Future Beauty

Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garcons, Spring/Summer 1997. Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute. Photo by Takashi Hatakeyama.

A creativity manifesto:

Going around museums and galleries, seeing films, talking to people, seeing new shops, looking at silly magazines, taking an interest in the activities of people in the street, looking at art, travelling:

So begins a “manifesto” on creativity written by Rei Kawakubo, the untrained founder of the trailblazing Japanese fashion house Commes des Garcons in response to her most recent SS14 collection for the label.

Kawakubo is one of the radically creative Japanese designers featured in the Peabody Essex Museum’s recently opened, “Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion,” on view through January 26, 2014.

Whether you think you’re not interested in fashion or whether you think you are, this show will surprise.  The “clothes” are “beautiful,”  which is to say they have nothing at all to do with traditional notions of clothes or beauty.

Where western designers use highly sexualized fitted forms, balance, finish, and complementary color and pattern, these Japanese creatives play instead with imperfection, transience, asymmetry, roughness and subtlety.

Wandering the gallery newly renovated as part of PEM’s ongoing transformation is invigorating: it challenges our notions of what can be, makes us ask “why” and “how,” and projects possibility.

To most of us, this experience is creatively rich, but for Kawakubo, this rich visual experience is not in fact part of the creative process.   She continues her manifesto:

all these things are not useful, all these things do not help me, do not give me any direct stimulation to help my search for something new. And neither does fashion history. The reason for that is that all these things above already exist.

I only can wait for the chance for something completely new to be born within myself.

To be creative is to create, not to recreate.  In the biblical narrative, we read about how the earth is spoken into existence from a dark and formless void: everything thing that is had never been before, the ultimate act of non-derivative creation.

Comme des Garçons (Rei Kawakubo), Autumn/Winter 1983 Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, Gift of Comme des Garçons Co., Ltd., photo by Masayuki Hayashi
Comme des Garçons (Rei Kawakubo), Autumn/Winter 1983
Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, Gift of Comme des Garçons Co., Ltd., photo by Masayuki Hayashi

In pursuit of beauty, even the most accomplished creators amongst us often replicate a past experience of transcendence.  Surely we tweak, add a touch of the personal, a bit of individuation or modernity, but the overall experience is derivative; it reminds of something else, which is comforting, if not creative.

We notice skill and finish and complementary colors, marks not of a creator, but of a forger.

What does Kawakubo suggest instead?

The way I go about looking for this from within is to start with a provisional ‘theme.’ I make an abstract image in my head. I think paradoxically (oppositely) about patterns I have used before. I put parts of patterns where they don’t usually go. I break the idea of ‘clothes.’ I think about using for everything what one would normally use for one thing. Give myself limitations. I pursue a situation where I am not free. I think about a world of only the tiniest narrowest possibilities. I close myself. I think that everything about the way of making clothes hitherto is no good. This is the rule I always give myself: that nothing new can come from a situation that involves being free or that doesn’t involve suffering.

Provocative! Creativity does not come from freedom but suffering?  Impose limitations? Think paradoxically?  This is not advice we often hear (ever?).  But what if?

What if we did not impose the limitation of having no limitations but were intentional about the boundaries we choose for ourselves?

What if we identify the limitations others place on us and think paradoxically about what they could be oppositely?

What if we strove not to recreate a past experience or someone else’s experience, but to pursue the new and unknown?

In order to make this SS14 collection, I wanted to change the usual route within my head. I tried to look at everything I look at in a different way. I thought a way to do this was to start out with the intention of not even trying to make clothes. I tried to think and feel and see as if I wasn’t making clothes.

From the Comme des Garcons SS14 collection.  http://www.livincool.com/fashion/comme-des-garcons-ss14
From the Comme des Garcons SS14 collection. http://www.livincool.com/fashion/comme-des-garcons-ss14

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  “Future Beauty” has nothing to do with clothes as you have come to understand them.  It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

“Future Beauty: Avant-Garde Japanese Fashion”
On view November 16, 2013-Januuary 26, 104
Peabody-Essex Museum

Read Kawakubo’s complete manifesto:


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