One in a series on the clothes that made a splash at Paris Fashion Week.


Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

PARIS — Designer Rei Kawakubo invited her Comme des Garçons audience to one of the northern-most neighborhoods of Paris, a place where residents comb through discount bins looking at 3 euro T-shirts, trying to figure out how to make such throwaway garments work for them. That journey away from this city’s grand mansions was a reminder that the clothes we wear more often than not are intimately connected to where we live, with whom we interact and the community we call home.

Customers search through discount bins in a Paris neighborhood. (Robin Givhan/The Washington Post)
Customers search through discount bins in a Paris neighborhood. (Robin Givhan/The Washington Post)

In the right setting, among like-minded souls, even the most eccentrically dressed person fits in. The woman in a $5,000 coat does not look extravagantly dressed among her peers. A man in a cheap T-shirt and torn jeans does not seem poorly clothed within his own tribe. They can, in a sense, become invisible — not in an anonymous, solitary way, but in a comforting one. They can disappear into the warm embrace of their community.

Kawakubo explored this theme of seeing and not being seen in her runway collection for spring 2017.


Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

The theme for her show was “Invisible Clothes.” And in seeming contradiction to that idea, she offered some of the most outsize, extreme and extraordinary notions: kilts that were as enormous as a tent, trousers that could hold a veritable crowd within a single leg and a giant hood that took on the proportions of a sarcophagus. This wasn’t so much a line of clothes destined for your closet as it was a statement for the season — for the times.


Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

There were elements to these clothes that recalled past Kawakubo collections, such as their flatness, which reduces them to two-dimensions, their almost monstrous size and the sheer discombobulating nature of them. They are not, in literal terms, invisible.

In these enormous creations, you can often make out the silhouette of the body even as the garments extend far beyond it. It’s as if a child has pulled the bed sheets over his head and declared himself invisible even though the shape of his body can be seen beneath the blankets.


Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

These outsize clothes call to mind our constant urge to make judgments based on appearance — a woman’s short skirt, a man’s baggy jeans and hoodie, a hijab, a traditional tunic, a turban, cowboy boots. The wearer probably long ago stopped seeing these clothes and accessories. They are unremarkable. Invisible. What are you looking at?  Nothing to see here, folks. It’s everyone else who can’t stop staring.


Comme des Garcons Spring/Summer 2017 collection. (Jonas Gustavsson/MCV Photo for The Washington Post)

Kawakubo does not use her runway as an opportunity to show her audience another pair of trousers or an evening gown. Instead, she uses it as a stage for ideas, debate — perhaps even a little personal therapy as she sorts things out in her mind. This collection reminds us that sometimes, what we think we see isn’t there at all. And that we are invisible only if we believe that to be true.

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