Thursday, May 04, 2017

New York Fashion Cool-Aid by Laurel Marcus

TimesTalk: Featuring Adrian Joffe, Andrew Bolton & Vanessa Friedman

Vanessa Friedman, Adrian Joffe, & Andrew Bolton
Photo: Vladimir Weinstein/
Click images for full size views

Last night, the eve of the official opening of "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between," I attended a New York Times TimesTalks event at Florence Gould Hall, featuring Vanessa Friedman interviewing Comme des Garcons President Adrian Joffe, and Met Curator Andrew Bolton. I've been in that auditorium before but never seen it completely full -- there was not a seat vacant. Esteemed guests in the audience include Designers Thom Browne, Albert Elbaz and Fashion Consultant Julie Gilhart. As has been much discussed, this marks only the second monographic show at The Met of a living designer, the first being Yves Saint Laurent in 1983.

Alber Elbaz, Alex Koo
(Photo credit Griffin

If you want to know where the woman of the hour was -- according to Joffe (who's also her husband) she was nervously texting him from the plane, not from a fear of flying, but over anxiety that no one would visit her Met show. According to Bolton, Ms. Kawakubo along with being "one of the most important and inspirational designers of the last 40 years," and someone who, "if she didn't exist we would have to create her," is also somewhat of a tortured soul; "her own worst enemy," according to her husband. Joffe seems like he would have a calming influence on anyone. He was so soft spoken that at times it was a bit difficult to hear him. I also loved his crepe soled shoes and his whole CdG vibe.

Vanessa on stage
Photo: Vladimir Weinstein/

After showing a video clip of last season's Paris CdG runway show featuring what Rei termed "Objects for the Body," and what Friedman called "Ideas Given Shape," the New York Times fashion critic said that she loved the show but got less than favorable reviews when she posted it on social media. Of the very conceptual show (you can see Anna Wintour in the front row), which IMO resembled models including Anna Cleveland clad in a futuristic rendition of a lumpy felt cavemen outfit meeting giant Hershey's Kisses in space, or perhaps baked potatoes in and out of tin foil, lol -- the biggest response on Twitter was, of course, "What the blankety-blank? --these are not clothes."

There are three examples of this latest collection on view at The Met including the two white cocoon- like armless shapes, as well as the "paper bag dress" which opens the exhibition. Side note: The Julien d'Ys Brillo pad wigs are there too, along with the other elaborate headpieces which he did in collaboration with Kawakubo (see article here) . He often operates with one word prompts from the avant-garde designer, in this case it was "silver." He never even sees the clothes until the day before the show.

We were then treated to a fascinating discussion regarding many subjects including aspects of how The Met exhibition came into being (Bolton thinks he first reached out to Kawakubo and Joffe in 2003 with the idea which Rei shot down, as she doesn't like to look back), how Bolton and Kawakubo, who were at cross purposes initially, slowly learned to work together, plus many other interesting aspects of how the exhibition was organized. I found it amazing that they actually built a life size model replica of the proposed exhibition architecture in Tokyo!

Bolton mentioned that the title "Art of the In-Between" arose from the dichotomy, hybridity and void or empty spaces inherent in Zen Buddhism which influence Kawakubo's work. As illustration of this idea, he told of how the designer once answered an interview question regarding the meaning of her collection by drawing a circle on a sheet of white paper and then exiting the room.

Joffe spoke of how Kawakubo creates each collection which is a "very painful process" including "discussion and trial and error."  He describes Rei's process as "lateral thinking, not logical, very abstract." Friedman brought up the fact that Kawakubo is also an astute businesswoman not just an artist/designer who manages 16 brands under the Comme des Garcons label.

Caroline Kennedy wearing CdG on the red carpet

The good news for those who weren't in attendance is that you can watch the (entire talk online here) and learn more about some of the conflicts in preparing the exhibition, what Bolton wanted to include that didn't make the cut (the famous "Curiosity" Collection with the trompe l'oeil hands had deteriorated due to the stretchy materials), who wore CdG well on the Met Gala red carpet ("If Caroline Kennedy can wear it and be happy, anyone can wear it," said Friedman) and plenty more.

I'm always amazed when an event which is webcast live is so well attended. This turnout included at least one woman visiting from Tokyo just to see the exhibition, who asked if the show might be traveling internationally. This is an apparent possibility (according to Joffe), as is another monographic Met show in the near future (according to Bolton) who has the designer all picked out but wouldn't spill the beans.

- Laurel Marcus

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