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Sarah Kimes

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Fashion & Architecture: More Similar Than You Might Think

The interplay, overlap, and overlay within architecture and fashion continue to evolve in surprising and bold ways throughout stores, brands, buildings, and destinations. I sat down with Tim Flannery (left), executive creative director for photography at Neiman Marcus, and Ignaz Gorischek (right), retail vice president at CallisonRTKL and former vice president of store design and visual merchandising for Neiman Marcus, to discuss their outlook on this continuous, incestuous relationship.
- Sarah Kimes

Let’s talk about the relationship you see between fashion and architecture.

Tim: One of the things that occurs to me is how much fashion and architecture are essentially both about problem-solving. Both are solution-based and apply the basics of form and function. There’s that great experience of putting on a jacket and watching your shape change, or walking into a building and having a completely different experience of space that's defined by the decisions that someone else made.

Ignaz: There's the engineering behind both, too. An architect has to figure out how to make the building stand up. And then a fashion designer has to construct clothing to make it work on the body. So, there are a lot of similarities in the process, but at some point, I think there is a separation. I think one continues all the way to the very end and the other steps back and then has to rely on others to interpret that vision into life.  

Tim: That’s why architecture gets renovated and clothes get altered; but you can also look at a building like the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, which is designed to change … constantly shifting, depending on the need. I think adaptability in architecture is definitely a trend.

Ignaz: There's also the parallel of emotion in fashion and architecture. I think that's a real element for both, as both designers and architects are trained to look for emotion with whatever they're doing in the final product. Even the process is emotional.

Tim: And both architecture and fashion are crafts in a way. But, there's also a point with very special things where it transcends into an art. You look at a McQueen, or you look at a Kawakubo, or a Charles James, or any number of people. They were able to transcend the craft and really—through either emotion or really just perfect decisions—be able make something that is art. There definitely are buildings that cross that line and get you into art land.

Ignaz: With fashion designers, that piece transcends into a museum piece. And it's an exhibit at the Met, or whatever, and I think in the architectural world, that building transcends into a landmark building, which can't be torn down. Both of them reach this level of transcendence, I think, where they're preserved. There's either people, places, laws, or something that protects that because, to create a piece that does that—wouldn't it be a shame to lose it? So, it's nice to know that it's valued enough that it reaches this point of, "You can't touch this."

Tim: Which is a really weird counterintuitive thing to say about both architecture and clothes because they're made to be touched. They're supposed to be experienced and looked at. Seeing fashion displayed at the Met, it's fantastic and it's wonderful and yet you always know that somebody is supposed to be moving in that, and feeling that, and walking and experiencing that. I'd like to think that a fashion designer is thinking about how clothes are going to be lived in and activated and animated and how they're going to potentially change someone's life. I think an architect, as well, is hopefully thinking about the way people are really going to experience the space and use the space. I can't imagine that the really great ones are thinking about somebody putting a glass jar over it.

Ignaz: You'd like to think not, because that's when the ego takes over.

Any other interesting juxtapositions or parallels?

Tim: A fashion and architecture parallel, is the knockoff.

Ignaz: Now we're getting into dirt.

Tim: You see some fabulous person, it's “The Devil Wears Prada” explanation, someone creates this moment, creates this thing that you're not used to seeing, and sure enough, you can buy the original and the expensive quality versions; but eventually, if it's something that speaks to enough people, it's going to water down to a price level that is mass. I think the same thing happens with architecture. For instance, Minimalism is an interesting thing because it is so unbelievably beautiful when it's done perfectly, with the right finishes, with the right materials. Minimalism done cheaply is just kind of cheap.

Ignaz: There's a fine line somewhere, from when you're inspired by someone to knocking someone off. Right? And what does that mean? At that point, even if it's a knockoff, is it a compliment or an insult? I’ve got to believe in the fashion world, being asked by Target to do a collection might actually be seen as a, "Wow, this is kind of nice on the resume."

Tim: And to your point about Target, they're not necessarily knocking off. They're engaging Missoni and they're engaging Victoria Beckham to design at that level with and with those resources. Those are talented people who are making smart decisions about what can be done within these parameters. That's why they get such a great product out of it, and it doesn't come off as a knockoff.

Ignaz: It's a diffusion line, as we used to call them. As a designer, there was a high-end couture line and the diffusion line would have been more the mainstream. But now in architecture, this is where it gets a little more challenging. When someone comes in and says, "OK, I want a diffusion line of that." Does that mean it has six floors instead of 10? Are the doors gone? I mean, the materials can get cheaper. It’s more about value engineering versus knocking it off.

What role does the physical space play in the display of fashion?

Tim: The connection between architecture and fashion feels to be the vogue thing right now. Designers are using architecture tours to present their products. Nicolas Ghesquiere (artistic director for Louis Vuitton) presented a collection at the Oscar Niemeyer Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum in Rio. He also did something at a John Lautner-designed home in Palm Springs and the I.M Pei Miho Museum in Kyoto; and obviously there’s the Gehry building for the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris.  So, it's very much like putting their clothes in this specific architectural environment, and wanting that rub-off, in a way—and it does.

Ignaz:  Sometimes, to me, the location actually overpowers the fashion. It just depends. But there's that connection or relevance, and the designers are trying to say, "Well, look how important this is. The clothes are good enough to be in an incredible location.” Because some of these buildings are star-level facilities, getting in and using them for something like a fashion show means that you're a pretty high roller.

Tim: Exactly. Everything about that is about the power.

Does architecture elevate fashion or is fashion elevating the architecture?

Tim: I think it probably depends on the audience.

Ignaz: For me, I’m always looking at the architecture.

Tim: If you think about the Gehry building for Louis Vuitton, there is some luster at the brand level, for sure; but Gehry is also giving just as much back to Vuitton in a way--and there's a coolness to it.

