Rei Kawakubo's Fall/Winter 2018 collection banished seriousness in favor of effusive expressions of form, color, and pleasure.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the adjective “camp” can be used to describe things that are “ostentatiously and extravagantly effeminate” or “deliberately exaggerated and theatrical in style.” Rei Kawakubo titled her Fall/Winter 2018 collection “Comme des Garçons Camp,” and it was, in every way, a collection that embodied both interpretations of the word from the unchecked outrageousness of the clothes up to the pair of dangling theater lights above the runway. Its witnesses radiated delight as models walked the runaway in sumo-wrestler-size proportions, shouldering voluminous and colorful sculptural pieces. Kawakubo left no room for ambiguity about the collection’s intent in email sent before the show. “Camp is not something horribly exaggerated, out of the ordinary, unserious or in bad taste. This collection came out of the feeling that, on the contrary, camp is really and truly something deep and new and represents a value we need. I think camp can express something deeper and can give birth to progress.”
“The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance,” wrote Susan Sontag in Notes on Camp, the canonical essay cited in Kawakubo’s email. “Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” There may not have been dresses made of millions of feathers, yet the spirit of extravagance was certainly there: layers and layers of lace, floral appliqués, lace and tulle in multiple colors puffed out with crinolines. Restraint, serious or serene, was nowhere in sight.
It was clear that this banishment was precisely Kawakubo’s intention, especially after a closer look at Sontag’s reappraisal of the aesthetic. “The whole point of Camp,” Sontag wrote, “is to dethrone the serious.” Comme des Garçons’s dethroning of seriousness created a needed pause from the headlines of the world, as well, offering attendees a glimpse into a world of fantasy, where oversized, bulbous models can hardly pass each other on the runaway, generating moments of levity and laughter. The world of Comme des Garçons Camp is a generous world—one that Kawakubo would clearly like to extend to anyone interested in new ways of seeing the world around us.