"18th Century Punk" was the phrase Comme des Garçons gave us to explain the inspiration behind Rei Kawakubo’s fall 2016 collection, shown in Paris on Saturday. The sculptural and often voluminous 17 outfits made elaborate use out of a black, white, blue, red and pink (there was lots of pink) color palette. There were vivid embroideries and silk floral brocades on a range of silhouettes: football- and cowboy-inspired pants, pannier dresses from a bygone era, trapezoidal skirts, a dress covered in pointed 3-D spikes and another with donut-like attachments. These descriptions don't quite do these garments justice. Pushing to the extreme limit our idea of what clothes can be, the collection also made us think about about how fashion can change our perception of pleasure, beauty and ourselves.
In a time when fashion is so concerned with breaking free from the current system, with many advocating a see now, buy now model while other houses resist such radical changes to preserve their 'luxury' element, the armor plates on Kawakubo's pannier 18th-century silhouette dress seemed to suggest that the process of making clothes can't be overhauled so easily.
Fashion has lost a sense of freedom of creativity, of making something new that hasn't been around before. To push fashion forward, designers need time to be rebellious against the standards that have been accepted by society. Punk was as much a spirit as it was a fashion aesthetic for the kids who stood against hierarchy and societal power structures. For this show, Kawakubo took from punk the idea of individuality and freedom from convention. Yet the scale of some of the garments suggested an absence of freedom. Protective as their armor looked, the models couldn't move about freely, as demonstrated by their slow path down the models on the runway.
Kawakubo restricted herself here by largely using only two types of fabrics, brocade and silk. Still, that restriction seemed to allow her to express her creativity more freely. The show had a slow rhythm: one outfit was shown at a time, but the pace quickened when one model came out rapidly wearing a light pink silk jacket with enormous flared folded sleeves, one stacked upon another until the sleeve nearly reached the floor. The changing pace seemed to suggest that breaking free of the laborious fashion system meant creating freely, making something new — like a suit jacket with mountains of fabrics on each sleeve.
Long Nguyen is the co-founder and style director of Flaunt.