7 Pieces To Read Before You See The Rei Kawakubo Show At The Met

Because a road map really can’t hurt

Rei Kawakubo is a notoriously enigmatic, elusive figure: diminutive in personal presence, especially for someone who makes such oversized, extra-corporeal garments. Kawakubo rarely grants interviews, saying she doesn't “trust words,” and prefers to let her avant-garde collections speak for themselves. The upcoming retrospective of her work at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (and the basis for last night's Met Gala) is equally tight-lipped: the exquisite, surreal garments are presented without descriptions beyond titles like “Absence/Presence” and “Fashion/Antifashion.”

In service of better understanding this non-verbal look at Kawakubo's oeuvre, I've rounded up seven pieces of required reading: a primer for understanding how, exactly, we should read Comme des Garçons.

1. This brisk Interview interview (sorry), with Kawakubo herself

Year: 2015

Choice Quote: “I don't trust words.”

2. Judith Thurman's iconic deep dive into Kawakubo in The New Yorker

Year: 2005

Choice Quote: “Yet if Kawakubo consents to call her style ‘rebellious’ and ‘aggressive’ it is also intensely feminine in a bittersweet way. Her clothes suggest a kinship with a long line of fictional holy terrors: Pippi Longstocking, Cathy Earnshaw, Claudine—motherless tomboys who refused to master drawing-room manners and who, when forced into a dress, hiked up their petticoats and climbed a tree.”

3. A recent in-depth interrogation of Kawakubo's sculptural approach in The New York Times

Year: 2017

Choice Quote: “Is it prenatal, or is it about love and death, outer space and deep space, sea anemone and siren?

What does Kawakubo dream?”

4. Here, the headline really says it all: “John Waters on his Rei Kawakubo Obsession

Year: 2015

Choice Quote: “What used to be called ‘seconds’ (clothes that were on sale in bargain basements of department stores because of accidental irregularities) is now called ‘couture.’ Ms. Kawakubo is my god.”

5. Business of Fashion's examination of the mini-generation spawned in the workshops of Comme des Garçons

Year: 2015

Choice Quote: “What they do have in common, however, is a set of values. ‘It all comes from the same source: the desire to create something different. Our kachikan, or sense of values, goes into everything the company does. Not just clothes but everything. It has to be new.’”

6. A rare interview with Kawakubo from The Guardian

Year: 2015

Choice Quote (there are many gems, but): “You can’t be enslaved to something you choose.”

7. A bizarre, surreal-ly hilarious interview between Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rei Kawakubo in System Magazine, where Kawakubo’s husband and Comme des Garçons CEO Adrian Joffe acted as interpreter

Year: 2013

Choice Quote: “She says she has no desire for possessions. She doesn’t know why, but she’s never wanted to collect anything for as long as she can remember.”