Rei Kawakubo throws a grenade at fashion’s conventional narrative. She’s the conceptual artist who sits atop a multi-million dollar commercial empire. She’s the provocateur, the high priestess of radical, whose designs can be worn by just about anybody who’s willing. She’s the 74-year-old designer with 40 years experience of making clothes that feel consistently new and challenging. And, then, just when you thought you had her figured out, the notoriously private designer becomes the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest blockbuster fashion exhibition, Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, which runs from May 4 until September 4, 2017.
“It’s always really exciting when the Met gala crosses over with us,” says Katy Rodriguez, co-founder of Resurrection, a high-end vintage mecca with outposts in New York and L.A. Founded in an East Village funeral parlour in 1996 – “hence the name” – Resurrection has gone on to be one of the foremost destinations for high-end, often avant-garde vintage pieces. “Our thing has always been to try and do fashion at the highest level. Whether that’s a couture version of a T-shirt, it just has to be the best of whatever that thing is. That’s what we do.”
The best of the best: it’s no wonder Rodriguez has collected Comme des Garçons since the beginning. “Rei’s one of the designers we feel a real affinity for. Those clothes make a lot of sense in our store, the sensibility of fine and raw, fancy against street, being slightly off and looking at something with a slightly different perspective. The clothes are great – and they’re consistently great, they’ve been great for 40 years,” she says.
“Those clothes make a lot of sense in our store, the sensibility of fine and raw, fancy against street, being slightly off and looking at something with a slightly different perspective” – Katy Rodriguez
To coincide with the Comme commotion resonating from the Met extravaganza, Resurrection is presenting Homage to Rei: 40 Years of Comme des Garçons, an exhibition and sale of vintage pieces which will be hosted in the New York store, with pieces also available to purchase online for those unable to make it in person. Homage to Rei is expertly curated by the Resurrection team: “Every piece is chosen for a reason, there’s no bulk or basics, it’s all really specific,” Rodriguez notes. Certainly, she has an eye for it. “I really think it’s more that I’ve got the heart for it. I really care,” she says.
The exhibition will include some of the maison’s most iconic, rare designs: from distorting S/S97 Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body pieces (hailing from the collection commonly known as ‘lumps and bumps’), A/W12 ‘flat collection’ capes and the A/W08 ‘bad taste’ collection cage tops, with additional pieces ranging from the 1980s to last season. The sale will also include clothes by Junya Watanabe and Tao Kurihara, designers fostered under the Comme umbrella. It’s a must for Comme devotees and curious newcomers alike.
Resurrection might deal in the best, but Rodriguez has an open-door attitude, and there’s no ‘look-don’t-touch’ snobbery here. “To go and see the Met exhibition is going to be amazing, then to come down to us, see some of the same things and to be able to touch them and try them on, wear them, buy them… I think that’s kinda cool. It gives people more of an opportunity to get into the clothes. I don’t really know where else you would go to find what we’re about to show.”
“To go and see the Met exhibition is going to be amazing, then to come down to us, see some of the same things and to be able to touch them and try them on, wear them, buy them… I think that’s kinda cool” – Katy Rodriguez
Not everyone might immediately ‘get’ Comme des Garçons, but there’s an inclusivity in the brand that mirrors Rodriguez’s open-hearted approach. “What’s really cool about Rei – and it’s kind of how Yves Saint Laurent was – is the people that like and buy her clothes feel a personal connection to her. There’s something she’s able to translate through her clothes that gives people a sense that they know her,” explains Rodriguez, adding that she also spots a parallel in the compassion Yves Saint Laurent and Kawakubo have for ‘real’ – albeit fantastically dressed – women. “Obviously you have to have a certain sensibility and be someone who can ‘do’ fashion, but you don’t have to be perfect to wear the clothes. You really don’t have to be young to wear them either, which I think a lot of designers don’t consider at all.”
“Obviously you have to have a certain sensibility and be someone who can ‘do’ fashion, but you don’t have to be perfect to wear the clothes. You really don’t have to be young to wear them either” – Katy Rodriguez
The Met Gala red carpet – where even couture is not safe from the glare of a thousand flashbulbs and critical eyes – will really test its attendees this year, says Rodriguez. “There’s going to be the people that want to take the opportunity to wear a cool, freaky look, who think ‘I’m not going to be the hot babe but this is going to be cool as hell’ – and then there’s going to be the people who cannot divorce themselves from the whole sexy thing.” In other words, attitude and spirit, not money or BMI, is what will make the best Met outfits this year. How refreshing, how revolutionary; how Comme.
With over 120 pieces in the Resurrection exhibition, the scale of Homage to Rei is impressive. “It’s a tremendous amount of work,” admits Rodriguez. “We figure we must have photographed and edited well over 300 images to be able to put them on the internet so people anywhere can see. Sometimes I look at these things and think, ‘Why am I doing this? It’s so much work!’ But it’s because I think it’s important and I love it. We just want to show people things that they might not have seen before.” Below, Rodriguez talks us through a preview of pieces that will be available to purchase in the forthcoming sale.
“I love this season with all the wildly colourful pieces. I’m not a real fur person so Comme’s faux fur is a perfect substitute. I love the disgustingly cute neon-ish bows. Rei has a way of making the painfully cute desirable.”
“One of my all-time favourite collections: romantic and tacky at the same time. We have a pair of black tulle bloomers from this collection that are perfection.”
“This is my personal jacket. I have many pieces from this collection and buy when I can. The clothes, show, models were all perfect. I’d love to know what music was played.”
“This collection is full of blankets. I’m always trying to figure out how I can stay as close as possible to my PJs and favourite blanket. Rei made that fashionably possible with this collection.”
“What’s not to love? Super rare, just amazing. A great example of how she’s able to deform the figure through clothing but somehow it’s still very beautiful and very feminine too, with the palette and the gingham. I can’t really think of anything in fashion quite like it, before it.”
“The ‘flat collection’ was a really game changer. If you look at that collection and then you start to look at what’s happened since, every time it’s become more conceptual but in such a grander way. There’s elements of those other designers here [Westwood’s Seditionaries jackets and Margiela’s Doll & Flats collections]. Usually someone does something challenging and if there’s some sort of reference to it it’s watered down. And what’s so interesting about Rei’s flat collection is it really takes it to another level, which not many people are able to do. It’s sort of like taking the baton and keeping the race going. There’s nothing dumbed down about it. At that time new had to be 3D, it was supposed to be some crazy complicated thing, but she made new flat and felt. It’s just another example of really comes down to talent.”
“The actual gowns they made to then take apart for this collection are so beautifully done. I love this collection because it sits between the really Victorian, femme stuff from Comme and men’s tailoring. I’m one of those people who loves really feminine things or very masculine things – I don’t really fall in the middle.”
Homage to Rei: 40 Years of Comme des Garçons opens April 18, 2017, at Resurrection Vintage, NY and online.