It’s always fun to attend a gathering organized by Comme Des Garçons. There’s quite a lot to see, whether clothes or coteries. The air hums with stylishness—attendees parade, rather than peacock, their not-subtle attire. If individualism and the unconventional have a social centre, it sits here on level two of the Hilton Shopping Gallery. At this season’s party this afternoon, the get-together was in full swing when I arrived. Guests were mostly in different stages of purchase-making, prodded, possibly, by the bubbly booze and bit bites served.
Few brands attract such a motley group of customers as CDG does. These people are nothing like the supposed enthusiasts that you see queuing outside, say, Louis Vuitton. These are fans, those with the same devotion as avid supporters of Big Bang or Banksy; their loyalty bordering on idol worship. And they are as diverse a consumer base as the many lines CDG offers (17 at last count), not the single fashion-fabulous tribe adoring a young, social-media-savvy designer-of-the-moment.
Inside the white-walled boutique (although opened in early 2011, does not stray too much from the look of the first Paris boutique opened in 1982), the arriving customers quickly built up a mise-en-scène not unlike a Hou Hsiao-Hsien movie. I had not noticed this before. For all the far-out fashions these individuals embraced, there were humanistic, even sentimental, aspects to witness. Perhaps it was a Saturday afternoon, when alone shopping time is as appealing as this morning’s hangover. The shoppers seemed mostly accompanied. Among the groups, the less expected and more conspicuous were parents with kids in tow (decked out, no less, in Play, the only CDG line with pieces for the very young). The interaction between parents and children was no different from what one might observe in a supermarket. The father might be in a montaged shirt and the mother in flounced and beribboned dress, but the expression of style was secondary to the appearance of parenthood. If you think about it, this did not deviate from CDG’s widely varied consumer demographics.
Just as she has challenged convention in couture, designer Rei Kawakubo has bucked the establishment by not using the most beautiful or the youngest models. She has put on the catwalk girls who look as if they were picked from her factory floor, and men who might be ready to make their first CPF withdrawal. Her customers are often not broadly different from the models she presents on stage. Since she does not push for a particular type of woman or man, nor does she offer clothes with sexual overtones (preferring to add volume over, rather than trace the contours of the body), she has been able to draw a client base that goes beyond those of body-con fashionistas. Gender lines are blurred too, with women buying the men’s Shirt Line, and men picking up the women’s low-crotch pants and complex jackets.
Before the wildly successful Play line (with the much-copied heart shape with eyes sans lips designed by Polish artist Filip Pagowski), before the standalone boutique at the Hilton Shopping Gallery, CDG mostly attracted individuals from the art and media world, with fans including Charles Saatchi, Cindy Sherman, Tom Dixon, and, in Singapore, Theseus Chan, the founder of design studio Work and the kindred publication Werk. While CDG once provided alternative aesthetics to mainstream fashion, they have less of that power now since so many designers are challenging the status quo by approaching design the “Rei way”. The Play line—cute and accessible—spawned a new generation of fans, but the traditionalists mostly avoid it.
Back at the boutique, family folks succumbed to the little ones’ impatience and left, leaving behind the not-unexpected boys in skirts and girls in shirts. Between them, trend-led geeks in Star Wars tops as arresting as light sabers ready to strike, women who consider symmetry in dress a curse, those who cannot have too much bows and rosettes, and the die-hards who insisted they wear “only the runway looks”.
A waitress appeared to offer me some finger food smaller than the pinkie, all neatly arrange on a bed of limp linguine, housed in a birdcage. Unable to resist—bad joke as it were, I asked if the éclair-looking bits were what the escaped bird left behind. She did not look amused. Humour, I supposed, was hard to fit in a sombre, gallery-like setting such as this—ironic since, I soon learned, the event was really to launch the brand’s collaboration with Disney. What would Mickey Mouse have said?