- Henry David Thoreau was one of those figures whose life, works, and legacy is both a product and producer of America, both as a nation and ideas (personally prefer him to Emerson, whose all-seeing eye thing seems too close to childhood nightmares for comfort). Robert Pogue Harrison examines some ten books by or on Thoreau and speaks to his legacy and what his works can teach us today: “I believe there are two immensely important Thoreauvian legacies that call out for retrieval among his fellow citizens today. One is learning to live deliberately, fronting “only the essential facts of life,” so that death may be lived for what it is—the natural, and not tragic, outcome of life. The other equally important lesson is how to touch the hard matter of the world, how to see the world again in its full range of detail, diversity, and infinite reach. Nothing has suffered greater impoverishment in our era than our ability to see the visible world. It has become increasingly invisible to us as we succumb to the sorcery of our digital screens. It will take the likes of Henry David Thoreau, the most keen-sighted American of all, to teach us how to discover America again and see it for what it is.”
- Speaking of defining characteristics of a nation, or what people want these defining characteristics to be, let’s look to color. Toni Morrison writes how our literary tradition uses color and race as indicators of character: “The cultural mechanics of becoming American are clearly understood. A citizen of Italy or Russia immigrates to the United States. She keeps much or some of the language and customs of her home country. But if she wishes to be American—to be known as such and to actually belong—she must become a thing unimaginable in her home country: she must become white. It may be comfortable for her or uncomfortable, but it lasts and has advantages, as well as certain freedoms. Africans and their descendants never had that choice, as so much literature illustrates.”
- The First Amendment and America go hand in hand like no other analogy I can think of at the moment. Portions of it will be at the crux of the debate this Fall when the Supreme Court hears the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission: “The case […] will be argued in the late fall and is likely to turn on the vote of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is simultaneously the court’s most prominent defender of gay rights and its most ardent supporter of free speech.”
- I feel mildly confident that, despite their differences, all Americans agree on this: North Korea is dangerous (would write evil but, in this day and age, that may be divisive). True, on Hollywood Blvd. not many know where the country is. And true, some online have taken to relativism to defend the ‘DPRK’ and how its views should be ‘respected’ (I know, we’re that low right now). Evan Osnos’s trip to N.K. is both insightful and informative: “Suddenly, the prospect of a nuclear confrontation between the United States and the most hermetic power on the globe had entered a realm of psychological calculation reminiscent of the Cold War, and the two men making the existential strategic decisions were not John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev but a senescent real-estate mogul and reality-television star and a young third-generation dictator who has never met another head of state. Between them, they had less than seven years of experience in political leadership.”
- And lastly, an examination of a still fresh wound: Jon Favreau, John Levett, and Tommy Vietor of the Obama Administration and Crooked Media’s Pod Save America talk with Hillary Clinton on her latest book, What Happened:
Next year, the world will finally have the opportunity to experience the full range of Rei Kawakubo’s astounding career as a designer under the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After years of being relatively unnoticed outside the high fashion world, this exhibit is truly the first time Kawakubo’s works beyond her commercial endeavors will be available on view for those outside the fashion world. However, some people feel that Kawakubo’s career has not produced enough influential moments to garner an event of such scale dedicated to her life’s work. This raises an important question: is there a more well known and successful designer out there who deserves a Met Gala exhibition more than Kawakubo does? The truth is that there aren’t many designers deserving of this more than she. Her career and influence — although sometimes looked over — are far more important than people realize. The time has come for her to tell her story as a designer, a woman, and an artist. Here is Novella’s list on why Rei Kawakubo is the most deserving a subject for next year’s Met Gala showcase.
Anti Fashion and Avant Gardism:
Kawakubo graduated with a degree in fine arts and literature from Tokyo’s Keio Univerity and worked in the advertising department of a textile company and as a fashion stylist before becoming a designer. Most people would have never guessed that someone with a degree in fine arts and literature would ever become one of fashion world’s most beloved and forward thinking avant gardists. But that’s the beauty of Kawakubo’s story: she came from a background that requires formal training and understanding rules for success. And with that, she became a world renowned fashion icon.
