“It was a wonderful, intriguing and adventurous show,” said Olga Neuwirth, a Vienna State Opera composer, after seeing the theatrical presentation of the Comme des Garçon collection fade from vivid colours into black.
Rei Kawakubo, often oblique in her explanations and leaving her audience literally in the dark, used a theme taken from the costumes she has created for the opera of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, which will premiere in Vienna in December.
In sync with a spirit of abundant colour in the Paris summer 2020 season, the exceptional Japanese designer hit another nerve: Orlando’s “transformation and liberation” through time while changing from male to female.
If it were only Rei Kawakubo’s ability to be of the fashion moment, with a burst of escapist prettiness, that would have been enough. But the ‘costumes’ were just plain beautiful in their decorative colours, intense story line and overall sweetness.
Following the Orlando narrative of the male protagonist changing gender over a period of 300 years beginning in the sixteenth century, the designer worked with aspects of earlier historical eras, starting with the Elizabethan age. She took fabrics and colours – sugar-pink satin roses on leaf-green jacquard – that were as costume-y as they were noble. And wearable. A bush of scarlet roses made a featherlight cape over a severely tailored black jacket and slim satin trousers distorted with knee pads.
Describing the clothes themselves is not enough to express the spirit of frivolity in the early looks, spilling over in bumpy hairdos and right down to where lacy frills caressed the ankles.
There were classic Comme shapes in exceptional materials, one effectively a pretty flower-patterned duvet cover wrapped round the body.
Two thirds of the way through the show, the frivolous figure, from an era when men wore swashbuckling clothes, turned sober. It was back to black, the pouff shapes deflating into a vision of powerful women.
What a tour de force from Rei Kawakubo who never ceases to catch a nerve – and the current sociobiological and fashion moment.