“For me, the dark beauty of the black rose symbolizes courage, resistance, and freedom.” Rei Kawakubo touched a nerve with the few words she sent with the photos and video of her Comme des Garçons show from Tokyo. There was no mention of war in Ukraine. As conceptual, non-narrative, and allusive as she is, you never expect to see or hear her directly referencing current affairs. Yet Kawakubo was born in Japan in 1942 in the middle of World War II. Whether it’s been to do with that, with being a woman and an entrepreneur, she has never said, but one thing’s for sure: she holds independence sacred.
The black rose in Irish culture is a symbol of resistance against British rule. It might be a bit hard to discern it in the Comme lineup—it only comes in, patterned on a sort
of Victoriana brocade at the 12th of the 16 exits. It’s certain that anti-British imperialism in Ireland is what Kawakubo meant, though, because the haunting music—“a beautiful resistance song from Ireland, Roisin Dubh, the little black rose,” was recorded for the show by the Northern Irish slow flautist Ciaran Carlin.
Possibly that’s the most political reference Kawkubo’s made in her work—it has no equivalence to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, except for the common factor of dangerously contested borders. But anyway: how to put words to her clothes? Was a sense of dark history, something primal, or even medieval going on?
It seemed so to begin with anyway, what with Kawkubo’s use of thick, wadded, speckled-gray felt carpet underlay (or something similar) and headpieces created by Gary Card bulging with assortments of rough, rolled up fabrics. Other hand-crocheted floppy woollen hats had the air of bonnets, country-cottage style. Then somehow, it seemed that upholstery and furnishings were getting involved—lop-sided panniers which perhaps might have been hacked off a sofa; funny cones lined with… was it wallpaper?
Hard to say, on a screen. Comme des Garçons hasn’t been showing outside Tokyo for two years. The inimitable ritual of being in the presence of her clothes in all their 3-D-ness has been missed in Paris. How great it would’ve been to get a naked-eye inspection of what was going on within the multi-lapeled depths of Kawakubo’s long tuxedo coat. Perhaps it was a lyrical embodiment of the Black Rose herself, but also an extraordinary, dignified piece of fashion.