Her first collection, shown in Paris in 1981, set the wheel in motion for Kawakubo and Comme Des Garçons’s rise to the avant-garde throne. Incorporating knitwear, distressed finishes, holes, tattered garments, and unconventional shapes, Kawakubo was able to contrast her collection against the glitz and excesses of the 80’s; sequins and lycra were challenged by the image of a woman in tattered clothes and unkempt hair, clad in shades of black, white, and grey. This idea of destroyed and sombre clothing went against the grain of fashion trend at the time. It pushed against the status quo of fashion and told the world that fashion didn’t necessarily have to be what the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin deemed beautiful — fashion could be raw and unorthodox and still tell a story. Kawakubo’s contribution to the avant-garde design has inspired many of today’s most important avant-gardists, such as Helmut Lang and Martin Margiela who have taken inspiration from Comme Des Garçons’s early work in the 80’s.
She’s one of the Most Successful Female Designers in the history of Fashion:
It’s safe to say that Kawakubo has built a legacy that will withstand the test of time long after she’s passed, which, in an industry that’s been largely male driven and dominated for decades, is no small feat. Very little room has ever been left for women to achieve success in the fashion industry, so seeing a woman like Kawakubo dominate the fashion industry, while simultaneously creating garments that most would never expect a woman to create, is a call for celebration in itself.
In the light of the outcome of recent presidential election in the United States that left Hillary Clinton just short of becoming the nation’s first female president, the fact that Kawakubo is a successful woman in position of power is a significant reason for her place at the Met Gala. Conversations regarding gender equality and various forces that stymie its advance are not restricted to politics but rather implicit in all industries. It is important to showcase women who have achieved global success and reached the top of their professions as a way of inspiring and motivating other young women and men to pursue their passions without fear of failure due to their gender.
Furthermore, Kawakubo’s exhibit would also showcase how a Japanese woman’s contribution to the world of fashion largedly dominated by Western and European ideals of beauty. The Met Gala has a chance to allow people to understand and appreciate beauty as seen, voiced, and interpreted by a woman of color.
Kawakubo’s place in a Met Gala exhibit should be secure by the fact that she is one of the most successful contemporary designers in the fashion industry. Though she started as a virtually unheard of designer in the Western world in the 80’s, she has been able to build a brand that now pulls in over $220 million dollars in revenue each year. This impressive number shows that Kawakubo knows exactly what her current clientele wants from the brand and what the would-be buyers are looking for from brands like Comme Des Garcons. Kawakubo raised her brand into a global empire by incorporating and reinventing her brand through a handful of brand-off labels like Comme Des Garçons Shirt, Comme Des Garçons Homme Plus, Tricot Comme Des Garçons, and Comme Des Garçons Comme Des Garçons. This ability to expand her horizons and reinvent her brand has allowed Kawakubo to reach a wider audience of tastes and incomes.
Political Statements and Social Awareness:
Like many of her modern contemporaries, Kawakubo takes a lot of her inspiration from the world around her. Major political events, social justice movements, and global changes have been ingredients in her collections. Take her spring 2015 collection, for example. After a year of civil war and bloodshed in the Middle East, Kawakubo presented a collection dripping in the deepest shades of crimson imaginable. Another example is Spring 2012, wherein Kawakubo expressed her feelings on the tragedies in Japan by creating an uplifting show in all white that felt like a visualization of rebirth or a reversion to a state of purity and hope after the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake. It’s statements like these that solidify Kawakubo’s position not only as a designer of change, but also as a designer for the people — a designer who can voice a situation and amplify it through thought provoking clothing and design.
The Fashion Itself:
Now, there are many things that make Kawakubo the best choice for this year’s Met Gala, but there is still one other very important factor that sets her apart from other designers: the fashion! After three decades of being head designer at Comme Des Garçons, Kawakubo has proven herself time and time again that she is a driving force within the fashion industry. Known to never repeat herself, her evolution from monochrome black and white avant-garde to contemporary experimental fashion powerhouse is one for the history books. With countless collections being held in high regard and many of them ending on the “best of” lists around the world, Kawakubo has set the standard for what avant-garde truly is. Now this isn’t just a case of her designs being so wildly different that no one else can compete or compare. There are countless emerging avant-garde designers out there that have been inspired by her and present collections in a similar manner. This comes down to Kawakubo’s talent in interpreting and filtering the world around her to create storylines with depth. She isn’t just any old commercial designer who relies on shock value for a sale. Her clothing deeply mirrors the world it’s made in. It’s art in the purest form, a moment captured and preserved forever in every stitch and drape of fabric. Her understanding of the limits and borders that fashion has created for women and her undeniable aggression at breaking through those gender lines and restraints makes her one of the most talented and educated designers out there. It’s clear to see that fashion really isn’t an engine for profit for Kawakubo. It’s a way of using art to scream into the uncertainty of the world and make sense of it.