Meet The Crows: Fans Of Rei Kawakubo Discuss Her Eternal Appeal

Speaking to hardcore Comme des Garçons fans before and after they experience the new Met exhibit

Rei Kawakubo's mystique and talent inspire a kind of religious fervor in her fans, the most ardent of whom identify as “the crows,” a term given to them by the Japanese press, after the designer's famous predilection for the color black. On Thursday, May 4, a number of hardcore Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons fans lined up outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art to be the first to see Kawakubo's strange, surreal, perfectly imperfect designs.

The exhibition, “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” is open until September 4, 2017. The space is painted a bright, blinding white, with fluorescent lighting and garments displayed on platforms at varying heights: some at eye-level, some even near the ceiling. Kawakubo's work is classified not by year or by collection but by oblique binaries: "Form/Function," "Model/Multiple," "War/Peace," etc. Garments are huddled into pods, and the viewer has to peer through narrow openings just to look at the details of the garment. Wandering through the exhibit feels like traversing a futuristic playground; the lack of inscriptions or words give the space a timeless impression, like you could play in Kawakubo's immersive world forever. For fans of Comme des Garçons, there are many pleasurable shudders of recognition to be found standing so close to iconic garments usually only seen in grainy photos.

The Kawakubo fans waiting to experience this invigorating proximity spanned the gamut from crows who flew specifically from Japan to see the exhibit to fashion students on a field trip. We spoke to people both before and after seeing the exhibit because we wanted to know: Was it everything they hoped for?

Cristina, 68, and Andrea, 63

I take it you're fans of Comme des Garçons?

Andrea: I love it. I never like to wear what's expected and that's what her work tells me. It's unexpected. It feels good.

Cristina: We're partners in fashion crime. I have an art background, and it's a good way to bring my own feeling about art out into the world by wearing some of her pieces. It's like putting a collage together.

What are you hoping to see today?

Cristina: Some of the pieces in my own collection that I have at home. I'm just kidding.

Andrea: I'd like to see some of her earlier work, from when I couldn't afford to buy it. When I admired it.

Cristina: We went to a talk last night with Adrian Joffe and Andrew Bolton and they were saying that Rei was really reluctant about showing her earlier work because she wasn't in touch with it any longer, she said it wasn't her. But she finally gave in and accepted the fact that yes, this is where I was, this is where I started, but then this is where I am now.

Andrea: The other thing is [the space is] beautifully constructed, the pods. It's very important to her to show the clothes in an atmosphere that feels right. She actually liked the Met Breuer better, but it wasn't big enough, so she came here and felt that this place had a history.

Cristina: She loves history. History of fashion, history of architecture.

How do you see the relationship between fashion and art?

Cristina: I think the two are together. And I think Rei accepts that now, too. She didn't think of her pieces as being art, even though everyone else thought so, but now she's come around.

Rose, 31

Are you a fan of Rei Kawakubo?

Rose: I'm a big fan of Comme des Garçons and recently I've been reading a lot more about Kawakubo. She's so fascinating to me, I love her philosophy on clothing and culture. It's something that speaks to me. I like to dress genderless at times, and I think it's really important for men to feel the same [about fashion]. It feels so relevant for this moment in time and I'm so excited that I get to go in. I've actually stopped myself from looking at any pictures [of the exhibit] because I wanted to be completely surprised when I go inside.

What are you hoping to see today?

Rose: I'm thinking there will be some pretty large installations. Hopefully there will be a lot of history and garments from years ago.

How do you see the relationship between art and fashion?

Rose: I wouldn't even question that fashion is an art form. I'm someone who's worked in both art and fashion and especially in this day and age I feel like everything is kind of molding together more than ever. It's just natural that we see fashion in an art museum.

Jodie, 23, and Lawrence, 21

Are you big fans of Rei Kawakubo?

Lawrence: I know her work well because I'm a fashion student and I think it's interesting and unique. I discovered her maybe a year ago, when I saw Lady Gaga wearing a lot of her work. I was like, "Who is this? Who makes this?"

Jodie: I am also a fashion student, so I know her work very much. I love her avant-garde work.

What are you hoping to see today?

Jodie: The avant-garde clothes that I can't wear in daily life. I want shock. New things.

