PFW SS20: Comme Des Garcons

AMORPHOUS. Overblown. Impossible to decipher. Such vocabulary has always been tethered to Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons creations, that has references which often elude even those initiated into fashion circles. This season however, the iconoclastic, anti-fashion Japanese designer has paid heed to a more tangible source of inspiration: Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando. Saturday’s womenswear show was Act II of Kawakubo’s three-part foray into the radical, gender-bending story, with Act I being the menswear show in June, and culminating in Act III, the December showing of Olga Neuwirth’s opera based on the novel in Vienna, for which Kawakubo will be designing the costumes.

Orlando tells the tale of a poet who transforms from male to female, and traverses history from 16th century Elizabethan times, all the way to Woolf’s modernity, 1928. Kawakubo’s persona experiences a similar trajectory in time, albeit in dress. In this collection, she treads from reference to reference, beginning with a heavy dose of Elizabethan pomp and spanning across history. Initial looks included heavy floral brocade, majestic jacquards, 3-dimensional flowers and fringed velvet, cut and moulded into bulbous and exaggerated silhouettes. Models donned bubble hems and hoop skirts, styled with dainty socks, sky-high pumps and lumps of messily tangled red hair.

She then transitioned into tube dresses resembling a grandmother’s floral duvet that constricted movement at the hands, a short suit combo in highlighter hot pink, Victorian bustles and panniers, and lots of frills, brocade and extravaganza. Her Orlando then moves into the modern age, repeating earlier silhouettes, but this time in a desaturated and sombre abundance of blacks and whites. Her latter looks were the most nebulous: models were sheathed in austere geometric masses of clothing, all hued in an austere, angry black.

As unorthodox as it might be for Kawakubo to explicitly reveal her inspirations, the collection was still very much aligned with what one might imagine when thinking of Comme Des Garçons. For one, Kawakubo retained her signature distorted bodily forms, which manifested as cushioned knee accoutrements. And as usual, her clothing – perhaps due to its strange and unwearable shapes  – insinuates something beyond traditional gendered dressing and seasonal fashion trends. Although cryptic at first glance, her collection is a fascinating perspective on gender fluidity and what it means to be timeless.

by Kay Ean Leong 

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