Between the glowering goth punks, dark basement lighting, and club kid styling at Comme des Garcon Homme Plus it’s easy to miss the actual clothes in Rei Kawakubo’s Fall 2019 menswear show. The runway was kept unusually dark with minimal overhead lighting that flickered above the models as they stomped between crowded rows of observers like angry punks all dressed in black with studded creepers and massive spiked chest jewelry.
It looked a lot like kids we see all the time on Instagram, dressed for a party or night out. Sure, the spiked harness necklaces were impactful and gripping, but that also almost felt like an obvious grab for attention. I mean, it all looked cool and beautiful, but it also looked too easy – layering fishnets and shorts with mesh t-shirts? The air felt thick with anger, and it was hard to understand why Rei Kawakubo felt so compelled to replicate riotous teenage rage. It isn’t until you take in each outfit fully that you understand what you’re really seeing, and realize wow, this really is beautiful. Every single model wore an exquisitely designed jacket with sleeves made to look like they were ripped off at the shoulder or chopped off at the wrist with exposed linings, then you could see her Rei Kawakubo’s deft construction. Lapels and tailcoats fell into graceful lines with many of the jackets and tunics sporting double fronts, as if the vests were merged into each piece. That was perhaps the most important revelation of all. Possibly a direct reference to the “gilets jaunes” movement that has been wrecking havoc all over France over the winter months leading up to fashion week. After her show, Rei Kawakubo sent an email to the fashion press relaying that the title of her Fall 2019 Menswear Collection was “Finding Beauty in the Dark.”
Metallic silver eye makeup gleamed under heavy black eye paint, much like Edward Scissorhands, with some models sporting spiked hand painted lashes like the ones in Stanley Kubrick’s film “A Clockwork Orange.” The clothes seethed with anger and anarchy, as in a black tunic sweater that glimmered starlike beneath shields of spikes. Double layered waistcoat lapels rolled back like rose petals over a mesh top and biker shorts. Followed by a silvery snakeskin t-shirt with a tailcoat appendage seen flowing behind a matching black jacket. Kawkubo’s painstaking tailoring was juxtaposed with DIY club-kid clothes in a side by side presentation with her highly skilled work and impulsive deconstruction, which actually elevated the latter. Maybe this is way Kawakubo’s way of demonstrating a kind of social equality. Though the runway pieces she designs are primarily affordable to the affluent, she’s always made elements of her brand accessible to young audiences. We get the sense that she sympathizes and possibly relates to the fringes as much as the upper classes who support her artistry. That’s a tricky position to be in, and this collection speaks to the tension felt by many at the time. It’s not so much offering a resolution as much as reflecting a desire to appreciate the moment despite the chaos, and to harness and reflect some of the boiling anger that increasingly marks the politics of our time. This may have felt a little off to some people, but Rei has always been rather comfortable with discomfort, hasn’t she?