Yeah, but bear with me: there were dinosaurs.
(By Elise Toidé. Sauce)
(eh there's plenty of sauce and I've cited Vogue enough I think)
The Comme des Garçons Homme Plus Autumn/Winter 18/19 collection also involved a lot of white, various kinds of patchwork and impressions of patchwork, and Nikes.
All Rei Kawakubo would say about it was: "WHITE SHOCK Inner Rebel".
She's the designer who started this label. She's interesting, enigmatic, and famously reclusive and antisocial. A woman at Vogue actually did a really good, enlightening interview with her last year; it's exactly the kind of thing I was going for when I tried to have dialogues with Fumika of Begräbnis and was completely unable to achieve. Sadface.
Anyway, Rei Kawakubo is also famous for going completely against the grain of whatever is in fashion and even what is considered to be acceptable. Since her first runway show in 1981 she's experimented with altering and exaggerating the female form to the extent that these shows are more like performance art than anything else. It's entirely abstract and conceptual at this point. Watch this video of the A/W 17/18 womens' collection to see what I mean.
Seriously, watch it. At least just skip to the halfway point and watch from there.
The models are so eerie and their steps are choreographed so strangely, culminating in this weird music box ballerina-like twirling at the end, to showcase what is arguably the most dynamic piece in the collection after a series of monochromatic semi-still-life aliens.
The models slow and regard each other, even staring each other down, to create an inexplicable tension as they move about in their bulbous fiber cocoons, limbless, and reminiscent of the Venus of Hohlefels in sneakers. It's weird. It's brilliant. And we're just talking about some of what Kawakubo has come up with in the past year.
That's the kind of creative director at work here, someone not unlike my long-time favourite Eiko Ishioka, who deals in feelings rather than in actual products.
Most fashion writers and bloggers probably aren't taking into account that complete and utter nonsense Engrish like "white shock inner rebel" is a daily occurrence and usually not some kind of profound koan-esque enigma to be dissected and discussed, but damn it, another excellent contributor to Vogue did exactly that anyway.
While her interpretation is completely her own, of course, it's pretty valid, compelling, and relevant:
When you start asking what this fashion show with canvas dinosaur and monster headpieces means, you realise you're talking about conceptual art, and the rabbit hole can get pretty deep.
There's so much I could say here about all the negative aspects and consequences that stem from how Japanese society infantilises people, and effectively continues treating them like they're in kindergarten - everyone in the same uniform, everyone in orderly formation, everyone following the kitschy sound and music cues, everyone on a pre-set track through school and work and life from which there is rarely deviation, always in unison - throughout their lives. Korea is the same.
In the repetitive grey urban landscapes of Tokyo, Seoul, and Osaka, studying or working until 10 or 11 at night and/or 6 or 7 days a week is common, so that everyone is an exhausted smartphone zombie, going through the motions, sitting on the floor of their apartment eating Cup Noodles, not really thinking about what they want or need anymore. Not forming healthy relationships anymore. Their governments, but more specifically that of Japan after the impeachment and imprisonment of Park Geun Hye, are conservative, oppressive, racist, and xenophobic.
We'll keep you safe inside this very safe not-prison, children.
Look, we even have lots of fun and cute characters and pop idols to keep you cheerful.
That's why so much cute shit pours out of this region, and out of Japan especially: everything is a superficial novelty. Not just clothes and accessories, but new and exciting forms of underage prostitution, and animals, and foreign people.
Not by any stretch do I think these things are only true of Japan (and Korea); it's just glaringly obvious there, where toys and games and schoolgirls in their too-short skirts are obsessed over and fetishised to the point that it's just deeply alarming and disturbing.
The impression I got during my brief and abjectly miserable stint of working with small children in Japan was that kids there are free until they hit elementary school, until they're stuffed between the first set of cogs in the meat grinder-like system. In some cases I mean this literally: like, a lot of those kids can do absolutely whatever the fuck they want, especially the boys. They create chaos on trains, in restaurants, and at a lot of establishments (but not all of them of course) that have the audacity to refer to themselves as "kindergartens". No rules. None.
Kids scream and run around while compliant, putty-like adults do their bidding. They hurt each other. They hurt themselves. They leave the room. They leave the building. They run into and often narrowly miss falling into traffic. It's fine.
And then they're told something along the lines of, alright, time to get serious, Brotaro and Sistako: you're going to start first grade. No more fucking around. Yeah, yeah, I know, we your parents have never imposed any sense of order or discipline during these critical, formative years, but that's what the educational system is for.
Having an opinion is discouraged. Critical thought is discouraged. Rote memorisation of long, long lists, that's the key. Also sleep deprivation. And being forced to literally sweat it out through the nightmarishly swampy summer and listen to the sound of your teeth clacking together behind your bluing lips in winter, because the girls will still have to wear their sexy skirts while the doors and windows are all simply left open. The barely-audible sound of your will to complain or protest melting away. Compliance. Silence.
If you know me - and if you're reading this I'm like 100% sure you have known me for years - you're probably like, "Yeah yeah, we know, Japan is a profoundly disappointing Orwellian dystopia frozen in the past and you hated living there and it makes you sad because there's so much to love about it but their authoritarian government has run it into the ground, you've talked about it a lot, I thought we were here for dinosaurs this time, you fucking liar," and well, you're right!
I'm here for the dinosaurs, too. Really.
