Since founding Comme des Garçons (“like some boys”) in 1969, the Tokyo-based designer Rei Kawakubo (born 1942) has consistently defined and redefined the aesthetics of our time. Season after season, collection after collection, she upends conventional notions of beauty and disrupts accepted characteristics of the fashionable body. Her fashions not only stand apart from the genealogy of clothing but also resist definition and confound interpretation. They can be read as Zen koans or riddles devised to baffle, bemuse, and bewilder. At the heart of her work are the koan mu (emptiness) and the related notion of ma (space), which coexist in the concept of the “in-between.”
This reveals itself as an aesthetic sensibility that establishes an unsettling zone of visual ambiguity and elusiveness. “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” examines nine expressions of “in-betweenness” in Kawakubo’s collections: Absence/Presence; Design/Not Design; Fashion/ Antifashion; Model/Multiple; High/Low; Then/Now; Self/ Other; Object/Subject; and Clothes/Not Clothes. It reveals how her designs occupy the spaces between these dualities — which have come to be seen as natural rather than social or cultural — and how they resolve and dissolve binary logic. Defying easy classification themselves, her clothes expose the artificiality, arbitrariness, and “emptiness” of conventional dichotomies. Kawakubo’s art of the “in-between” generates meaningful mediations and connections as well as revolutionary innovations and transformations, offering endless possibilities for creation and re-creation.