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20 Days of Comme des Garçons

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The French Government's Fashion Archive?

20 Days of Comme des Garçons

A visual and emotional odyssey through our EIC’s CDG obsession

BY KATHARINE K. ZARRELLA

STYLE  -  MAY 01

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During the 20 days leading up to the Met Gala, we posted Instagram snaps of our EIC wearing pieces from her Comme des Garçons collection around New York City. Click through our slideshow to see and learn about every archive look, and below, read the story behind her sartorial obsession.

I’m obsessed with Comme des Garçons. Obsessed. It’s pretty much my entire closet. I’ve literally looked into selling organs in order to afford various runway looks (I haven’t done it…yet), and I’m not alone in my adoration of all things Rei Kawakubo. Comme des Garçons is many things to many people. For starters, it’s the subject of the Met exhibition, which opens on May 4. It’s a conceptual and commercial powerhouse, as Roxanne Robinson recently pointed out. And it’s a beacon of innovation in an increasingly homogeneous fashion landscape. I could go on for paragraphs talking about how, from a critical perspective, Comme des Garçons has shaped the fashion industry as we know it, but I’ll save that for the exhibition review. Instead, I’d like to tell you how Comme des Garçons saved me—or, at the very least, how it saved my sanity.

I can’t remember exactly when I became aware of the brand—I think I saw 1997’s “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” collection in a book while studying sculpture at Colgate University—but I certainly remember when I started wearing it. The first pieces I bought were actually by Junya Watanabe, one of the many talented designers under Comme des Garçons’ spectacularly curated umbrella. While living in Paris, where I fled to learn about all things fashion after finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I was shopping with my mother at L’Eclaireur and came across a pair of black knit trousers (the crotch of which was down by the ankles), a grey wool cocoon top, some black full-length gloves, and a black hat that looked something like a minimalist beehive. I’m not sure what it was about this look that spoke to me—perhaps it had to do with how completely different it was than anything I’d seen while studying in upstate New York or interning in Manhattan, or maybe it was because it reminded me of a gothic penguin, and I freaking love penguins—but I had to have it. My mom was kind enough to chip in for the garments, but I was on my own when it came to the accessories, so I took a job writing copy for a vintage shop in Le Marais and used my under-the-table wages to procure them. I think I wore that full ensemble about once a week for three years, even when it was 90 degrees outside. It’s been worn through and mended more times than I can count, and it’s still hanging in my closet.  

I began collecting vintage CDG and Junya pieces here and there from that point on, but I made my first significant Comme acquisition in 2012, again at L’Eclaireur. I’d been pining after the whole Fall 2012 2D collection, which I thought was totally genius in its not-so-subtle commentary on the flatness of the Insta age, and while perusing the pre-spring sale, I found a black brocade floral skirt. It was the most magnificent thing I’d ever put on my body. The second I zipped it around my waist, I transformed. I stood taller, swelled with excitement, and butterflies began to flutter in my stomach. There’s something about the way that skirt held me, the way it moved, the way it reached away from my hips that made me feel invincible. It became my go-to garment for everything from job interviews to dates. I was hooked. 

It was at that point that I began rabidly researching Kawakubo and Comme, and I realized she stood for and practiced everything that made me love fashion in the first place—unfettered expression, reflecting the global mood through garments, challenging the establishment, generally not giving a fuck about what anyone else thought… She is one of the few—if not the only—contemporary designers who unfailingly creates totally new fashions while simultaneously drawing from and subverting a plethora of historical references. Her clothes aren’t about pleasing other people, and they’re certainly not about pleasing men, which is something that appealed to me. I developed into a fairly curvy young lady around the age of 10, and Comme des Garçons allows me to feel weird and wild and beautiful without suggesting I must look sexy. At a time when I was searching for my place in the world—for a sense of purpose—I really appreciated that. “Comme des Garçons is a gift to oneself, not something to appeal to or attract the opposite sex,” Kawakubo told Vogue back in 1995. That’s exactly how I feel when I wear Comme—the entire sartorial experience is a gift.  

