Witches appear in multiple shapes, forms and representations: you hear about them in fairy and folk tales, you meet them in paintings à la Henry Fuseli's The Weird Sisters (or The Three Witches) and you see them on screen in scary films that mesmerise and frighten their audiences.
Some witches are beautiful, others are terrifying: in Orson Welles' 1948 movie The Three Witches, an adaptation of Macbeth, these figures had long, grey hair and held forked sticks. Their voices could be heard, but their faces weren't too distinguishable hidden as they were under their long hair; the witches controlled Macbeth's actions via a voodoo doll that represented him.
Rei Kawakubo wasn't conjuring up the powers of Macbeth's witches in the Comme des Garçons' S/S 2016 show held in a hot and sticky basement room at Le Centorial (former headquarters of Crédit Lyonnais), but she was toying with the idea of benevolent blue witches, strong and powerful women capable of doing good deeds.
Models came out on the runway with red flaming hair piled high on their heads, their bodies radically transformed by the monumental sculptures of fabrics wrapped around them.
There were soft and furry three-dimensional tentacles; puffed up sleeves and ostrich feathers delicalety trembling in an almost Haute Couture moment that met with decadence and decay; fake fur clashed with blue velvet; there was a hint at something tailored in two leopard printed fabrics that had been mauled and reduced to bits and pieces before being restitched back together in Frankenstein's style.
A huge white coat was characterised by a magnified criss-cross fastening, sculptural silhouettes and blue knots of velvet covered, hid or submerged in layers and layers of fabric the heads of the models, while ruches cocooned, engulfed and strangled them. The designs (expect them to reappear in some incredible fashion exhibition) looked more like wearable and portable architectural intervention at times made with interior design fabrics rather than proper clothes.
Some details vaguely pointed towards historical costumes, others like the sharply pointed narrow shoes were maybe borrowed from illustrations of tales that had grotesque witches as their protagonists, but there were also garments that looked crafted by a person slowly descending into madness in a mental asylum and fashioning out of curtains, mattresses, bedsheets or a straitjacket an extravagant piece.
Difficult to say what it all meant as fabrics transformed into abstract elements, almost huge and material representations of a Rorschach test or turned the models into reinvented and conceptual versions of the witches' attires in W.W. Denslow's illustrations for The Wizard of Oz.
The good thing about it? Well, Kawakubo has reached the point where she doesn't need to present real clothes for the next season, but she can use the runway to introduce her audience to as many experimental ideas as she wants (this time only 16 looks) without explaining anything. Surely, that's no mean feat for a fashion house with its own independent multi-brand chain of shops.
Obviously the ideas showcased in this collection - punctuated by a soundtrack from Blue Velvet, David Lynch's 1980s film - will be reinterpreted in simpler, wearable forms, but, for the time being, you can take them as a silent two finger salute to the fashion establishment that is becoming a sad parody of itself, or, if you're looking for deeper meanings, we could compare them to something else: maybe the designer in this case acted a bit like the witches in Welles' film, "agents of chaos" plotting against order, but she did so not via a voodoo doll, but via models clad in her controversial pieces.
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