New Icons: The Pointed Wit of Comme des Garçons

With a Witchy Pair of Oxfords, Rei Kawakubo Taps into the Surreal Side of a Mexican Dance Subculture

New Icons celebrates the stories behind particularly notable pieces from this season.

In the 1980s, Comme des Garçons' earliest Japanese followers were nicknamed “crows.” It suited them well for various reasons. Firstly, the crooked uniformity of Rei Kawakubo’s designs encourages cultish associations. Secondly, her collections are more often than not as black as the night. And thirdly, the bird has a reputation as the foreteller of doom and destruction: a fate Kawakubo’s wrinkled, torn, stained, and patched clothes often seem to have endured on their journey to the showroom. Herein lies Comme des Garcons’ singular appeal, and the beauty of being a “crow.” The work is about proving you have nothing to prove.

As Kawakubo has shown us, a dash of suffering can often be the best accessory for finishing off an ensemble. In a volume of essays titled Role Model, writer and director John Waters extensively describes his borderline-masochistic devotion to Comme des Garçons and its visionary créatrice. Ms. Kawakubo’s bob hairdo makes his heart sing just like the sparse boutiques that exhibit her latest proposals and the so-called “Comme des Garçons Army,” a nickname invented for their employees by Kawakubo herself. Waters is especially enchanted by a particular staff member at the label’s Tokyo flagship store, who “looks exactly like a witch. A stunning, stylish witch like the one in Snow White with the crooked teeth. Imperious, yet flawed in a brand new way.” He admits, “I am actually scared of her chicness. No one would ever laugh at her ‘look,’ no matter how Kawakubo’d-out she may appear. She is not a fashion casualty; she is fashion authority itself. You almost expect her to offer you a poison apple. I’d eat it.”

This is precisely the effect Comme des Garçons and its devotees aim for. The “poison apple” of this season would have to be a pair of black patent leather pointed oxfords, inspired by the bizarre fashion phenomenon of Mexican pointy boots. The absurdist trend originated from the música trival subculture in Matehuala, San Luis Potosí. Members of the scene—just for “kicks”—kept elongating the toes on their dancing shoes, which quickly escalated into a competition of pointiness. Head-scratchingly surreal and ornamental, Kawakubo must have found this trend irresistible. Her recreation of it in patent leather is extra witchy, something which scores bonus points on the Comme des Garçons seduction scale. But nothing beats the wearer’s presumed waddle! The oxfords’ childlike and diabolical wit calls to mind one of Kawakubo’s most juicy confessions. In 2005, when New Yorker journalist Judith Thurman asked what made Kawakubo laugh, she replied dryly: “People falling down.”

  • Text: Bianca Heuser
    Photography: Mathieu Fortin
    Styling: Oliver Stenberg