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Remembering New York’s Epic, First-Ever Comme des Garçons Sample Sale

It was THE sale. It's the legendary one people still talk about. It was like a combination of a museum exhibit, an '80s nightclub and a flea market all rolled into one. America's first Comme des Garçons sale in May 2011 was the sample sale to end all sample sales. And Racked had assigned me to cover it.

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The high-end Japanese brand with cutting-edge, whimsical clothing that was started by Rei Kawakubo and worn by the likes of Björk, Lady Gaga, and Alexander McQueen had never went on sale like this. Items were to sell for between 50% and 70% off of their original retail prices. So not only would this be their first American sample sale, but it also going to be an archival sale, meaning it would include vintage, never-worn clothing that had been warehoused for many years. This event had the potential to be a collector's paradise, so anyone who loved the brand was going to be there.

Comme Des Garcons Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga in 2012. Photo: Marc Piasecki/Getty Images

People began lining up early in the morning outside the venue — a Croatian church in Midtown — as they would for any major sample sale, but when I arrived a couple of hours before the doors were scheduled to open, it was already obvious that this was no typical event. While many in the line looked like they'd rolled out of bed and thrown on whatever black clothing they'd worn the day before, a few were dressed in really over-the-top outfits and makeup that wouldn't have looked out of place at an '80s nightclub. Some were wearing Comme des Garçons, but the rest were dressed in attire that was — well, let's just describe it as "very flamboyantly original."

And even though it was so early, tables of food and food trucks had already started set up next to the line. It seemed that the CDG folks wanted to make sure that their shoppers could buy food during what they'd correctly guessed was going to be a very long wait — by the time the doors opened, the line stretched all the way down the block and onto the next street. But it was worth the wait, because once you entered the church, you had a religious experience, if your religion was fashion.

Comme des Garcons Jacket

Photo: Melodie Jeng/Getty Images

I felt like I'd been let loose in a fashion museum's archives where all the artifacts could be tried on and purchased. The church was filled with row after row of racks of cool, avant-garde clothing. For women, there were clear plastic raincoats with painted faces on them (seen above), Op-Art dresses, tartan jackets, Gothic blazers, golden motorcycle jackets, purposefully ripped and pinned dresses, wild platform shoes, and vinyl purses. The men's clothing was equally as eccentric and included blazers with the Rolling Stones' logo printed on them, colorful polos, socks, and very large Mary Janes.

The selection was drawn from various collections like Broken Bride, Motorcycle Ballerina, and The Bad Taste Collection. Associated brands like Junya Watanabe and Tao were spotted, too. Very few things were cheap, but garments that had once cost four figures were now at least somewhat affordable. Even if you didn't end up buying anything, the assortment of items was so unique and unusual that for fashion fans, it was worth waiting in that line just for a look.

The only downside came if you wanted to try something on. The "dressing room," if you could call it that, was the altar of the church — a small, elevated platform overlooking the rest of the room. And when I say "overlooking," I mean that there was no curtain separating it from the shopping floor. You were exposed to the entire room while you changed. So you just went up there, pushed your way through a very aggressive, multi-gendered crowd to find a spot, dumped your sale-provided shopping bag of precious clothing next to you on the floor, and struggled to try things on. It was kind of like trying on clothing in the aisles of the old Barneys Warehouse sales, only a millions times worse. But it was worth it because the merchandise was so special.

Comme des Garcons Fall 2014

Fall/winter 2014/2015. Photo: Bertrand Guay/Getty Images

That sale was five years ago, and no sale I've been to before or since has come close to being as amazing. It ended with the promise from CEO Adrian Joffe that it would be "a regular event," and it did indeed return in 2013. And this Friday, the Comme des Garçons sale is back again. This time, it will be at a downtown venue best known for hosting Fashion Week shows. There's promises that "merchandise will be constantly replenished throughout the day of every day during this epic sale of mammoth proportions," discounts of up to 70% off CDG pieces, and snacks and drinks.

Could this sale possibly be as incredible as that first one? Could any sale? Doubtful. But Comme des Garçons clothes are always impactful, and this time around they'll have collected a few more years' worth of stock from which to draw (and discount), and it'll include labels found at Dover Street Market for up to 80% off original prices. So while it may not be the same as that legendary church sale was, it will certainly still be worth checking out. I'll definitely be going back — but I won't miss changing on that altar.