Photographer: Paolo Roversi
Hair: Julien d'Ys
Rei Kawakubo's Autumn/Winter 2015 collection explored the theme of loss, serving as an emotional counterpoint to the almost violent reds of her Spring/Summer 2015 collection. Models walked down the catwalk with pale white faces obscured by lace veils emerging out of their hair like a cross between a heartbroken Miss Havisham and a grief-stricken funerary procession. We had the funerary white of Eastern tradition, the black of Western tradition (with a heavy use of lace bringing to mind Victorian era mourning), and the heavily embroidered gold and cream dress that reminded me of Medieval royal or ecclesiastical burial garb. Whilst I am sure these dresses will be available to try on and buy (and indeed every time I have been to Dover Street Market there always seems to be someone in the process of buying what most seem to dismiss as an "unwearable" mainline piece), I think the past few seasons have most definitely been more of a conceptual pursuit even by Rei's standards. I think of these dresses as functional sculpture, enveloping the body, and with exaggerated shapes that add a sense of space around the body that one would otherwise never encounter. Needless to say it is a collection made for photographing.
I found this editorial by Paolo Roversi interesting because I feel that it plays on the theme of mourning that the collection encompassed without feeling too literal in its interpretation. Unusually the looks are all straight from the catwalk, down to the shoes and hair (crafted so beautifully by Julien d'Ys), which just goes to show how strong the show styling was. The setting is such that the camera captures all walls, ceiling and floor, giving us the sense that we are looking into a stable and confined space. The models do not feel backed into a corner, as they stand central in the room, but there is definitely no sense of escape unless they come out of the image towards us. Draped with white sheets the backdrop could be taken as alluding to the bedroom, but instead we get the feeling of the eternal bed - a coffin. Combine this with full body portraits, the majority of which are statically posed, a desaturated look reminiscent of daguerreotypes and what we have is an editorial highly evocative of Victorian post-mortem photography.
The earliest examples of post-mortem photography did not usually include coffins, but the body of the deceased dressed up and posed, often alongside living family members. Devices were actually created to help hold up and pose the deceased, with the photographers sometimes even painting the eyes open so that the deceased could look out to their loved ones. It all sounds rather macabre, but it served an important emotional purpose. Given the high pricing of painted portraits, these photographs were highly cherished, and often one of the only photographs families would have of their loved ones. It provided a huge sense of comfort for those families, allowing them to deal with the memories of their loved ones in a more direct way than ever before. And that is exactly what I think this collection was about for Rei - dealing with the emotions of loss, and hopefully finding some sense of comfort. Collections so full of emotion are few and far between, but when they do come, it is as if the designer has found their own unique way of expressing something truly universal.