But Comme des Garçons Shirt’s latest collection may not necessarily let you in on the joke
It is not just a smile; it is clearly a laughter. And not just one, but a sea of them. Chinese artist Yue Minjun’s (岳敏君) xiaolian (笑脸, literally laughing face in Mandarin) is probably one of the most recognised icons to emerge from the Chinese art world of the post-Open Door Policy era. Now, Comme des Garçons Shirt has collaborated with the Beijing-based painter, featuring the distinctive pink laughing heads in a small capsule that comprises blazers, shirts, tees, pullovers, pants, shorts, totes, and sneakers, all in designs far less contorted than the depicted countenances. We may be in a time that deserves a good laugh, and we may wish to be seen expressing mirth, but how much should that be worn on our body?
Yue Minjun’s famous faces are those of his own. These were painted before ‘selfie’ was a nomenclature. By his admission, the choice of depicting his own laughter under a receding hairline and closed eyes was inspired by the late artist, compatriot Geng Jianyi (耿建翌), whose paintings of laughing faces, such as 第二状态 (dier zhuangtai or The Second State) Mr Yue would later say “were not quite right, in which meaning had been inverted, and expressions turned upside down.” It is hard to say if Mr Yue’s own cackling expression is one of pleasure or derision. Some of his earliest xiaolians were featured in the painting 枪决 (qiangjue or Execution). which, when sold in 2007 in London’s Sotheby for USD5.9 million, was the most expensive work by a Chinese contemporary artist. The laughing faces seemed to be mocking—and somewhat remorselessly—while being fired at (rifles were not painted in).
The faces picked by CDG are far more jubilant and appear to have less political reference. But the signature pink-skin countenances still fill the entire surface of the fabric (like they would have on canvas). And the laughter, still untraceable to a cause, hits you upon first viewing. This is not the first time that CDG has collaborated with a Chinese artist of immense standing. Back in 2009, when the CDG Hong Kong store on On Lan Street moved to its current location on Ice House Street, commemorative T-shirts were created with the controversial Ai Weiwei. The images then, too, seemed apolitical. But we’ll never really know, such as with Yue Minjun’s xiaolians now, the garment creator’s true emotions when placing them.
Comme des Garçons Shirt X Yue Minjun capsule is now available at CDG, Hilton Gallery and DSMS. Product photos: Comme des Garçons Shirt/DSM. Collage: Just So