Dispatches from Paris: Comme des Garcons & Junya Watanabe

Comme’s Monsters and Junya’s patchwork parade

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By: Rebecca Lowthorpe Follow @Rebecca_ELLE

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1 & 2 Comme des Garcons 3. Junya Watanabe

These were the thoughts running through my head as I watched the Comme des Garcons show: 'What is this? This is ugly. Those look like stuffed socks coming out of her head. This is freakish. That looks deformed. Why are there no “clothes” – again? What am I supposed to think? Is Rei Kawakubo laughing at us? Are they aliens? Why does this make me feel uncomfortable? Why is Rihanna here? What does she think? Does she think everything looks as weird and ugly as I do?'

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I probably wouldn’t have dared write any of the above had I not been passed ‘the notes’ backstage (what an honour!), which read, right there at the top, in black and white: ‘The theme of the collection this time is MONSTER.’ It went on to say that these were not your typical monsters like those found in science fiction or video games. True, these were more ominous. As Rei Kawakubo put it: ‘The expression of the monsters I have made have a much deeper meaning.’

The fabric of choice was wool. That something so warm, soft and cosy could be turned into something so monstrous is, well, an accomplishment in itself. This was suffocation by knitwear, as Kawakubo set about stuffing great lumps and bumps of drab wool ‘worms’ that coiled, bound, obscured and, at times, entirely engulfed their wearer. One particularly monstrous black look wrapped the head in circular mounds, another drooped with heavy black woollen chains or enormous plaits. The last few exits saw bulbous inflated sweaters and cardigans tied around a torso, or bundled wool resembling large intestines – the last of these worn, weirdly, with a pretty tutu. There was beauty here, even in all the strange ugliness. And a trace, still, of the fashion designer that Rei Kawakubo used to be. Those gigantically oversized jackets with sleeves that reached way down to the models’ knees and another jacket with sawn off arms and seams left jagged and raw, the last remnants of anything vaguely resembling clothing. So what were these deep feelings that she felt the need to expunge on the catwalk? ‘The craziness of humanity, the fear we all have, the feeling of going beyond common sense, the absence of ordinariness, expressed by something extremely big, by something that could be ugly or beautiful,’ said Kawakubo’s notes. Looking at Rei Kawakubo backstage, this delicate, tiny, shy woman in her bright scarlet leather jacket, you can’t help but think how utterly incongruous she appears to be alongside her fashion-art. But she has always been on a path to challenge the status quo, as she simply put it: ‘I wanted to question the established standards of beauty.’ Long may her mission continue.

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Left to right: Junya Watanabe, Comme des Garcons, Junya Watanabe

Last winter, Junya Watanabe had a huge hit with his patchwork jeans worn like a uniform by fashion fans the world over. This winter, the word 'patchwork' doesn’t quite do justice to Watanabe’s anarchic vision of loveliness. It was more like a smorgasbord of deconstructed blacks – glamorous blacks – lacquered vinyl, satin, sequins, velvet, lace, tulle. A forensic exercise in how to create clothes out of circles of fabric or vertical strips, each round or stripe in matt or shine, opaque or transparent. The challenges this must have presented on the cutting table – an obstacle course of fabrics of different weights – must have been immense, but Watanabe is nothing if not a pattern-cutting over-achiever. For all their intricacies, the clothes themselves never looked fussy, unless intentionally designed to inspire awe – such as a dress in a thousand shades of black boasting ruffles, frills, circles, sequins, organza, wool and more.

Most amazing – and these were truly amazing clothes – was the powerfully glamorous attitude of the clothes. Not glamour in the stereotypical sense of body-con and heels, this was rebellious glamour that requires a certain amount of fashion chutzpah on the part of the wearer – although not as much as you might think. Take the slim evening coat that came spliced with rectangles of velvet, satin and sequins, or the narrow tuxedo jacket with a single velvet sleeve, or the evening dress cut from hundreds of multi-fabric ribbons. So what is Junya’s new patchwork jean? The single white cable knit sweater adorned with squares of black sequins. Yes, it will look brilliant with those patchwork jeans.

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