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Bauhaus Building, Dessau — view from the vestibule window looking toward the workshop wing (1926) Lucia Moholy (1894-1989). Tate Modern.

Why Rei Kawakubo deserves to be the subject of next years met gala

Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images
Photo: Catwalking/Getty Images

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.

Photo: Conde Nast Archive
Photo: Conde Nast Archive

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.

Photo: Marceio Madeira
Photo: Marceio Madeira

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.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos
Photo: Yannis Vlamos

Global Success:

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 GarconsKawakubo raised her brand into a global empire by incorporating and reinventing her brand through a handful of brand-off labels like Comme Des Garçons ShirtComme 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. 

Photo: Yannis Vlamos
Photo: Yannis Vlamos

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 EarthquakeIt’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.

Photo: Yannis Vlamos
Photo: Yannis Vlamos

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.

Style Profile: Lyn Slater

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After having trouble finding a fashion blog or magazine that spoke to women with an urban, modern, intellectual aesthetic and who lead interesting but ordinary lives, Lyn Slater decided to create her own blog Accidential Icon to fill the void. This blog speaks to women who are not famous or celebrities but are smart, creative, fashion forward, fit, thoughtful, engaged, related and most importantly clear and comfortable with who they are.

1. How would you describe your personal style?

LS: Conceptual, minimalist, androgynous, romantic, provocative

2. What is your favorite item in your closet and why?

LS: I actually don’t have a hand down favorite as I really love all of my clothes. If I had to choose I would say my two long coats. One by Yohji Yamamoto that zips from the neck to the toes and zips in both directions so I can style it many different ways. The other is my Comme des Garcons wool coat with leather sleeves because I love how it billows out behind me when I walk.

3. Have you ever had a “What was I thinking” moment about something you have worn?

LS: Actually I have not. I have always been thoughtful and careful about what I have wear. The only time I have ever felt uncomfortable was when I was a bridesmaid in a wedding and someone else chose a dress I would never have chosen myself.

4. What is your first fashion memory?

LS: My mother sitting at her sewing machine making my doll and I matching dresses I asked her to make with some material I chose.

5. What is your favorite fashion era and why?

LS: I like the one we are living in right now because everything in fashion is up for grabs. By that I mean that old ways of thinking about fashion, what it is, how to do it and “who” is considered fashionable are changing and it is becoming more inclusive and democratic. I do very much love the 1980’s when the Japanese and Belgian designers came to town and shook everything up. They “deconstructed” fashion in the way it needed to be at the time.

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6. Where do you shop?

LS: I shop at consignment stores that specialize in Japanese designers, vintage shows and flea markets. I also shop at Dover Street Market and a boutique in SOHO called IF that has been around since the 80’s.

7. What would be your theme song and why?

LS: Walk on the Wild Side by the iconic Lou Reed. Life would be very boring if this was not my theme.

8. What are you currently coveting?

LS: A black dress featured in Yohji Yamamoto’s S/S 2016 that is worn over jeans and has a series of denim straps that create a panel in the front of the skirt.

9. Whose closet would you want to raid?

LS: Charlotte Rampling. She too is a great fan of Yohji Yamamoto.

10. What fashion trend would you like to see go away?

LS: I actually would like to see the whole idea of a fashion trend in and of itself go away so people would feel free to be creative with their style. I do have to say though I am not a fan of ripped knee jeans.

10. Who are a few of your fashion icons?

LS: I love the style of Patti Smith, Carine Roitfeld, Anna dello Russo, Camilla Nickerson, Valentina Ilardi Martin

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11. Fill in the Blank: I could not live without __________

LS: My CDG Play Converse Sneaker

12. What is your secret obsession?

LS: Instagram

13. What is your fashion mantra?

LS: Be true to who you are while at the same time having the courage to always take a risk that stretches you out of your comfort zone.

14. Who are a few of your favorite designers?

LS: Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, Ann Demuelemeester, Martin Margiela.

15. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

LS: The week before I started my fashion blog I was in Montreal and got to meet Garance Dore. I asked her what advice she had for someone starting out. She said the most important thing was remaining authentic and genuine and letting your true self be expressed. This should underlie all your decisions about what to put out and how to develop your brand.

Check out Accidential Icon hereand be sure to follow Lyn Slater on instagram @iconaccidential