Monday, October 26, 2009

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Clothes and buildings, the central aspects of fashion and architecture, fundamentally arose for the same purpose. Apparel was initially put together from random pieces of material to protect the human body, and generally evolved over time with regards to sturdiness and appeal. Buildings, which probably originated from temporary shelters made by early prehistoric humans, were built to shelter groups of bodies. Fashion, the most up-to-date and trendy style of clothes, and architecture, the practice of creating a plan for any complex object or system, both originated as something practical and utilitarian. But as human beings grew to become concerned with the visual, making clothes and building buildings grew to become disciplines of the creative world.

Fashion designers and architects are working on two completely different scales, but these artists are practicing design while dealing with space, structure, material, and obviously what is aesthetically pleasing. There are clear differences between the two disciplines in size, scale, and material: Architects need to work with rigid and hard structures to create monumental (and hopefully everlasting) pieces of art, whereas fashion designers use fluid and light material to make their garments. More recently, designers do try to mimic buildings by using firmer and more durable material for their clothes. But what's important here are the parallels seen between clothes and buildings throughout history. Fashion design and architecture both, at two different points, turned into creative arts where success laid in coming up with something that would be practical yet beautiful. Nowadays, however, even though fashion and architecture both revolve around the human body as the central point, they are slowly steering away from the traditional definitions of "clothes" and "building" and focusing on something almost completely aesthetic. Fashion is obviously doing this to a bigger degree than architecture.

Apart from the very basic clothes probably made by prehistoric humans, the core idea behind modern fashion came about in the 19th century with the British fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth. Romance author Melissa Johnson in her blog says, "Quoted often as either the founder or father of haute couture, in many ways Worth was a man ahead of his time. He had the foresight to recognize the value of creating a 'brand name,' so to speak, by signing his garments with the Worth label." Worth also opened a "fashion house" (a line of clothing) in Paris dedicated to designing his own styles, while selling his clothes at ridiculous prices. This was when the idea of modern fashion was truly born. This era is also when the discipline or practice of designing and making clothes began to gain momentum. The phenomenon of meshing architecture into fashion and vice versa is more of a recent one: In the 80s, designers started incorporating elements of "contemporary" architecture into their lines.

Creating shelter arose from the functional purpose of protection. Buildings that display this idea are vernacular architecture, which refers to complexes that focus on such aspects as practicality and the usage of local materials. Many early homes seen throughout the world are vernacular. Contemporary architecture is what we see in buildings created today, where architects are more concerned with aesthetics and their personal style of design. Contemporary buildings can be described as looking "modern," but aren't referred to as structures of modern architecture. (Modern architecture refers to buildings from an architectural time period just before now.) Contemporary architects hold a position that is clearly anti-vernacular; these architects are comfortable with new materials and highly conceptualized designs.

The current key difference between fashion design and architecture is that fashion is "more embedded" in the artistic and creative world. Certain designs can be seen as impractical. Many pieces we see on the runway these days aren't able to be worn in our everyday lives, and so designers successfully incorporate architectural elements into their clothes. These architectural elements refer to designs that look too technically difficult to achieve. Architecture, on the other hand, is more limited in its creative sense. No matter how aesthetic an architect wants his or her design to be, in the end, buildings have a functional purpose, which is to protect and shelter humans from weather and man-made external forces. Architects cannot solely focus on what looks good; they need to make sure that the complex structures they design are suitable for living and utilizing. An example of an exception to this is Japanese architect Shigeru Ban's Curtain Wall House, which I've mentioned in a previous post. Even though the use of cloth as walls in this open home is completely artistic, many architects criticized the building of losing the practical aspects of architecture.

So at what point did these two seemingly different disciplines collide? From November 2006 to March 2007, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) here in LA hosted an exhibition called "Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture." This was the first major museum exhibition dedicated to the similarities between the two disciplines and how these first came to be. Ego Design, Canada's first global design webzine, aptly describes the beginnings of the collision between fashion and architecture:

"Since the 1980s, a growing number of avant-garde fashion designers have approached garments as architectonic constructions, while architecture has boldly embraced new forms and materials. These developments are due in part to numerous technological advancements that have revolutionized both the design and construction of buildings and made techniques like pleating, seaming, folding, and draping part of the architectural vocabulary. Garments of increasing conceptual sophistication and structural complexity have been seen on the runways and in the streets, as buildings of unparalleled fluidity and innovation have come to grace major urban centers around the world."

To be able to conceptualize architecture's presence in fashion and fashion's presence in architecture, imagine a building (like Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall) as pleats of a dress, and an "architectural" dress as being a huge space filled with rooms and people. Playing with this imagery works more and more in today's world where fashion and architecture collide.

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