Comme des Garçons' Saturday runway show here was as baffling as it was beautiful. It consisted of models making their way around a raised catwalk in twos or threes dressed in uncomfortably unconventional clothes — some resembling white, misshapen Styrofoam packing peanuts and others looking like outsized balls of crumpled paper.
One all-red outfit looked vaguely like an emoji version of an octopus (if that octopus had four short limbs, not eight long ones, and one giant eyehole in the front of its head); a bulbous, silvery Mylar-skinned outfit called to mind the domed top of freshly popped package of Jiffy Pop; and two models hit the runway together resembling something close to solid clouds of puffy gray smoke.
They were styled for the show with "hair" of coarse steel wool, and they wore Nike Flyknit sneakers with large black bows across the toe box — perfect footwear for their meandering about the stage, sometimes appearing to chase each other; other times seemingly locked in orbit like frantic fabric electrons in search of their nucleus.
The nucleus here is Rei Kawakubo, a designer so next-level avant-garde that avant-garde designers want to be her when they grow up, and she offered only the barest insight into the meaning behind her collections. Here, her post-show explanation consisted of the title — "The Future of Silhouette" — and the description of the fabrics as "non-fabrics" ("no wovens, no fashion fabrics").
Was completely obscuring the shape and size of the models intended to be a commentary on body image? (That certainly seems plausible.) Was the model swathed in what appeared to be bolts of matted fabric insulation intended to personify global warming?
And what about the model who wore the black dress with no arms or armholes? Was it just our imagination or was she warily eyeing the model in white whose own dress was covered in cylinders of fabric that looked like dress-shirt cuffs? Or were they barnacles? (You know the fashion show you're at has taken things to the next level when you're seriously pondering the shirt cuffs vs. barnacles question.)
Two days after the show, we attended a press event organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to highlight the upcoming Costume Institute exhibition that focuses on Kawakubo's career and opens May 4. (She's only the second living designer to be so honored; the other was Yves Saint Laurent in 1983.) That's where we crossed paths with Anna Cleveland, the model who wore the show's memorable closing look (a voluminous ball gown that seemed to be made from two parts white, foamy soap bubbles and one part glistening black tar) and couldn't help but inquire about what sort of pre-show direction the models had been given.
"[Kawakubo] told us to be sure to be really engaged with each other," Cleveland said, "to interact with one another."
Cleveland then proceeded to talk about how we all need to reconnect to each other in an era where we're constantly tethered to mobile devices. She also mentioned something about global warming and climate change, too. We weren't sure whether she was still talking about Kawakubo's backstage directions at this point or offering her own interpretation of what the electron dance was all about.
But it didn't really matter. Cleveland had already handed us the golden ticket of post-show insight: It wasn't really about the clothes and it certainly wasn't about what women will be wearing six months from now — or maybe ever. And, despite the cryptic title, it didn't have that much to with the future of the silhouette. It was actually about relationships — our relationships with each other, with our clothes, with our planet.
Even if not a single one of the dozen-and-a-half looks from the show ever sees the light of day again, the collection can be considered a powerful and provocative success.
But we've got a pretty good hunch we'll see some of these game-changing looks in the not-too-distant future. After all, the exhibition's May 1 opening night gala is just eight weeks away.
Who's in the mood for some Jiffy Pop?
For more musings on all things fashion and style, follow me at @ARTschorn.