The artworks of Kazimir Malevich are bold, expressive and full of hidden spiritual meanings. Same can be said about another artist's creations - Comme des Garçons designer, Rei Kawakubo. 

   Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (23 February 1879 – 15 May 1935) was a Polish-Russian painter and art theoretician. He was a pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the avant-garde Suprematist movement. Until age 12 or 13 he knew nothing of professional artists, though peasant art had surrounded him in childhood. He delighted in peasant embroidery, and in decorated walls and stoves. He himself was able to paint in the peasant style. He studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture from 1904 to 1910 and in the studio of  Fedor Rerberg in Moscow (1904 to 1910). His early experiments as a painter led him towards the invention of suprematism, a bold visual language of abstract geometric shapes and stark colours (epitomised by the 'Black Square'). He invented this term because, ultimately, he believed that art should transcend subject matter - the truth of shape and color should reign 'supreme' over the image or narrative.
   The fact that Malevich throughout all his life was signing and re-signing his works using earlier dates makes this u-turn in his artistic career even more ambiguous. Be that as it may, in 1915 he published his manifesto 'From Cubism to Suprematism'.
  Rei Kawakubo (born 11 October 1942) is a Japanese fashion designer, founder of Comme des Garçons. She is untrained as a fashion designer, but studied fine arts and literature at Tokyo's
prestigious Keio University. After graduation, Kawakubo worked in a textile company and began working as a freelance stylist in 1967.
In 1973, she established her own company, Comme des Garçons Co. Ltd in Tokyo and opened up her first boutique in Tokyo in 1975. Starting out with women's clothes, Kawakubo added a men's line in 1978. Three years later, she started presenting her fashion lines in Paris each season, opening up a boutique in Paris in 1982. By turns conservative (think black-and-white) and radical (think asymmetry and unfinished), Comme des Garçons became the preferred label of the avant-garde and the highly independent.

  63 years and 9000 kilometers apart from each other, two avant-garde artists have a lot in common. For example, the idea of human body transformation. In Malevich's works we can clearly see disproportioned or purposely distorted figures, especially in his costume designs. In these sketches, Malevich transforms theatrical characters to give them depth and make them more dramatic.  
        The Comme des Garçons collection, entitled "Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body" (S/S 1997), was based on the concept of a woman being physically attached to her burdens. The dresses in the collection were disfigured with wads of padding. In some cases the padding was shaped like a baby in a sling, an obvious commentary on the weight of motherhood, but in other cases the lumps were attached to the hip, leaving an ambiguous meaning. “One of the most commercially unsuccessful offerings from the label, it is colloquially known as the ‘Lumps and Bumps’ range for the tumour-like padded growths and built in hunch backs that warp the ‘ideal’ forms of the young, white, female models on the runway.  In distorting the traditional boundaries of the female form, by blurring the safe space of the untouchable, eternal, beauty of runway collections, questions are raised of the pre-existing ideals of the ‘beautiful’ body and the ‘beautiful’ dress within high fashion.“ – Bethany Lamont.
   Kawakubo's 'lumpy' models were groundbreaking, because the collection is almost a pure representation of fashion as an art form. The clothes by Comme des Garçons can deform their owners' bodies, show new, not always right, forms, but in the same time demonstrate a genuine nature and mood of people.

Kazimir Malevich's costume sketches

Comme des garcons, S/S 1997
Kazimir Malevich 'Bust of a woman' / Comme des garcons Fall 2010

