Comme Des Garçons Designer Rei Kawakubo Will Be the 2017 Met Gala Theme

Exciting for so many voluminous reasons…


Comme Des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo has been announced as the 2017 Met Gala theme.

The news made me recall a scene from Never Been KissedA group of teens are trying to decide the theme for their prom. Everyone wants Guy Perkins, the most popular guy in school who dresses like Italian porn star who left his cowboy hat at home, to decide. They’re like, “What’s the theme, Guy Perkins? We can’t make decisions without your superfluously unbuttoned shirt and necklaces and that felt hat just sitting on the corner of your bed!”

And he goes, “All right, all right. Josie.

Some incredulous girl named Sera, not Sara, goes, “That’s not a theme!”

Then Guy Perkins The Wise responds, “No, Josie will have the answer.”

That fun dialogue ran through my head when I got the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s press release, which said, “Costume Institute’s Spring 2017 Exhibition at The Met to Focus on Rei Kawakubo and the Art of the In-Between.” It’s a big deal! To be THE THEME of an entire museum exhibit! At the MET, no less.

While you are alive!

Rei Kawabuko is the first living designer to have a solo show at the Met since since Yves Saint Laurent in 1983. In fashion, she’s often described with terms more commonly reserved for a cult leader than a designer thanks to the magnetic pull of her avant-guard vision. Rai Kawabuko does not just have fans. She has worshipers, devotees. Her Comme Des Garçons creations have inspired the work of Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld and Nicolas Ghesquère, among countless un-cited others.

In The Guardian’s coverage of this announcement, they quote film director John Waters, “who dedicated an entire chapter of his 2010 book Role Models to Kawakubo, calling her a ‘genius fashion dictator. She specialises in clothes that are torn, crooked, permanently wrinkled, ill-fitting and expensive … Ms Kawakubo is my god.’

To those who venerate her, she is a mysterious deity. But she is not a household name. Centering the theme of a museum wing around her is a bit of a risk.

Her lack of Even Your Uncle From Idaho Knows Who She Is appeal could mean, as The New York Times pointed out, less of an around-the-block kind of crowd than the Alexander McQueen exhibit drew. Comme Des Garçons sells, but it is in no way mass-appeal commercial. Where the 2014 Charles James exhibit prompted classic fashion nostalgia, 2016’s Manus ex Machina connected with guests through the universal use of technology, and 2015’s China: Through the Looking Glass was more Met-traditional in that it focused on the history and influence of a specific culture, the 2017 theme — Rei Kawakubo and the Art of the In-Between — will have to rely on the reputation of a living, breathing designer who not many people understand.

But that’s why we go to museums, right? To learn. To peel back layers of different worlds; to be overcome by the combination of historical facts and imagination. In many ways, it’s already like a fashion show in that we want so badly to be inspired. We don’t have to “get” everything. But we are so human when we seek to try.

The press release offered a Rei Kawakubo quote: “I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design…by denying established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm. And the modes of expression that have always been most important to me are fusion…imbalance… unfinished… elimination…and absence of intent.”

If we’re talking about theme in its most literal sense, then no, one woman, alive or not, cannot be “a theme,” but her complicated, startling and mind-churning universe can be. You and me and Even Your Uncle From Idaho will not need to understand. We get to observe, while Rei Kawakubo remains the one with all the answers.

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  • When you bring up “Never Been Kissed” I, obviously, think about myself- THAT BEING SAID, if I were asked to decide the theme for the met gala, it would definitely be Rei Kawakubo. Like, HELLO fashion meets art world, DUH people!!!! and can you say WOMAN, NON-WHITE, LIVING, ARTIST, DESIGNER??? It’s about damn time.

    • (also, CDG ss 08 is one of my favorite shows of all time..soooo gooood)

  • Imaiya Ravichandran

    Loll reading this made me think of my grade 11 AP English teacher who would incessently remind us that “a single person, place, or thing CANNOT. BE. A. THEME”

    …I never liked her much so I personally am in full support of the Met Gala’s complete disregard for literary convention

  • BK


  • Kayron

    Love it! It’s possible you’re underestimating Kawakubo’s reach. While not quite your Uncle in Idaho, I am a random chick in Ohio who, while unable to afford any of it, has been enchanted by her work ever since seeing pictures of the Lumps and Bumps collection years ago.

  • TJ

    Citing it as a “bit of a risk” as she is “not a household name” is a bit naive I feel. CDG is the gateway drug for midwesterns into the world of fashion outside of the Gap their Mom takes them too, especially with the internet really making “niche” fashion brands so much more visible in the past ~10 years since I was that awkward teen googling fashion brands

  • Whilst scouring through a consignment store in Dallas earlier this year, I happened to come across a black deconstructed Comme Des Garçons trench coat. My eyes immediately recognised the label of this sought after, highly collectable brand with avid, loyal fans. Needless to say I didn’t let go of that coat until I reached the counter. The lovely mature lady behind the counter commented on the quality of the fabric as she was putting the sale through without any reference to the significance of this brand. All the while I was screaming silently with excitement “don’t you know who made this coat!?!?!” Instead I politely agreed with her and now I am the proud owner of an amazing piece of Comme Des Garçons. I certainly will be lining up next year to see this exhibition at the Met.

  • laszloooo


  • I mean, while the subject is most definitely monographic, the theme not even close to being so, and I have such high hopes for the Met on this one. Even NYT left out the last bit of the exhibition’s announcement: “By situating her designs within and between dualities such as East/West, male/female, and past/present, Kawakubo probes their rigidity and artificiality to resolve and dissolve them.” It’s high time for Ms Kawakubo’s work to act as a channel towards discussions on contemporary themes like race, sexuality, and gender dynamics and extend itself beyond just being a monograph of notable designs.

    The Met has a rep for not showing cutting-edge artists in its contemporary collection (the Costume Institute follows suit for sure) and instead, waits until they are generally accepted as the best in their field to show. So really, this has actually been a long time coming. What will be interesting to see is if they can really say something with her pieces or if it will just be a retrospective.