“To me, the dark beauty of the black rose symbolizes courage, resistance and freedom.” Rei Kawakubo struck a chord with the few words she sent along with the photos and video of her Comme des Garçons de Tokyo show. There was no mention of the war in Ukraine. As conceptual, non-narrative and allusive as it is, you would never expect to see or hear it refer directly to current events. However, Kawakubo was born in Japan in 1942 in the middle of World War II. Whether it has to do with this, with being a woman and an entrepreneur, she has never said, but one thing is certain: she holds independence sacred.
The black rose in Irish culture is a symbol of resistance against British rule. It’s perhaps a little hard to discern it in the As range – it only happens, modeled on a sort of Victorian brocade on the 12th of 16 outings. Certainly anti-British imperialism in Ireland is what Kawakubo meant, however, because the haunting music – “a beautiful resistance song from Ireland, Roisin Dubh, the little black rose”, was recorded for the show by Northern Irish slow flautist Ciaran Carlin.
This is perhaps the most political reference Kawkubo has made in his work – it has no equivalence to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, except for the common factor of dangerously contested borders. But finally: how to put words on your clothes? Was it a sense of dark history, something primitive or even medieval going on?
That seemed the case at first anyway, with Kawkubo’s use of thick, wadded, speckled gray felt rug underlay (or something similar) and Gary Card-created headpieces bulging with assorted rough, rolled tissue. Other floppy, hand-crocheted woolen hats looked like beanies, country cottage style. Then, somehow, it seemed like upholstery and furniture were involved – lopsided saddlebags that might have been hacked on a couch; funny cones lined with… was that wallpaper?
Hard to tell on a screen. Comme des Garçons has not shown outside of Tokyo for two years. The inimitable ritual of being in the presence of one’s clothes in all their 3-D-ness was missed in Paris. How great it would have been to have a naked-eye inspection of what was going on in the multi-lapel depths of Kawakubo’s long tuxedo coat. It was perhaps a lyrical embodiment of the Black Rose itself, but also an extraordinary and dignified fashion piece.