PARIS, France — One of the most powerful images of the countercultural 1960s was the anti-war protestor sticking a carnation in the barrel of a National Guardsman’s gun during a demonstration outside the Pentagon in 1967. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, said Chairman Mao. That train of thought has begat war after war over the past century. The Pentagon protestor made a flower grow from the barrel of a gun, a profoundly poetic response to politics. It was an irresistible analogy for Rei Kawakubo’s show today where Flower Power was in full effect. “The armour of peace,” she called it.
It is surely a measure of the global geo-political descent into ghastliness that Kawakubo feels compelled — and comfortable enough — to make a comment. But what sentient soul could fail to acknowledge the abyss upon whose lip we tremble, and, should that soul have a public forum, make some kind of comment? There was poetry in her show today, in the way that the clothes mutated conventional men’s tailoring by revamping the articulation of traditional armour. Shoulder, elbow and knee pads appeared in traditional Savile Row fabrics, or in floral brocade, or in Art Deco patterns. Multi-layered sleeves were like gauntlets. The silhouettes were tail-coated, Victorian-elegant. The models had heads full of flowers, entwined in braids by longtime Rei collaborator Julien d’Ys. “Like Vikings,” he said.
But that analogy was too aggressive for the tone of this collection. Kawakubo emphasised boyish vulnerability in Oliver Twist suits. As the presentation progressed, she also introduced a trippy element in abstract floral-printed shirts. An open mind is invaluable when, all around you, other minds are closing. For the finale, her models appeared with massive armfuls of artificial flowers. They could have been real. The fact they weren’t made one reflect that the power of the flower is as much in the ideal as it is in the actuality.