     Another thing both artists share, are bright, contrasting colors.
   Malevich's paintings had a deep, almost religious context, 'supremacy of pure feelings'. He truly believed in the pureness of forms and colors, and probably that's why his most famous work ('The black square' ) was not accepted by wide public at that time. His ideas of color combinations were thoughtful and precise. Although Malevich talks about light and colour in his writings of the early 1920s, the only full outline he gave of his palette that is so-far known is a list of the “Suprematist colours” of “1915” with some of their corresponding pigments.
   Malevich set this out in a text that is also thought to be of the mid-20s. “Basic colors are red, black, green (emerald), white, blue, cobalt . Complementary: ultramarine, lemon yellow. Rare condition: rose madder.” To these basic pigments used for the dominant planes of colour in 1915 Malevich added a number of other pigments both in this year and throughout 1916, 1917 and 1918. These pigments include the range of cadmiums, chromes and cobalts which would be used when the artist wanted, say, a full prism that would include orange or spectral violets. For certain greens Malevich would sometimes mix Prussian blue and a lemon yellow, but the subtle shades of cobalt green and chromium oxide green were also part of his palette. Malevich used a variety of black pigments including carbon black, lamp black, bone black and ivory black
   Comme des Garçons specialises in 'anti-fashion', austere, sometimes deconstructed garments. During the 1980s, her garments were primarily in black, dark grey or white. The materials were often draped around the body and featured frayed, unfinished edges along with holes and a general asymmetrical shape. “I have always liked black. However, recently black has become as habitual as denim, so I wanted to find tomorrow's black. Black is no longer strong and has become harder to use." – said Rei. Comme des Garcons designs include such elements as a mix of bright and dark colors, whimsically placed or upside-down pockets, de-emphasized shoulders and extra-long sleeves. Since the late 1980s, Rei’s colour palette has grown. Her color decisions are playful, unexpected and in some way spontaneous. She experiments with color and the way it combines with shape and fabric. Rei Kawakubo took under her control production of fabrics for the collections of  Comme des Garçons. She invests in designing of textile with new qualities and also researches new technologies. The company buys looms from broken-down factories and experiments with new ideas. Nor mass market, neither big designers can't repeat style and texture of the Comme des Garçons clothes, they are unique.

Comme des garcons 1990 / Suprematism 1915 (Kazimir Malevich)
Comme des Garcons S/S 1996 / Kazimir Malevich 'Sportsmen' (1928-1930)

 Color-blocking and contrasts are the other thing these two artists share a passion of. Malevich's works are built on shadows and contrasting colors, stepping stones of the suprematism. There can be no mid-tone: it’s either shade, or light. “His ‘Black Square’, or ‘Red Square’, signal this obsession with transcendence perfectly, elegant blocks of color charged with Malevich’s own convictions towards the power of light and space. Later works explore an ever more frenetic enthusiasm for color and space, as lines and blocks of color cascade over the surface of the canvas.” - D. Creahan.

Comme des garcons, S/S 2011 / Kazimir Malevich 'Woman with a rake'

  Using the same key-elements, two artist have very different approaches to art. Malevich’s  most important and famous works concentrated on the exploration of pure geometric forms (squares, triangles, and circles) and their relationships to each other and within the pictorial space. Simple geometric forms are perfect for collaging, mixing and juxtaposing. Malevich’s compositions are well-thought, and organized in terms of color and composition.
 Rei’s juxtapositions are more chaotic, energetic and impulsive. She handles colour intuitively, overlapping and mixing contrasts. Rei Kawakubo's philosophy says that it's only worth showing those things that never existed. Using the archives of the fashion house, quoting of herself, looking back at trends are not about Rei. When she's creating a new collection, she goes her own way. "I always forget everything I've been doing earlier, and ignore all that already exists. And only then I start. A random photo can inspire me, or a man on the street, a feeling, sensation. a meaningless, perhaps, useless thing thrown in the trash can, – anything. The hardest part is the beginning, a conception of a collection. The most interesting is to finish a collection on time." At some point, the journalists have named her artworks ‘Hiroshima chic’ or ‘post-nuclear fashion’ meaning that as wild and edgy as they were, they still remained stylish.

Kazimir Malevich, 'Suprematism 13'
Comme des Garçons Fall/Winter 2011 / Kazimir Malevich's selected artworks

Internet sources:

1.  '100 Contemporary Fashion Designers', Terry Jones, TASCHEN
2.   InCoRM Journal Vol. 2 Spring-Autumn 2011
3. U. Poschardt, ‘An analysis of deconstructionism in architecture and fashion’, Issue #02 (Summer 2001)

4. Mika Yoshitake, Nancy Lim, Tokyo, 1955-1970: A New Avant-garde (New York: 2012)

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