Neither Man Nor Woman

So last week, Comme des Garçons showed their new Homme Plus collection in Paris.

Cute, no? There's a lot going on here. Obviously, the wig party from fall continues at CdG. I thought the rocker thing was a sort of late-60s mood, maybe the Beatles at their groovier. Also giving me Noah Fielding from The Mighty Boosh effects. So, kind of rock and roll glam rock hair. The legacy of glam rock in western culture seems to have been a celebration of a kind of flamboyant androgyny which has it's roots in the 1960s. I remember reading a quote from Andy Warhol, saying that he loved the way that Mick Jagger so casually dressed in women's clothes, because it reminded Warhol of Françoise Hardy.

I do like the femme tailoring on the coats very much. The long-on-top look combined with bare legs is always a Springtime treat, can't wait for it myself. I do kind of want one of those coats. It kind of reminds me of my own spring coat, which is a very decrepit ladies pea coat from Old Navy which I got when I was 18. It's awful and kind of ugly but I can't bear to part with it. I just might, now though. The other thing in the collection that my heart beats for is the red high-heeled boots.

Androgyny and rock and roll are perennial themes for Rei Kawakubo, both aesthetics are corollary to Modernism, the great white whale of her career. I think it would possibly be too pat to read them into the new collection, though. Cathy Horyn sees this collection as drawing from two main impulses: the romance of Jane Eyre and punk. Now, I've never actually read Jane Eyre, I can't comment on that. The punk thing is significant, duh.

The current Homme Plus collection is titled "Tailoring for Punks" and it just arrived in stores.

I was a little bit underwhelmed, I gotta say. I get the tailoring aspect, but the punk, for me, doesn't come through here. I'm not so turned-on by the idea of subverting Saville Row, personally. There were a number of lace shirt-dresses in the runway show, which have yet to arrive in stores, but those are interesting. Rei Kawakubo's relationship to punk, in general, is really fascinating to me.

Of course, Comme des Garçons is incredibly expensive, almost so prohibitively luxe that it's offensiveness constitutes a kind of rebellious punk kiss-off. The fascination with deconstruction also speaks to codes of punk dress. And historically, I think, there is a significant shared timeline: Dame Vivienne Westwood opened her "Sex" shop in London in 1971, Rei Kawakubo founded Comme des Garçons in 1969. Both projects, more or less spearheaded by independent women working through their own businesses, aimed to create absolutely new codes of dress, to shake up the existing system.

Westwood: "I was messianic about punk, seeing if one could put a spoke in the system in some way."
Kawakubo: “It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t find the kinds of clothes I wanted. I was frustrated by the way we chose the clothes."

The frustration here is not with the specific garments themselves, but the culture surrounding how we decide what to wear.

And, of course, throughout the years, Kawakubo has incorporated punk iconography into her designs:

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus S/S 2008

And the seminal 1997 F/W "Adult Punk" collection:

"Adult Punk"

The F/W 1997 "Adult Punk" collection in installation

So, like, Kawakubo knows punk. That's totally a thing. I'm not convinced that that's what's up in the new men's collection. I think the rose motif is romantic, I guess, no more romantic than when Kawakubo offered roses last spring, sprouting from human skulls. Roses signify femininity, historically, but let's not leave it there. As Gertrude Stein says: "A rose is a rose is a rose". each iteration of an idea is a recapitulation and should be read as such. The rose, as a flower, contains both an androecium and gynoecium, making it hermaphroditic, marking it at once emblematic both of cisgendered historical romance tropes, as well androgyny.

Furthermore, the question of androgyny is complicated, too. Kawakubo is no stranger to androgyny, and does not seem to be going there now. She's not mapping feminine elements onto masculine wardrobes. The new collection is not androgynous in the conventional sense of being located between two genders, drawing from both. Rather, we ought to give Kawakubo more credit, her slogan of "neither man nor woman" seems to refute androgyny. Instead, she's a creature who exists beyond a binary-gendered world.

In Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex she considers the issue of how to approach the concept of sexual equality: "Just how shall we pose the question? And, to begin with, who are we to propound it at all? Man is at once judge and party to the case; but so is woman. What we need is an angel – neither man nor woman – but where shall we find one?"

Although she claims to not be a feminist, I do think Kawakubo has read de Beauvoir, and may well be referencing this angel. Hopefully this new collection portends an end to the gender binary, which I think is what Kawakubo had intended.

Also just saw the Comme des Garçons SHIRT F/W 2012 collection:

Star Wars! I actually think this collection is adorable. May the Force Be With You.

1 comment:

k. said...

i want a feast of roses