5 Things To Know About Comme Des Garçons’ Serenely Monochrome AW21 Show

For autumn/winter 2021, Rei Kawakubo portrayed our post-lockdown ambivalence in an opulently restrained Comme des Garçons collection. British Vogue’s fashion critic Anders Christian Madsen brings you five things to know about the collection.

Rei Kawakubo called for “monochrome serenity”

After a year of lockdowns, the big reset we all talked about last summer has turned into reforms: loud and important social movements and debates on the internet, the news, and occasionally the streets, too. As it turns out, what mankind needed wasn’t a year of peace and quiet but a roaring revolution. While we’ve spent our “time off” wisely, our year of change has generated a desire for a different kind of reset – a deep breath before we step back into the real world. “Amidst the incessant overflowing of miscellaneous things, the deluge of colour, the flooding of sound and the inundation of information,” Rei Kawakubo wrote in her Comme des Garçons show notes, “I needed to take one breath in the monochrome serenity.”

The collection mirrored the present through Victorian glasses

Kawakubo reflected the mindset of the present day through that of another era: the codes of the Victorian age, a wardrobe informed by ideas of modesty and restraint attributed to mourning dress, but equally as reactive to the mechanical oversaturation and high-speed progress that fuelled the Industrial Revolution. In a different time of progress, perhaps we can mirror ourselves in Queen Victoria’s restrained opulence, as deconstructed by Kawakubo. In that sense, the collection didn’t reflect the idea of the “wardrobe reset” many designers toyed with during last month’s fashion weeks, but a more romantic notion of resetting, founded in the hyper-expression that embodies Kawakubo’s mastodon silhouettes.

Kawakubo deconstructed Victorian dress codes

Kawakubo exercised her psychological tension between grandiosity and restraint in monochrome super shapes that magnified and mutinied the properties of the Victorian wardrobe. A black gentleman’s cape morphed with a white petticoat and manifested in a mega-wrap. The black tulle layers of a full skirt inverted upwards and formed an orb dress that enclosed around the neck. A frilly white men’s shirt expanded into a dress with sleeves so long and wide they formed its skirt. The white underpinnings of a gigot-sleeved dress inflated into a supersized puff piece like a huge popcorn. And a white lumps-and-bumps creation that bore memories of breeches was scrawled with graffiti, expressing a sense of revolution.

It reflected a year of contrasts

Presented in Tokyo on a stormy studio backdrop with white smoke curling at the models’ feet, there was a certain amount of drama to Kawakubo’s “monochrome serenity”. In years to come – in a hopefully pandemic-free future – her collection will serve as a memory of how this odd moment in time felt: the big mishmash of ambivalent emotions that reigns as we prepare to re-emerge after a year of lockdowns. But her fusion of storms and serenity was also an apt image of that year’s weird contrasts, what with all of us being trapped in the comfort of our own homes, baking and Zooming, while outside, the world is changing.

It featured hats by Ibrahim Kamara

The deconstructed top hats featured in the collection were created by Ibrahim Kamara alongside Kawakubo, marking another milestone for the stylist (and newly appointed editor of Dazed), whose distinct and striking work has had brands including Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton, Off-White, Burberry, Erdem, Philosophy and the young designer Maximilian Davis calling upon him to style their shows this season.

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