This past week was “Columbus Fashion Week”, where local designers put on runway shows just like they’ve been doing in New York, Paris, London, and Milan. My husband and I attended a fascinating (free :D) event called “Fashion is Art”, which featured sample looks from the designers’ collections. It was a fun evening filled with beautiful clothes (on the models and attendees), interesting food, and interesting conversations about topics ranging from t-shirt design to Frank Lloyd Wright. At this event, held in the lobby of the Columbus Hilton, not only were signature looks of featured designers on display, but also locally crafted modern furniture. While I expected the furniture to interest my husband more than me (as an architect, he loves thinking about design in all things built), I actually enjoyed looking at the different styles of furniture at least as much as the clothes (perhaps this had something to do with the fact that the furniture was on display for about an hour and a half before the models came out, so I had plenty of time to admire it :P).
It got me thinking about how the design process seems similar in the realms of fashion and furniture, and wondering if they were the same in all three-dimensional arts. Craftsmen have to decide whether they will hide or celebrate seams, about whether they will let the natural texture of a material shine, or cover it over with paint, dye, etc. They have to decide whether they will work with gravity, or against it, and whether they will bend with the human form, or like a suit of armor, remain rigid and yielding to a curving back or twisting torso.
In a conversation with designer Kevin Black, he assured us that his designs, gold sequined shorts and a muted grey bow-blouse, were “comfortable”, pointing out how often and easily we had seen the model shift positions as proof. Perhaps it was no coincidence that his look was my favorite of the night:
I’ve always been a sucker for the comfortable and non-fussy (Black commented that the bow was lengthened to a less-than-practical length for “runway flair”). The subtle, yet contrasting gold and grey tones also went a long ways towards perfecting this look, in my mind. Something Black said really struck me: when he wasn’t dressing celebrities, he was making designs that could be worn by the average person – not so extreme that you couldn’t see yourself in it, but still striking, so that people’s heads turn and they ask “Who made that?” He called it “regular luxury”. Well, I’m a big fan of this concept. In a world full of extreme luxury on the one hand, and Walmart-esque crap on the other, I think it would be fantastic to get to a place where everyone could have a little “luxury”. Dominic Fiorello, one of the featured furniture craftsman, was described by a poster above his display as believing “beautiful design should be available to more people.” Everyone has dignity, everyone has worth…and wouldn’t it be spectacular if their clothes spoke to that dignity? If we could move towards having fewer, but more well-made, lasting, “luxurious” items…*sigh*. We can dream, can’t we?
Although we obviously couldn’t try on the clothing ourselves, we did take some of the chairs for a test-ride (before being informed that they were off-limits, hehe). They were comfortable in some ways, uncomfortable in others. It can definitely be a struggle reconciling artistic vision with restraints of physics and nature. Sometimes we become so attached to our ideas that we try to exert complete control over the physical world. For instance, one of Wright’s most famous buildings was built, according to his grand vision, partially on top of a waterfall. The constant moisture from the water caused not only constant mildew, but also significant structural problems for the house, which it’s owner nicknamed “Rising Mildew”. It might come as a surprise that Wright had this type of design problem, given that his design philosophy was “organic architecture”, i.e. building in a way that looked like it had sprung organically from its surroundings. Shouldn’t he have been more in tune with nature than other architects, with was or wasn’t physically and naturally possible?
Actually, I contend that Wright’s philosophy, although admirable in some senses, was backwards. Architecture is not a painting. Whereas a painting has only to look beautiful to be a success, a building is a shelter, and must therefore a) keep people safe/healthy/comfortable, etc., b) not fall down soon, and c) hopefully look beautiful at the same time. Now, as a student of art, and lover of all things beautiful, I do not in any way intend to downplay the necessity of beauty for a good life, but I will let you guess which of these principles is in fact most fundamental in functional design.
Although we can shape and beautify and in a way perfect nature, man must realize that he did not in fact create nature, and his mastery of it goes only so far. Whether we are designing clothes, furniture, houses, or anything else, it is when we understand, respect, and work with nature that our designs become truly great.
….Scroll down to see other looks from “Art is Fashion”!