Feature:Architecture without Architects by Bradley Quinn (2004)
Radical exchanges are taking place between architecture and fashion today. No longer regarded as mere structures for living, working or wearing, both garments and buildings have become metaphors for urban life. The organisation of space has always been the essence of both fashion and architecture; fashion's architecturality unfolds in its containment of space, while architecture continues to be fashioned by its relationship to the human form. Architects, longing to transcend traditional building methods, look towards fashion to create fluid, labile structures underpinned by spatial principles. Fashion, forever dependent on other forms for its imagery, structure and identity, pushes forward into the cultural landscape to create the kind of timeless edifices mastered by architects. But as architecture's uncontested claim on urban space slowly dissolves, fashion's relationship to the built environment becomes more concrete.
Image 1a The 'Pumpkin' top by the London-based Polish fashion designer Arkadius uses volume to reinterpret traditional proportions. By using the same design techniques an architect would have for a building, Arkadius transforms garments into complex three-dimensional shapes. Image courtesy Arkadius
Urban fashions, as mobile shelters, can extend the spatial framework of the cityscape far beyond its boundaries, transcending architecture's limitations of being bound to a fixed place. Because fashion frequently corresponds to the type of architecture that it is intended to be worn in, it transforms the figures moving through the cityscape into walking signifiers of it. Throughout history, urban populations have used clothing to signify their relationship to the built environment as they struggled to define the territory around them. The cut of ecclesiastical vestments and nun's habits reflected the arches and transepts of sacral architecture, while the sartorial styling of a concierge's uniform was inextricably linked to the formal classicism of a grand hotel. Skateboarder clothing brings to mind the sweeping ramps, heady curves and colourful graffiti of the performance arena, while the deconstructed tailoring of Comme des Garcons is a favourite of the architects who pioneer decontructivist buildings.
Image 2 Hussein Chalayan's 'Red-rose Tulle Dress' forms a dynamic structure around the wearer that holds its shape independent of the wearer's body. Image by Chris Moore, courtesy Hussein Chalayan
Interior architecture, like the cocooning folds of garments, can also take on the meanings of havens and sanctuaries. The changing role of public space has resulted in a new generation of architects who attempt to make us feel as comfortable in buildings and outdoor spaces as we do in the clothes we wear. Just as fashionistas style their bodies with accessories and footwear, interior architects dress structures in flattering colours, soft textures and trendy details. External surfaces provide an area where architects can explore the impact of materials, colour, tactility and tropes of memory to create sensual transactions between the body, the eye and the building.
The hip union of interior design, fashion, architecture and textile art brokers the connection of opposites, merging the static with the movable and bridging private space with public existence. Their relationship imbues architecture with lived experience, and takes fashion beyond the mere expression of trends as interest in 'the monumental' becomes a source of fashion innovation. By taking inspiration from fashion to develop new types of urban structures, contemporary architecture is broadening its horizons to reinvent itself as an open forum where public concerns can connect with individual expression. As buildings and garments find new audiences and fresh meanings, the dynamic between fashion and architecture promises to change the way we live forever.
Image 3 An installation shot of 'The Fashion of Architecture' exhibition held at the Deluxe Gallery, London. Works by Hussein Chalayan and Simon Thorogood can be seen in the foreground. Image courtesy the Deluxe Gallery, London