Bizarre. Unflattering. Fearless. Best dressed. Each term was used to describe Caroline Kennedy’s gown, a piece from the Comme des Garçons fall 2016 ready-to-wear collection, at the 2017 Met Gala on Monday.
Of course, ready-to-wear is relative for the design house headed by Rei Kawakubo, who was honored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s event and whose styles star in the Costume Institute’s latest exhibit. The dress had no arm holes, encapsulating Kennedy’s limbs in a “floral sphere” of structural, layered floral jacquard.
But for Kennedy, wearing a Kawakubo original likely seemed requisite. She served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan (from which Kawakubo hails) for three years, until January, and was an honorary chair at the gala.
The exhibit “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between” celebrates Kawakubo’s achievements in fashion and marks only the second time a living designer has been honored individually — more than 30 years after the first, with the now-deceased Yves Saint Laurent, in 1983.
While Saint Laurent’s name and aesthetic are well known and commercially digestible, Kawakubo’s are not. The Japanese designer, who sits at the helm of a $280 million fashion empire, is little known to the average American and certainly not to the Instagram-glued masses who are perhaps better acquainted with the Balmains and Versaces of the world, thanks largely to the “it” girls who wear them.
Yet for the fashion-minded, watching celebrities walk the Met Gala 2017 red carpet likely caused a twinge of sadness, as so few wore the “oracle” Kawakubo’s avant-garde designs themselves — a bit like wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey at an event honoring Michael Jordan.
Some might argue that Kawakubo’s oeuvre has inspired fashion to such a degree that anything could be called “Kawakubo-inspired.” We can, according to the New York Times, thank her for master classes in “androgyny, artificiality, the pop-up shop, and the luxury group,” to start.
Still, it’s unfortunate that not even the gala’s hosts, Katy Perry and Gisele Bündchen — two women for whom commercial appeal is figurative bread and butter (not literal bread and butter, at least for Gisele) — wore Comme des Garçons. Perry came close in Margiela, a designer largely regarded as Kawakubo’s male counterpart when it comes to fashion deconstruction.
So on a night that welcomes fashion and post-fashion (Kawakubo is known for wanting to make “non-clothes” art that eschews traditional shapes and norms), non-fashion seemed to be central. New York Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman speculates that perhaps Kawakubo’s thinking transcends popcorn celebrity culture and so was not reflected on the red carpet. Or, it could be that Comme des Garçons — unlike better-known fashion houses — doesn’t pay celebrities to wear its clothing, and so the financial incentive, to which so many pay-for-play influencers and Instagram “it”girls have grown accustomed, was absent.
Social commerce website Polyvore monitors the fashion trends consumers search for after awards shows and major events like the Met Gala and found that “the Met Gala is aspirational but doesn’t translate into consumer habits or interest.” (Full disclosure: Polyvore’s parent company is Yahoo.)
The data, compiled the day after the Met Gala, shows that searches for Rei Kawakubo or Comme des Garçons were scant, the latter of which “under-indexed” by 89 percent. Instead, Kendall Jenner, who wore a skimpy La Perla evening dress cum negligée, was the top celeb search, according to the Polyvore data. Only one celebrity who opted to wear CdG, Rihanna, even landed within the top 10, coming in at No. 8. And the top dress color search was white — perhaps a sign that consumers were more interested in Kim Kardashian’s born-again dress than they were in the Comme des Garçons staple dress hue red, a color search that was ninth out of 10.
To be sure, there were a few celebrity fashion vanguards besides Rihanna who wore Kawakubo’s brand at the event. Pharrell Williams and his wife, Helen Lasichanh, duplicately served low-brow/high-brow Comme des Garçons. Lesser-known celebrities like Anna Cleveland, Stella Tennant, and Sofía Sanchez de Betak wore CdG too.
So while Kennedy wore Comme to honor Kawakubo, most everyone else attended to another deity: the masses.
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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.