Lawrence: It's just about seeing it in person. Seeing it in pictures, seeing it on TV is different than seeing the real-life garments. It's so much better. Other people around the world will see pictures but we get to see it in person and walk around in it. There's a whole experience of it.

How do you see the relationship between art and fashion?

Jodie: I think we have to distinguish the art and fashion. But [Kawakubo] does well because she has another second line to do the business thing, and another couture line too.

Lawrence: I think that art is fashion and fashion is art. I come from an art background, I went to a performing arts school and was a painter, so that's where my love of fashion came from.

Spencer, 54, and Humberto, 41

Were you fans of Kawakubo and Comme des Garçons before you saw the exhibit?

Spencer: I was very familiar with her designs. I think she has a brilliant mind and thinks outside the box. She brings a sense of style and a visionary eye that most people haven't seen. After you've seen the exhibition here at the Met — which Andrew Bolton has done an amazing job with — you will be able to understand her mind's eye. The clothes really do speak for themselves.

Humberto: My initial exposure to Rei was the sweater from the ’80s with the holes in it, and she was the first person to do that. And now you see people like Kanye duplicating that oversize style and the holes. It's interesting how fashion repeats itself like that. She's had such an interesting evolution. I understood she was very specific about how she wanted the exhibit laid out and it was interesting that there were fluorescent light bulbs, it was very similar to her shop in Paris. It's the only place I can imagine that looks good under fluorescent lights.

What was your favorite part of the show?

Humberto: My favorite part — I discovered [it] at the end because you have to look up to see it — was the oversize sweater with the holes. You didn't see it right away and I was so happy that she placed it.

Spencer: The entire show.

What is the relationship between art and fashion?

Spencer: Fashion is art. We style ourselves every day. And we should hold our bodies in the sense of art in the way we look and the way we carry ourselves. It becomes history within ourselves: It shows where people are from, where people are going. Where life is, economically, socially, what have you.

Humberto: Art is fashion. I love how fashion, depending on how you wear it, can create a new personality, a new outlook. I love watching people and seeing how they dress and express their personal style.

Chris, 50, and Christi, 43

Are you fans of Rei Kawakubo?

Cristi: I've been a fan. Definitely sculptures and art pieces rather than clothes. I'm a Friend of the Costume Institute at the Met, so we got to see all of these exhibits before they're really open.

Chris: I first saw Comme des Garçons when my parents lived in Paris, when the store opened in the early, mid-’80s. So it was exciting to see the retrospective, the progression and development of her work.

Cristi: He used to wear it then! In the ’80s when he was on the club scene.

What was your reaction to the exhibit?

Cristi: I was very surprised that the outfit Rihanna wore was there. And one of my favorite looks was this pink, deconstructed Marie Antoinette dress that was absolutely incredible. I was a little surprised by the colors, I didn't expect so much. I had always thought of her as very much a black-and-white designer, but it was so different.

Chris: I noticed the feathers, the detailing. They weren't just architectural pieces, there was a ton of detail to it.

What is the relationship between art and fashion?

Cristi: These are definitely artistic pieces. They're not very functional at all to wear, so they look like sculptures that you'd see in a museum. They really fit.

Chris: The textures, the colors, the shapes: They're walking pieces of art.

Cristina, 59

What was your reaction to the show?

Christina: Truly, I'm speechless. It's extraordinary. You realize the vision, but at the same time it's very humane. There's something about these designs that [is] very otherworldly, alien in a way. The shapes, the forms, the fabrics, the mixture of colors. But at the same time it feels very grounded. Really extraordinary.

Were you a fan of Kawakubo before the exhibit?

Christina: Yes, I'm already thinking I have to wear my Comme des Garçons tomorrow, to honor her! I work in the art world and the art world has always been a fan of Comme des Garçons. [The exhibit] just confirmed my love for her. Why she's the greatest.

Did you have a favorite piece?

Christina: I did love the first piece in the beginning that is made out of paper bags and it says “Design/Not Design.” That introduction, in itself, is incredible.

How do you consider the relationship between art and fashion?

Christina: I think now more than ever people are understanding that relationship. I think the internet, the availability of information, has changed that. In the beginning, CDG was kind of a secret, because it was very exclusive and very much for the art world and a few really important collectors. And now through the internet there's more information, there's more images, and the exhibit was filled with kids! It is really exciting. They're all inspired.