In June of this year, Rei Kawakubo presented the first of three ‘acts’ centred on Virginia Woolf’s freewheeling, gender-swapping 1928 novel Orlando, beginning with Comme des Garçons Homme Plus’ Spring/Summer 2020 show. The designer is known for rarely providing an explanation for her esoteric Comme des Garçons collections, but this extended focus on Woolf’s novel began with a commission from the Vienna State Opera to design costumes for an Orlando opera to be composed by Olga Neuwirth. From then, for Kawakubo, it was all things Orlando: there was ‘Act One’ in June; we saw ‘Act Two’ in September at the Spring/Summer 2020 Comme des Garçons womenswear show; and ‘Act Three’, the opera itself, debuted yesterday in Vienna.
Orlando marks firsts for both Kawakubo and Neuwirth: the former has never designed costumes for the stage before, and the latter is the first female composer to be commissioned by the Vienna State Opera. Both highly respected disruptors in their fields, Kawakubo and Neuwirth are perfectly suited to working with the forward-thinking, time-travelling story of Orlando. For its costumes, Kawakubo brings dresses of grand proportions, silhouettes and colours, some with lavish brocades and embroideries, others rendered in metallic leather or ruffled tulle – no doubt like nothing the stage has seen before. Hair, by longtime Comme des Garçons collaborator Julien d’Ys, is set in stiff, sometimes glittering, waves and bobs, alongside masks and millinery in collaboration with Stephen Jones. Here, shooting exclusively for AnOther, photographer Katja Stuckrath goes backstage at Orlando.
Olga Neuwirth’s Orlando is at the Vienna State Opera until December 20, 2019.