Right now I’m reading John Waters’ excellent collection of essays, Role Models, and my favorite so far (after “Baltimore Heroes”) has been the one he wrote about Rei Kawakubo and his own evolution from youthful, deliberately bad fashion and thrifting for the costumes of his early movies to dressing in the stained and shredded outfits he’s found at Comme des Garçons as he’s gotten older (as he says, you don’t need fashion designers when you’re young).
"Have faith in your own bad taste. Buy the cheapest thing in your local thrift shop--the clothes that are freshly out of style with even the hippest people a few years older than you. Get on the nerves of your peers, not your parents--that is the key to fashion leadership."
I especially love the quote about dressing badly in the eyes of your peers, but I don’t know if it’s as relevant of a concept today. We’ve come to value individuality and personal style so highly and the ability to not just reference, but replicate, fashions from the past has caused us to become such a nostalgic society, that I don’t know if you can truly dress in bad or outdated fashion unless it’s totally inadvertent.
I think a lot of people today dress outlandishly because bad dressing is the new good fashion, we have access so much through technology, that it takes a lot to excite us anymore. As I read it, the essay reminded me of my senior year of college when I shopped solely at the Good Will up the block from me and looked for the most garish and dated articles of clothing they had. I bought polyester blouses with shoulder pads (the bad kind) and cinched waists, a pair of soccer mom khaki shorts that were 4 sizes to big, and lots of moth-eaten grandpa cardigans.
When I dressed that way it was unquestionably bad fashion because it was looking to be different rather than dressing in a way that reflected who I was or projected who I wanted to be, regardless of whether or not it got me noticed. Which is not to say that looking different or dressing in a way that gets you noticed can’t simply mean that you’re wearing something truly stylish. I think that the woman in the picture below (in Chanel, Comme des Garçons, and Hermès) is absolutely stunning. And it’s not just the clothes, it’s her stride and expression. It’s that she’s a real person giving life to fantastical and beautiful clothing.
In that same vein, I love Rei Kawakubo because she stops you in your tracks with clothing that isn’t practical but that expresses a distinct point of view. Season after season she sends models out on the runway wearing art and appreciating it has little to do with necessarily finding it wearable. Her clothing is stunning and whimsical and affecting and difficult to understand or originate, because as she herself has said, she is always looking to create something that has never been done before.
Even in doing something as commercial as an H&M capsule collection (which I’ve been treasure-hunting for on ebay), she toned down proportions and generally simplified, but stuck with her aesthetic of structured, high-impact silhouettes.
The SS12 collection was what first captured my attention–including a treatment of wedding dresses–masterfully layered, voluminous, and ranging from tender to suffocating–that immediately sent me searching for past Comme des Garçons collections. Since then I’ve also become a huge fan of Kawakubo’s former apprentice, Junya Watanabe, whose line is a sub-label of Comme des Garçons and who uses everything from the most technologically advanced fabrics to simple cotton and twill to create draped, ruched looks, and have just begun to take notice of Tao Kurihara, another sub-label.