Paris Fashion Week: Comme des Garcons Plays Body Politics

Booth Moore
Comme des Garcons fall 2017

The Japanense brand's avant-garde designer is the subject of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute exhibition and gala this spring.

Rei Kawakubo may have done more for the future of body positivity with her Comme des Garcons show on Saturday afternoon than the barrage of real-size models on the runway and in magazine pages in recent months.

How on Earth, you ask, with blobs on the runway? With blobs indeed.

Her collection wasn’t about fashion, it was about perception; and she didn’t show clothes, she showed forms that challenged expectations and norms.

The avant-garde Japanese designer and fashion-insider darling is the subject of this year’s Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibition, and she will appear at the Vogue-sponsored May 1 gala with co-hosts Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.   

On the runway at Paris Fashion Week, however, the models looked nothing like Gisele, and nothing like the majority of sample size goddesses that will grace fashion's starriest red carpet. In fact, their bodies were entirely obfuscated by the forms in which they were traveling.

The two most striking looks were alabaster white, like classical statuary but molded cotton, with lumps and bumps and the kind of pronounced posteriors one has come to associate with today’s new Kardashian beauty ideal.

They ambled down the triangular-shaped runway, wearing Nike sneakers with black bows, pausing, turning and sometimes nearly colliding.

As the show progressed, different forms came out. Some were made of natural-looking materials, others technical, some humble and others fine. One textured form resembled a giant belted barnacle! Another, in silver, was puffed up like a Jiffy Pop bag, and a couple of pieces came out in what appeared to be twisted, matted insulation fabric. (Hey, if the Earth’s resources continue to be depleted, we may all need our own fashionable insulated pods. And what would the feminine ideal be then?)

Other blobs were made from crumpled brown paper with petticoats peeking out, and others of fine satin covered in delicate black lace. Each form was a different shape, a sure symbol of inclusivity if there ever was one.

Throughout history, bodies and beauty ideals have changed with feast and famine, revolutions and gender equality struggles. In ancient Greece, the ideal female form was plump; during the Renaissance high foreheads were in; the Han Dynasty in China prized women with small feet; Victorian England saw a fashion for narrow, cinched waists; and the trailblazing women of the 1920s downplayed their femininity and wore bras to flatten their breasts. Clothing styles have changed along with those ideals. With all that's at stake in the world, politically, technologically and ecologically, we could very well be on the edge of a changing ideal again — or no ideal at all.

That’s the philosophical realm Kawakubo challenges us to wander into. It will be interesting to see whether or not the famous guests at the Met Gala choose to play along and wear some of her avant-garde shape-shifting designs (presumably not the blobs on the runway, but the more commercial pieces). Will art or vanity win out?