PARIS, France — Rei Kawakubo defined the collection she showed on Saturday with two words: “blue witch.” Blue is the colour of elemental nature, sea and sky. The witch has always been a symbol of elemental female power. And it felt like Kawakubo was going for something elemental too.
It was almost as though she had started with the most structured womenswear she could think of — Victoriana, Edwardiana — and exploded the structure to Brobdingnagian proportions, the bustles, puff sleeves and panniers taking on invasive, asymmetric new dimensions, with jet-black coq feathers and ostrich plumes amplifying the exaggerated silhouettes. In their dark, uncompromising grandeur, the clothes Kawakubo showed had a ceremonial aspect, which was amplified by the funereal pace of the presentation, more ritualised performance than mere fashion show.
But there was humour too. That might be one element of the Kawakubo hagiography that gets short shrift. The first outfit, for instance, looked, from the front, like a majestic opera coat, the sort of thing that would grace Sarah Bernhardt. From behind, the coat was completely cut away to reveal a pair of pert velvet shorts. You could almost read that as a reminder to never take yourself too seriously. Same with the pointy shoes. Kawakubo has shown something similar before, but in this context, they were irresistibly Margaret Hamilton. And the extraordinary wigs that Julien D’Ys created were wild, witty forces of nature in themselves, inspired, he said, by the blood moon, the recent once-in-a-lifetime confluence of planetary bodies that turned the moon red. Combine that huge shock of red hair with the swathes of velvet and astrakhan — and the bee-stung lips — and you had yourself a vision of the witchy Marchesa Casati on steroids.
The soundtrack included snatches of music from the David Lynch songbook: Julee Cruise’s “Mysteries of Love,” Isabella Rossellini singing “Blue Velvet.” That bland little pop song takes on a macabre resonance in Lynch’s film of the same name. It was easy to imagine Kawakubo identifying with the director’s ability to magically imbue the prosaic with a haunting alien power. It's what she does, season after season.