NEW YORK - As founder of the Comme des Garcons fashion label, Rei Kawakubo has challenged conventional notions of clothing with her unmatched aesthetic sensibility. This is particularly exemplified in the about 140 examples on display at the current exhibition on the designer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Starting May 4 and running through Sept. 4, the exhibition - titled "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between" - is the first solo show featuring a Japanese fashion designer at the New York museum.
Per the title, the event has multiple themes in each section of the exhibit to showcase how the 74-year-old designer has discovered value in the space between various conflicting notions and redefined what is beautiful.
On display is one section titled "Object/Subject," a collection of garments titled "Body Meets Dress - Dress Meets Body." The clothing has unusual deformations, with protrusions padded with goose down in the abdomen or lower back areas.
Later described as dresses with "lumps and bumps" for these swelling parts, the clothing comes from a desire to blur the boundaries between a dress and the body, questioning notions of what constitutes a beautiful body or beautiful clothing.
The dresses provoked many discussions when presented in 1996 over whether they should even be categorized as clothing.
In the "Beautiful/Grotesque" section, visitors will see black wool knit sweaters with small and large holes, which shocked fashion journalists in the West who were unfamiliar with such designs when they were presented in 1982.
Kawakubo dubbed them her "lace" sweaters, saying: "To me, they're not tears. The cutout might be considered another form of lace."
In the subsection "Child/Adult," a pink and blue felt dress from her autumn/winter 2012-13 collection that looks like it's a cutout serves as a bellwether for Kawakubo challenging the rules of age-appropriate dress.
In 2013, Kawakubo announced she would make "something that is not clothes." Since then, she has created items that seemingly resemble objets d'art, with a brown paper dress titled "The Future of Silhouette" as her latest piece.
She founded the Comme des Garcons label in 1969. The label's eponymous company, established in 1973, currently has about 20 brands and sells products at about 220 stores in Japan and about 300 stores in about 30 other countries.
Kawakubo made her debut at Paris Fashion Week in the 1980s with Yohji Yamamoto and other contemporaries, boosting the presence of Japanese designers in the global fashion community. She was awarded the French government's l'Ordre National du Merite in 2004.
Kawakubo's style of transcending the boundaries of art and fashion has also resonated with designers overseas.
"I think Rei has an extraordinarily unique vision and voice," American designer Marc Jacobs said. "I don't just look at it as design for the sake of design."
The exhibit's entire venue is brightly illuminated - a rare approach for fashion exhibitions, which usually show works in glass cases in dim lighting.
Kawakubo personally designed the uniquely shaped white booths at the exhibit to display her works. They allow visitors to come to near touching distance to her designs. "I hope visitors scrutinize my works from up close to appreciate their power," Kawakubo said.