Building Fashion

Only designing houses and buildings? Boring! These architects and industrial designers like to move between disciplines and also design shoes and ready-towear collections. Whether Rem D Koolhaas joins forces with United Nude, Tom Dixon with Adidas or Marc Newson with G-Star-these designers are introducing unusual ideas to the fashion industry.

In an interview with CNN, Dutch architect Wouter Valkenier summed up the relationship between architecture and fashion in the following way: “There is more and more similarity in the way houses are built and clothing is produced. I’ve noticed that buildings are being built inexpensively and not meant to meant to last an eternity. A parallel phenomenon is found in fashion.” It has to be admitted that this fairly gloomy assessment which is probably correct was against the background of the international financial crisis of 2009. Still, it has not lost any of its urgency.

Wherever savings are made or there is simply no money available, cheap structures will continue to appear.

And people who want to consume trends and fashions quickly will also constantly resort to fast fashion and cheaper clothing. But there are enough other overlaps between the two disciplines: Architecture and fashion have always mutually inspired each other, aligned themselves to each other and benefited from one another. The Rotterdam-based architecture practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), which was founded in 1975 by Ilias Zengelis and his then student Rem Koolhaas, has completed 29 retail projects between the mid- 1990s and today. This includes building G-Star headquarters in Amsterdam two years ago. OMA has developed stores and high fashion flagship stores for labels such as Prada in places such as New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, and set up the first shop in shop area for Victor & Rolf at Harvey Nichols in London. The most recent OMA project: the one meter high platform construction for the Prada fall/winter collection in Milan in 2014-15.


And it’s a two-way street, too: The Londoner Sophie Hicks first made a name for herself as a stylist for Azzedine Alaia and as a fashion editor for British Vogue and Tatler, but also pursued studies in architecture, graduating with distinction. In 1990 she founded her own architecture practice. Her sense of style and her feel for fashion in combination with her specialist architectural knowledge are making Hicks one of the world’s most highly sought after architects today. The 54-year-old has designed more than 100 stores for Chloe, several flagship stores for Paul Smith and Yohji Yamamoto’s flagship store design in Paris in 2008. Hicks’s motto is: “Good design succeeds in creating a feeling that surpasses function, without being intrusive about it. It has a soul.”

That architecture and fashion are known to be symbiotic is not exactly news, true. But what has emerged in recent years is that there are more and more architects who are no longer content just to design the facade and the interior for fashion houses without also creating their own products and collections in cooperation with them. Take Zaha Hadid for example, who is designing futuristic shoes for the Brazilian footwear brand Melissa, or industry designer Stefan Diez who is designing furniture for Rosenthal and also functional bags and rucksacks for Authentics. Star architect Rem Koolhaas is working with Prada, an obvious pairing, and bringing a T-shirt collection onto the market.

Rem D Koolhaas, a nephew of Rem Koolhaas, founded more than just a cooperation-he launched a whole new shoe label called United Nude in Amsterdam in 2003. Like his uncle, he studied architecture too. He has his ex-girlfriend to thank for his passion for shoes, especially high heels. She broke up with him shortly before he began his final thesis at university. The turmoil in his love life gave Koolhaas the idea of reducing architecture to its most vulnerable point. In his opinion this was a woman’s foot. That is how his first shoe design came into being. The feedback that Koolhaas received on the Mobius shoe, a pair of curvy high-heeled mules, was so positive that, together with Galahad Clark, an offshoot of the shoe dynasty Clarks, he founded his own shoe label. Koolhaas recalls: “We changed course from the common shoe designs. Not because we wanted to but because we were unfamiliar with them. As a trained architect you are accustomed to doing everything on a grand scale. That made it much easier for us to reduce this scale down to the level of shoe design. For a shoe designer the reverse, designing a building, would tend to be more difficult. While studying architecture in college we learned a lot about building and construction technology. This specialized knowledge is mostly more extensive than that of shoe designers.”


But collaborations with architects are taking place in more areas than just high fashion. A few weeks ago the Adidas x Tom Dixon collection was launched. This is already the second cooperation between the industry designer and sporting goods manufacturer and is set to run for two years. The collection was first unveiled to a wider audience at the Salone del Mobile in Milan and at Pitti Uomo in Florence last spring. “At the begin ning all I actually wanted was to design a shoe collection with Adidas. But then all at once everybody was bringing shoe cooperations onto the market and we didn’t simply want just be another one. We discussed bags and luggage and I got the idea of integrating clothing into the collection too,” he explains. For the self-taught Dixon it makes no difference whether he designs clothing, bags, shoes or even lamps. “The most important thing is that you have an attitude. I approach the design process in a naive way. I’m not a fashion designer and will never be one but I have the advantage that I can look at many design aspects from a completely different point of view, and that makes it a win-win situation.” His designs include multifunctional apparel such as a coat that you can turn into a sleeping bag, or luggage that by virtue of its organized interior becomes a piece of cloth furniture. For Adidas the cooperation with Dixon has already proved to be a winner. The company, which constantly enhances its profile with special lines by designers such as Stella McCartney and Yohji Yamamoto has done the same with its Tom Dixon collection. Incidentally, G-Star Raw and the Australian industry designer Marc Newson are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year. Their cooperation began in 2004. Since then Newson has occasionally designed capsule collections for G-Star Raw. Newson is regarded as one of the most influential designers of his generation. His aluminum lounger, Lockheed Lounge, whose prototype (LC1) he originally designed in 1986 made a big splash. At the London auctioneer Phillips de Pury & Company the Lockheed Lounge was auctioned for GBP1.1 million in 2009. That was easily the most money ever spent on a contemporary design object in history. Newson also displays architecture-influenced designs in the current spring/summer premium collection for G-Star Raw: Purist and minimalist styles such as A-line shaped jackets and trench coats with baseball or scarf collars, patch pockets and functional cuffs and modern interpretations of five-pocket denims in slim fit are key features of the collection and with retail prices of up to Euro 899 can be dear. But the example of Future Sentiments shows that it also possible without a big corporation behind you: Founded in Amsterdam at the end of 2010 by the architect duo Victoria Meniakina and Denis Bondar, Future Sentiments sees itself as an experimental, independent brand. “Fashion is more dynamic and can address and respond to ever-changing societal and esthetic needs more rapidly. In architecture that is not possible,” explains Meniakina. To her, however, another reason was also key in choosing to make clothing over building houses: “We simply had a need to create smaller objects which really reach people and to which they feel a close connection. As a label we have the possibility of being part of this dynamic fashion world, but still creating timeless designs.As an architect you always have a certain way of thinking and tend to want to create designs having more stability and structure.” Meniakina can always connect fashion to trends that are being talked about a lot in architecture or in the field of lighting, such as transparency, metallic textiles and combined material. “Our designs such as the Persian carpet print, the mirror T-shirts, complex patterns or color inspirations from birch plywood-all these ideas could just as easily be implemented for contemporary interiors or for other design objects.”

In times when competition is tough and market players defend their USP, when one cooperation after another is unveiled, when physical retail has to prevail against online sales, and novelty, authenticity, uniqueness and recognition are seen as the qualities most valued in a fashion brand, generating knowledge-also including knowledge from other specialist fields-seems to be a good strategy to follow. And that holds true in collaboration or independently, whether it is a small label like Future Sentiments or a large one like G-Star or Adidas.

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