Bump and Mind

By Als, Hilton | Artforum International, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Bump and Mind


Als, Hilton, Artforum International


Kim Novak's protuberances in Hitchcock's Vertigo, Godzilla pores, pus flowering on top of pimples, nineteenth-century bustles and false fronts, Veronica Cartwright's bug-eyed expression of horror in Ridley Scott's Alien, prosthetic cocks or a "real" erect one, cellulite and diagrams on how to combat it, the male/female character in Silence of the lambs regarding his image in the mirror, dick tucked between his legs - all these tabulae non rasae sprang to mind as I watched models garbed in Rei Kawakubo's Spring/Summer '97 collection walk down the runway this fall, their backs, shoulders, and hips made ecstatically, imagistically associative by the down humps planted in Kawakubo's wool, polyurethane, and organdy gowns.

In a season characterized by a turn to "democracy" - Calvin "Just Be" Klein and innumerable ad campaigns that have mined, in ways too vulgar and injudicious to recount here, photographer Corinne Day's rethinking of fashion photography in terms the press has called "realistic" - Kawakubo's engorged garments for Comme des Garcons stand apart from her contemporaries' race to embrace the fiction of an empirical real as "new." This "fashion" is a smoke screen; in actual fact, fashion, as practiced by any designer but Kawakubo, does not exist, especially if the practice of making clothes can be defined as an idea that has been given form - the configuration of a thought, or several.

Kawakubo does not design clothes but events in which people appear. On the videotape of the collection shown in Pads this past fall, the audience's verbal reactions to the work functioned as the soundtrack; there was no music accompanying the models as they - one at a time - walked down the short white runway, their skirts rustling beneath their funereal faces, lips bleak, eyes greasy. The first outfit exhibited a woman in a white skirt, its hemline gathered in a bunch just beneath her knees. She also wore white stockings, flat white shoes, and a transparent white stretch top with white ribbed sleeves. The pods, also white, were attached to her back, beneath the nylon, polyurethane, stretch tulle top; her breasts (the frontal view) corresponded to the pod shapes. Further along, another girl: rainbow-colored polyester, polyurethane, and organdy stretch top, a slight opening at the chest, and a right shoulder of Quasimodo-like proportions, a shoulder stuffed with pods. (The beauty of the fabric will further confuse potential customers. These bumps are hard not to like. At any rate, it is hard not to find Kawakubo's imagination attractive, given that it is somewhat invidious.) Yet another girl sported a pod placed directly on her stomach; when she stood in profile, she looked as if she had been defeated by pregnancy, or was simply disinterested in the effect her cosmetic pregnancy had on us. In these clothes, people exist for better or for worse. The exact opposite of "fashion," which does not demand that its wearer infuse clothing with individual style, but takes the short, ugly view: that women do not know what they look like at all, so they might as well look like Everywoman. Versace, whose fashions-as-fantasy subscribe to this thesis, has made a great deal of money banking on the fact that women see themselves as men see them, which is to say as whores in repose, mouths in motion. His fiendishly bright colors are not as Mediterranean as one might think. Could they be the palette in which men paint a woman's interior self - violent, aggressive, "bitchin'"?

Buffalo Bill, the evil tailor in Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs bitches because he is unable to distinguish between what he is and what he would like to be: if not exactly the bleak-lipped, greasy-eyed woman held captive in a blood-stained pit, then some kind of woman. But before becoming the woman he envisions himself as, he must wear her body like fashion: he stitches a bodysuit together from the skins of his victims - complete with breasts, fuller hips, larger thighs. …

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