to come down here? I hate fashion. Thanks Manolo.

  33. socialdv8 Says:

    I have always loved Ria Kawakubo’s work she is a true revolutionary, always ahead of her time. This piece only shows a fraction of her talent.

  34. marina urbach Says:

    ‘I’d love to see the navy cape/kimono/poncho/coat.’

    It could be arranged, perhaps more than just looking at it.

  35. Emma Says:

    So elegant and funky. I thoght it looked hard to put on, but then I realized it was sewed in place and I want it!

  36. Trevor Says:

    Great for ninjas! where can i get?

    i am so excited to blog about this!!

  37. meimi1995529 Says:

    ulth. NO THANK YOU!!!!! XP

  38. Maggie Says:

    While I doubt that people of the 23rd century will marvel at the workmanship and fabric, as I did at the 18th century French dresses and the exquisite waistcoat, I have no doubt that they will appreciate what is has to say. Simple yet intricate, unimaginative fabric and fantasy fabrication. While previous bloggers have noted that one would have to be slim and beautiful to wear this, I am a 60 year old woman, of average height and no great beauty even when young, yet I feel that this dress would show me more as I would like to be seen than anything else in the exhibit. And isn’t that what fashion is about? We wish to influence others impressions of our inner selves through how they see our exterior. Ah well, I suppose we can’t overlook those who wish to convey an impression of their wallet and social status. Perhaps that is why I love this dress, it says nothing about wealth but a wealth about spirit.

  39. Nana Says:

    I love it !

  40. marina urbach Says:

    ‘Perhaps that is why I love this dress, it says nothing about wealth but a wealth about spirit.’

    I could not agree more with you!
    I agree with you about age and beauty.
    I love your choice of words.
    Spirit is a key concept in the work of Rei Kawakubo.
    I am much older than you and still enjoy my Kawakubo pieces.
    In fact, I would love to be buried wearing one of her pieces,
    I would feel more protected in my grave.

  41. Joe Says:

    I loved all the dresses. I was keen on the mens clothing. I prefer the dresses. I want the shoulderless pink one. hehehe!!

  42. marina urbach Says:

    …’I feel that this dress would show me more as I would like to be seen than anything else in the exhibit. And isn’t that what fashion is about? We wish to influence others impressions of our inner selves through how they see our exterior.’

    I agree with you. This is an extraordinary piece. Complex in its simplicity, subtle refined sophistication and very rich austerity.

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