But damn it again, one insightful Vogue contributor and a couple of really good interviews got me thinking about those dinosaurs. Like, seriously thinking. There are all kinds of messages and inspirations with connotations both encouraging and totally depressing to be gleaned from Kawakubo and Shimoda's collaboration. My two points with this train of thought are the following:
1) Consider how the average person longs to connect with or maintain a connection with their inner child and their sense of magic and whimsy, and now imagine how desperate and tragic that might become once you consider the lifeless greige backdrop from which these talented Japanese artists emerged. Being a little kid too young and clueless to appreciate much of anything yet is arguably the high point of Japanese life. I'm not saying that the lives of millions are meaningless or anything like that: I'm just saying that all the novelty, the anime and manga, the Hello Kitty, and the emotionally-stunted obsession with little schoolgirls, it all stems from this longing for simplicity and freedom associated with early childhood, much moreso than in Western countries. This dreamlike time before we were trapped in the system.
From the first Vogue article, the interview with Rei Kawakubo:
"'What makes you laugh?' I ask. The reply: Nothing.
I ask her what she considers her biggest failure. 'Maybe it's the fact that it's such hard work to do what I do and so much torture and living in hell and getting so tired working dawn to midnight every day for the last 40 years - maybe that would be called a failure in some sense,' she replies. When people insist they are blown away by something she has done, she doesn't believe them."
From this extensive, image-heavy, and generally great if somewhat-poorly-translated interview with Masakatsu Shimoda:
"You said you wanted to be a salaryman, but had you been drawing up until then?
'Although I've always loved to draw, I'm not good at it. I went to an art high school because there were no entrance examinations. But once I got in, to that environment where everyone was working really hard to get into art universities, my grade was the lowest in the class. At that time, when the teacher told me, 'For you, art university is an impossibility,' I accepted those words unquestioningly and stopped drawing for a while. I majored in design because of that, thinking there wouldn't be a lot of drawing involved, haha.'"
These things that I rant about, they matter. That's how a lot of people live, and in a lot of cases it's all they know. I don't just rant about the failings of contemporary Japanese (and Korean! and American!) society because I find them slightly inconvenient and because they don't perfectly line up with my ideal vision of the world: I rant about them because they're just wrong. Expecting people to work until they die with virtually no time to themselves is wrong. Shoving kids into cookie-cutter drone moulds and stamping out their creativity and vision and dreams is wrong. Especially if you're their fucking teacher! It's also not good to string kids along by unrealistically proclaiming, well into and beyond adolescence, that anyone can literally do or be anything, but I mean, if your harsh-ass criticism kills the desire in someone to write or learn or create or help others, then you have unequivocally failed as a critic. And as a teacher.
So, to steer this ever-more-unwieldy ship back into more positive waters, Sarah Mower's interpretation of this mens' collection being a loud and fun and free message to embrace one's inner child, to stay good and pure, and to just basically not be an asshole feels right on the money.
At first you're like, oh man, she's really reaching, but then later you're like, is she though? No, I think she's more or less right. Shimoda says in that interview that he doesn't know why he decided to make dino headgear, but that putting it on just makes him happy.
Maybe it is exactly that same feeling kids get when they put on a superhero cape.
All evidence points to "Yaaassss"
Since I mentioned last season's women's collection and am on a roll with the social critique, too, it's worth noting that, as of 2012, Japanese women spent the second most on cosmetic products in the world (second only to, you guessed it, Americans) but ranked 90th in life satisfaction.
As of last year, as you have probably heard me lament loudly and incredulously at some point between then and now, Japan fell even further down the World Economic Forum's Gender Equality Index, from #111 to #114. That's absolutely insane for a "developed" nation. There are only a total of 144 countries in the entire fucking survey.
India, Malawi, and Cambodia officially have smaller gender inequality gaps than Japan.
Is it any wonder that a fashion designer who was lucky enough to be raised by a university administrator father who championed Western culture and women's rights - growing up in a country where subservient women are encouraged to starve themselves while pregnant and are then denied painkillers during labour and birth - ended up completely rejecting the hollow and misogynistic consumerist culture I've been describing and retreating into the abstract, conceptual, "un-fabric" avant garde?
"Kawakubo's silhouette," that reverent and thorough New Yorker article accurately declares, "had nothing to do with packaging a woman's body for seduction."
What about Shimoda? Well, he got up the gumption to leave Japan for the first time when he was 26, and ended up spending two years wandering across Asia and then Europe with his one million yen ($9400 today, more at the time) in savings and no plan whatsoever, originally because he just wanted some authentic Peking duck.
It completely changed his life. Actually, it definitively marked the starting point of his life. Friendly Nepalese villagers told him his portraits were good and gave him more paper.
It's pretty crazy what happens when people get out of their bubble and/or get educated, right?
Really read the Shimoda interview, though. Like so many Japanese men, he assumed he would get a random mindless desk job and then get married and have kids, but luckily for him, the first one never happened. Actually, neither did the other two. That's his explanation of why he's lived in the same place for so long. He's now 40 and goes on to talk about how his house is full of toys and figurines and how he has five lightsabers and will probably end up buying more, when the interviewer points out that his place looks like "a little boy's secret hideout".
I rest my case.
2) If you think haute couture fashion is pointless and stupid and vapid, it's because you're not paying attention to the good stuff like this. How great is it that there's so much to be said about what kinds of messages this collection is intentionally or subconsciously sending to kids and to adults who still understand how to be kids on the inside?
On the flip side, no one even has to go anywhere near the social issues I've tied it all into to think it's great! They're dinosaur skeletons! It's more than enough to just appreciate the textile sculptures this fun, interesting guy is making at home and then wearing on his head like the complete nerd he is.
In conclusion, I just want to mention that there was an exhibition of these at the Parco Museum that ended three weeks before we moved to Tokyo. While researching this post I found out about it through Tokyo Art Beat, the same way I found out about most of the many art exhibitions I went to while we lived there. Goddamnit.
The images not cited come straight from Shimoda's own website.