February 20, 2007

Stitching Up the Gaps: The Architecture of Fashion

Skin + Bones, the current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown Los Angeles, challenges the notion of space making by drawing on parallels between architecture and fashion design. Through a concourse of both architectural and fashion based-projects, the exhibit brings to the surface the pertinence of their interrelation. Although vernacular understanding may place the two trades into disparate classes, work done by leaders in both professions proves that the practices of both architecture and fashion have intersected. However, the identification of this link between architecture and fashion is not new. In fact, the origins of their bond can be traced back to Adolf Loos, an architect and theoretician who was involved in the beginnings of the Modern Movement in architecture during the turn of the 20th century. Loos focused on the role that clothing and dwelling have an individual’s establishment of their own social standing and personal identity. While the ideas that he generated from this association indirectly influenced his architecture, current architecture has taken Loos’s exploration a step further by making more direct references to the fashion world.

The MOCA exhibit begins by stating the strategies in which architecture has adopted from fashion design. Such processes include printing, pleating, folding, draping and weaving. The first segment of the exhibit labeled “identity” features fashion collections that constitute distinct permutations of personal individuality. For instance, The “Defensible Dress” by J. Meejin Yoon from MY Studio, is equipped with latex dipped “quills” that become erect when movement is detected, thus the identity of the dress responds to changes in its surrounding environment. Similarly, the project entitled “Afterwards” by Hussein Chalayan and Marcus Tomlinson deals with the concept of an adaptable identity that also reacts to a dynamic setting. The chair upholstery in the installation can be removed from chairs to become a gown and the remaining structure of the chair can be transformed into a briefcase while the table is extruded from its center and is worn as a skirt. As noted in the gallery, the concepts of Chalayan and Tomlinson’s design “deal with fleeing one’s home and relates to the fragility of both shelter and identity.”

This project is contrasted with architect Jean Nouvel’s “light screen” for the Arab World Institute where metal patterns function as apertures that open and close mechanically to allow varying degrees of light through to the inside of the building. This concept came from the Islamic latticework screen that traditionally is used to prevent a woman inside from being seen. Here social paradigms relating to personal identity and self-expression are mirrored in Nouvel’s design. By beginning the exhibit with projects that are non-traditional, however share such direct similarities; there is an immediate interest in the potential of both fields as well as a curiosity into how the two trades correlate.

More specific similarities are seen as one progresses through the exhibit, making the correlation become increasingly apparent. For example, the shared tectonic principle of “folding” is seen in the fashion works of Tess Giberson, in her Structure One collection, and the works of architects Preston Scott Cohen, and Peter Eisenman. Gibson folds simple materials to achieve elegant and functional designs. The language of these designs is that of honesty in that the process of how the clothing was made becomes apparent. Similarly, in Cohen’s Tell Aviv Museum of Art, a single surface is “folded” to create a functional light well that illuminates the museum space. His design achieves the same sense of structural integrity and grace as does the fashion projects. At this point, the link between the actual processes of fashion and architecture has been confirmed in the mind of the onlooker. The rest of the exhibit expounds upon how additional production methods are used by both architecture and fashion. The portion of the exhibit titled “Structural Skin” shows projects that use this similar design quality. The fashion project by Miyake Issey and Fujiwara Dai attempts to create a pair of jeans in a single production process without using seams. Therefore, the surface material of the product or “skin” is in fact acting as the structure, thus “structural skin.” This same concept is seen in Herzog de Mueron’s Prada Aoyama Epicenter where the structure of the building functions as its skin. In the Prada building, the “honeycomb” moment frame structure is repeated three dimensionally inside the volume of the building to create spaces to serve the varied program. Thusly, the skin of the building is indeed its structure and visa versa.

The ideas made apparent in Skin + Bones represent the cross disciplinary-effort to advance societies notion of perceived space. By focusing on the most current of projects, the exhibit is projecting the direction of the future by identifying the radically progressive state of these fields today. In relating concepts seen in history to today’s high tech society, architecture’s imminent potential as a tool to redefine the urban condition becomes increasingly apparent.

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