Comme des Garçons felt most like a gift after I lost my mother to cancer, rather suddenly, in 2014. I was depressed, angry, devastated. I felt like my entire world had imploded. I couldn’t grasp why this had happened and couldn’t deal with it. I didn’t want to speak a word to anyone, yet I wanted to scream. CDG enabled me to do that. I cloaked myself in the most aggressive black looks I could find in order to communicate that I wanted people to pay attention but stay far, far back. I built a wall of fabric around my body via my CDG arsenal, and I found solace in that.

“What you wear can largely govern your feelings and your emotions, and how you look influences the way people regard you,” Kawakubo told Interview magazine in 2008. It very well may sound superficial, but wearing those intense garments helped me immensely—they gave me the courage to face the world. But Comme des Garçons wasn’t just a coping mechanism, it was a catalyst for a full-blown (and fairly dramatic) catharsis. 

About six months after my mother passed away, I found myself sitting in CDG’s Fall 2015 show, “The Ceremony of Separation." This collection dealt with pain, death, and the ritual of saying goodbye.

To a score by Max Richter, models in bulbous black or white lace confections stared at each other longingly while rubbing shoulders on the narrow catwalk. The whole thing was pretty moving—I wasn’t the only one who welled up—but it wasn’t until I reached my re-see appointment at the brand’s Place Vendome headquarters that a wave of emotion came crashing down on me. Hard. With the runway music playing in the background, I saw the finale gown, which can only be described as a colossal black lace egg adorned with miniature, bow-laden frocks, looming in the entry. I lost it. In what was probably the most personal moment of my decade-long career, I began hysterically crying—snot and all—while surrounded by at least 15 Japanese buyers and—yes—Kawakubo herself. Because of course I would meet my idol in the midst of a complete mental collapse.  

Comme des Garçons CEO and Kawakubo’s husband, Adrian Joffe, as well as the brand’s incredibly understanding head of press kindly consoled me, and I was led to a back room where I could compose myself in private—which, thank god, I did before continuing my appointment. Apologizing to the head of press as I walked out, I explained about my mother and relayed how completely mortified I was to have reached the fifth stage of grief in her showroom, not realizing that Kawakubo and Joffe were walking just ahead of us. They both turned around. Joffe said, “Any time!” and Kawakubo smiled. For the first time in months, I felt like everything might just be okay. 

Arming myself in Comme des Garçons helped me through the most difficult time of my life. Those outré ensembles lent me a strength I couldn’t find while staring naked in the mirror. No, I’m not suggesting that they were some magical cure-all, but they got me through the day. And that’s really all I could ask for.

I still dress in top-to-toe CDG more often than not, and Kawakubo’s clothes remain a vehicle through which I express myself and my emotions. Now, however, my outfits come from a place of joy rather than pain. After years of donning nothing but noir, I’ve recently started wearing color, thanks to 2015’s "Blood and Roses" collection and 2016’s "Blue Witches" romp, and I felt positively giddy while walking around Greenwich Village for this “20 Days of Comme des Garçons” shoot in my giant Spring 2017 red baby-doll dress. I loved that tourists asked to have their photograph taken with me (FU site director Erinn Hermsen likened me to a zoo animal—a comparison by which I’d be horrified in any other situation); I loved twirling around like a five-year-old in the middle of Washington Square Park; and I loved the fact that I could simply exist in such a spectacularly beautiful work of design.

So yes, I’m obsessed with Comme des Garçons and its place in my life. And, with this photo series, I’m excited to share the insane happiness each garment in my collection brings me. But I don’t collect for the sake of being “a collector,”—no unstable hoarder here—or to end up in some street style slideshow, or eventually turn a profit. I just like stuffing my closet with little (well, actually, not-so-little) pieces of joy.

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