Dress, Body Meets Dress or Bump collection
Polyester, cotton, tulle, designed by Rei Kawakubo
Comme des Garçons, Tokyo, Japan
Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons helped to pioneer a 1990s avant-garde aesthetic which scorned the visual language of the hyper-sexualised, body-conscious fashions of the previous decade. Her designs challenge western modern traditions where the garment follows the line of the body, instead drawing on traditional Japanese ideas which treat the relationship between the body and the textile very differently.
Kawakubo’s now iconic Spring/Summer 1997 Body Meets Dress or Bump collection parodied the cultural tropes of female body image. This sample garment for this landmark collection plays with the space between the fabric and the contours of the body, critiquing the notion of there being one ideal shape and encapsulating Kawakubo’s concept that ‘The body becomes dress, dress becomes body.’
The collection made use of 1980s padding but subverted its original intention. Sending unfamiliar shapes down the catwalk, constructed with kidney-shaped down pillows sewn into slip linings, Kawakubo offered an ‘ironic commentary on expectations of women and cleavage-enhancing bras, to a reimagining of the maternal figure and exaggeration of the protruding curves of the female anatomy.’ (AnOther magazine, January 2016)
Laid flat, this dress forms a horseshoe shape, with the head and armholes placed at seemingly illogical distances from one another. Inside it is lightly padded and reinforced with tulle to support the curves, and can be worn in a variety of ways.
In an interview with Elle magazine in March 2016, Kawakubo described her process: ‘…the starting point must be something I’ve never seen before…I work with patterns like a sculptor. I try to get [the team] not to work on a body, [but] to work on a free space, on a table. The work is basically on flat surfaces.
‘It’s the final 10 percent that is the fabric, when it becomes a real thing. In Comme des Garçons, I hardly do any sketches; there’s no fittings on bodies…In the beginning, there isn’t even a theme…The first thing we do is sit around a table and discuss what we could pick up from daily life, from space. That’s how it starts, completely abstract.’
Object photography © Comme des Garçons/National Museums Scotland
Catwalk photography © Guy Marineau/Getty Images