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Embracing In-Between

Embracing the In-Between: Comme des Garçons, Butoh, and Ma

Presented by Carol McLennan Saturday, April 17, 2021, 10 am PDT

Online Presentation via Zoom

Admission: Free to TAC Members, $5 Students and members of FAMSF, $10 General Admission.

A Zoom link will be emailed to all TAC members.


Through the analysis of documentaries, archives, reviews, contemporary dance, and fashion in Japan, this presentation reveals how the dance and costumes of Butoh anticipated the design aesthetic of Comme des Garçons and how Kawakubo and Butoh utilize Japan’s sartorial history and philosophy to challenge western perceptions of Art and Fashion.

While elusive when questioned about direct influences, Rei Kawakubo, founder and artistic director of Comme des Garçons, concedes her work is influenced by the Japanese Zen Buddhist concepts of mu, or emptiness, and ma, the space within the emptiness1. Another Japanese art form that sartorially reflects ma and mu is in Butoh, a dance partially envisioned as a reaction to the Western influence that had permeated Japanese culture after World War Two. Founded in 1959 by Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, the dance of Butoh was an exploration of the grotesque, space, the body, and the polarities of ma.

While Hijikata explored space around the body with his own body, Kawakubo also responded to space around the body with her fantastical new shapes with her “Lumps and Bumps” collection, otherwise known as “Body Meet Dress – Dress Meet Body”. Kawakubo once defended her clothing by saying, “The meaning is there is no meaning”2. Meaning, if there were a didactic intent, it would have restricted the object’s conceptual possibilities. By having “no meaning”, embracing mu, ma, and that place in-between, Rei Kawakubo’s clothes are conceptually limitless with possibilities.

Carol McLennan is currently finishing her M.A. from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, and Museum Studies. Her B.F.A. was from the School of Visual Arts with a focus on video, installation, and performance art. She has also been working for costume departments in film and television for the past 14 years, working with productions such as Damages, The Avengers, Rebel in the Rye, Bull, Elementary, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Ms. McLennan recently co-curated FIT’s Graduate Studies exhibition, with the assistance of the Museum at FIT, Eleanor Lambert: Empress of Seventh Avenue, a survey of the life of America’s first fashion publicist and her life-long promotion of American designers.


1 Bolton, Andrew. Rei Kawakubo, Comme des Garçons: The Art of the In-Between. New Haven & London; Yale University Press & The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2017. p.12.

2 McCrystal, Cal. 1995. “Outrage at ‘Death Camp’ Pajamas”, The Independent, February 5th. Accessed on May 15, 2018.

Image credits:

  1. Rei Kawakubo /Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: photo courtesy of Catherine Cerny.

  2. Ma (Japanese concept used to describe negative space, or the space in-between.): courtesy of Carol McLennan.

  3. Photo of Carol McLennan courtesy of Carol McLennan.


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