Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi is one of Comme des Garçons’s closest collaborators. He first met designer Rei Kawakubo in Paris in the ’80s and has continued to photograph her artful collections over the years. “I started doing catalogs with Rei in the ’80s, and then every season I started [working] with them,” Roversi says. After four decades, the famously elusive designer and the photographer have a true partnership. “I’m completely free to do what I want,” he says. As a result, he creates indelible images that perfectly capture the moods of Kawakubo’s darkly romantic work; his photography style often makes use of a blurred focus or hazy lighting to match the abstract spirit.
As the brand’s go-to documentarian, Roversi has seen Kawakubo’s work transform and evolve, but he says a sense of innovation has always been present in her theatrical designs, which often seem more like art pieces than wearable garments. “The [beginning] period was very new,” says Roversi. “It was a revolution, because the [CDG] fashion was so different from what was in Paris at the time. She mixes Japanese culture and European culture very well.”
As one can imagine, Roversi has captured countless images for the fashion house throughout the decades—and now, his work with Comme des Garçons is being featured in a new exhibit, titled “Paolo Roversi: Birds,” at the Dallas Contemporary. Running from January 30 to August 22, the new showcase explores his longstanding collaborations with Kawakubo, and serves as an extension of his coffee table book that also explores this body of work. The new exhibit is the largest North American collection of his photos, and it features over 40 images that range in scale and style. “Every shoot was very surprising,” says Roversi. “The work of Rei is so innovative; every time it’s something new and different. I always try my best, because I cannot do something normal or ordinary for Rei.”
The exhibit’s title, “Birds,” is not without purpose. The theme of the show is mobility, and it focuses on Roversi’s special ability to capture Kawakubo’s models and clothes in movement. “His ethereal and dreamlike style is incredibly timeless, but what is most striking is the way his conversations with the models are revealed to the viewer,” says Peter Doroshenko, executive director of the Dallas Contemporary and one of the exhibit’s co-curators, along with Dennis Freedman. “The models’ abstract and mobile poses often evoke birds landing or taking off…and of course, Kawakubo’s creations add another character to the story.”
Roversi’s style is perfectly exemplified in Anna, Paris 2017. The image features the model Anna Cleveland in a shapely red frock from Kawakubo’s spring 2015 collection (one of Roversi’s favorites). She’s looking back at the camera, and Roversi captured her gaze at exactly the right moment before she broke eye contact with the lens. “It’s as if we could see, in the still image, the few steps she has just taken to walk away from the camera, and we are anticipating her face turning away from the viewer, but that has not happened just yet,” says Doroshenko.
Roversi says these candid moments in the studio have always been organic and free-spirited. After all, he admits Kawakubo’s genius makes his job very easy. “Her work is very poetic, so it’s easy to take an artistic photograph.”