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Is clothing art? Who cares, you’ll love the new Met exhibit either way

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is a mecca for wannabe designers and those who follow the Carrie Bradshaw logic of prioritizing style over all else, sometimes even food.  But a fashion obsession isn’t required to enjoy the museum’s new exhibit opening May 4, Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.

Nor is an understanding of design history or what the term “deconstructed” means.

An open mind, maybe.

Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo’s name is a mouthful (pronounced ray cow-uh-kooh-bo), as is her line, Comme des Garçons (“like some boys” in French). But New York City visitors shouldn’t let the unfamiliar names and terminology deter them from a trip to the 5th Avenue museum.

The white-walled exhibit is broken into nine sections, each examining “in-betweenness.” It’s possible to get caught up in the heady philosophical questions Kawakubo poses in her works, like the dichotomy of absence and presence. Yet, it’s also possible to enjoy it as a more surface-level brain teaser: Is this art or clothing? Is clothing art?

Those questions are at the core of why the 74-year-old designer has been hailed as a revolutionary, and are on full display in the 140 piece collection. The exhibit guidebook suggests a pathway through the circular layout inhabited by puzzle-piece-like structures framing the garments, but guests also are encouraged to chose their own adventures and let their imaginations fly.

“Everyone says a skirt has to be sewn with the seams on the inside? Well, what if I try it on the outside?” a museum-goer staring at the white patchwork skirt and tattered shirt in Section 2 can imagine the designer asking herself. Equally fun is envisioning the petite Kawakubo handing a crumpled piece of paper to her design team and asking for a pattern to be made using its qualities, which apparently was the genesis of the brown paper dress that kicks off the section. Talk about a Devil Wears Prada moment.

If you’re eager to find recognizable looks, head to Section 5, called “Elite Culture / Popular Culture.” There you’ll find the tutus and leather jackets from Kawakubo’s famous 2005 show Ballerina Motorbike. They are the most wearable, maybe not to the grocery store, but even Forever 21 sells a version of a ballerina skirt and a faux motorcycle jacket.

Section 6 is Kawakubo’s interesting take on clothing worn to social rituals. Gazing at the layered, Victorian-looking dresses and headpieces, it’s hard not to wonder why we don’t wear such elaborate cocoon-like veils for funerals and weddings. What would happen if we did?

Section nine has some pieces familiar to Vogue readers and Rihanna followers. Those who followed Monday night’s gala, the legendary fundraiser for the institute and notorious red carpet event, may catch a petal dress akin the Bahamian singer’s, and one worn by Katy Perry for the May issue of the magazine.

Entertainment Editor Cara Kelly and Digital Editor Maeve McDermott talk about the hottest fashion at the 2017 Met Gala.

Because many of us are more familiar with modern art exhibits in sterile-looking galleries than we are couture fashion presentations, In-Between may be a counterintuitive cross-over hit, attracting fans of both worlds. Its predecessor, 2016’s Manus x Machina exhibit, drew more than 750,000 people, making it the second most popular following 2015’s hit China: Through the Looking Glass, and the seventh most visited at the whole of the Met.

“I know we get a lot of people who will laugh at it and not see the intention — the ones who reduce fashion to wearability,” Kawakubo’s husband and partner, Adrian Joffe, said in a rare interview the pair gave to Vogue before the opening. “But I hope most people will be inspired by it.”

Maybe off the runway and inside a museum, they’ll inspire some who didn’t realize they love high fashion.

The exhibit is open through Sept. 4. Tickets can be purchased at the museum or online in advance; payment is suggested as $25 for adults, $17 for seniors, $12 for students, and free for members and children under 12.

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On – 04 May, 2017 By Cara Kelly

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