Ignaz: But then taking it a little bit deeper into the brand, for instance Chanel, and you look at the clothes, the detail in the clothes, the texture, the quality. And you look at a Chanel boutique, designed by Peter Marino, that has conditions that cost up to $2,000 a square foot. So, you start to bring architecture into the brand then; it has to be worthy of the product and vice versa. It’s an interesting correlation.

Tim: And a house like Chanel is made up of all these various and specific codes. There's the tweed, there's the pearls, there's the gold chain. There are all these icons and an architect, like a Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid, they have their own vocabulary and codes as well. There are architects like that who have a very specific visual language; but then there are also designers whose collections follow trends and change over the course of what's relevant at that moment. Similarly, there are architects who can respond to whatever they're doing and come up with an original idea that isn't necessarily so tied to their own personal style.

Do you think fashion is trendy or it influences the trends?

Ignaz: Both. It’s a trick question.

Tim: Well, it's that thing about style versus fashion.

Ignaz: And it’s about who's wearing it? One person is fashionable, one person is stylish.

Tim: And it's about owning it and confidence. Sometimes, when it's not done right, it looks like somebody whose clothes are wearing them as opposed to the sort of confidence of really owning a trend or owning your outfit.

Ignaz: Which is very similar to designing a building in a neighborhood. The building either makes it or doesn't make it.  You're either the one who's leading everybody, the trendsetter, or you're the one who missed the mark; and with a building, it has an impact on the whole community.

As someone who has worked in both fashion and now architecture, can you tell us about the similarities and differences in the cultures?

Ignaz: It's interesting. When people ask me about it, I say it's very similar and it's very different. It depends on the day, to be quite honest. So, the process, as Tim brought up, is all about problem-solving. It's creative problem-solving. That’s the similarity; but you can get into certain nuances and certain disciplines and things start to differ maybe a little bit. But ultimately, you’re both prototyping as you put something together. When you're in fashion, you prototype a lot faster. For both, it’s this undulating path; but in the end, it all comes together.

Are both industries scrambling to make deadlines?

Ignaz: You're definitely scrambling in retail. It’s also more spontaneous in the fashion world than in architecture. It's a longer planning time here (in architecture). Because of the problem-solving process.

Tim: Yeah, it's the nature of fashion. Having been on the fashion side long enough to see the evolution from print to digital, we're able to be so much more responsive now than we used to be. We now have that ability to react faster, so when it makes sense, you can take advantage of that. You can't make spontaneous buildings.

Ignaz: Well, close. It's called 3-D printing. So, it's getting there.

Tim: But if you make some spur-of-the-moment decision in architecture, it can have awful, catastrophic results. It’s easier to take creative risks in fashion.

Ignaz: Tim, I want to ask you a question, because I'm always intrigued with the technology part of it. What role do you think technology is playing in the fashion industry?

Tim: The retail landscape has been completely transformed by the internet. It's affecting the way we shop. It's affecting our relationship with stores, with how we buy things, maybe even what we want. We see a shift and a difference. When you see something in a store and you can touch it and feel it and experience it, versus the way a picture pops on the internet, there's a different kind of visual transaction that happens there in terms of what's appealing. So that's influencing fashion, for sure. And we think about it, and people talk about it, and people say, "That dress is Instagram-worthy."

Ignaz: Similar to architects working to create “Instagram-worthy” moments within spaces.

Tim: Designers are stepping up and trying to create those moments in a way right now, that is different than it was before. But, the problem to solve right now is, how do you reinvent the modern shopping experience?

Is there an architectural style of the moment that's influencing fashion?

Ignaz: I'm going to go back to technology--not technology as an internet technology, but technology like 3D printing and body scanning and new materials, space-age materials and things that can breathe. There are fabrics that can actually move now. I've seen designers create these dresses that actually respond to your body, to your neural system. Your body exudes energy and that energy is then absorbed and permeated through whatever the fabric is. So, both architects and designers are looking at those same technologies to bring them into an environment so a space can start to change and transform around you without you causing the effect, without actually actively doing it.

Tim: It’s like thinking about architectural styles–there are so many. There are so many designers, and they all have such different points of view. There’s going to be an Iris Herpen, who is certainly looking for those opportunities to push technology and adapt the newest, latest thing into something that nobody's ever thought of before. But then there are other people like Zac Posen who's creating things almost in an old school, Charles James way, and yet, his interpretation of it is very modern and still appealing.

What other trends are you seeing right now?

Tim: One thing that comes to mind, which has captured the imagination of people in a new way, is the technology of digital printing. I feel like there are more curves. I mean, it's certainly not something that everybody's doing or that you're seeing everywhere; but it's something I see more of. It is the luxury of a curve, as opposed to all these super straight lines all the time--and it can be a very “wow” moment.

Ignaz: And technology provided that. Even Iris (Herpen), in her exhibits, said that she couldn't even draw some of the ideas; but technology, with 3D printing, allowed her to bring something to life that she couldn’t do herself.  It's so complicated and so, that's where the technology is really helping these designers, whether in fashion or architecture, to actually see and build things that couldn't be done without technology.

What architectural styles are you personally most inspired by in your day-to-day life?

Tim: It's interesting. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but I went through the whole modern, clean-line thing; but at the moment, I’m looking for a new house and I am looking for something pre-war with charm and detail, and a little bit more of that experience. I love modern architecture and I love going to those spaces; but I'm finding in my personal life, that I want a little bit more of a cozy experience. I want rooms. It's frustrating to go and see all of these older Dallas homes and to see a lot of them get flipped--and the first thing they want to do is rip out all the walls. I want rooms. I want walls I can hang art and I want to transition from this color, and this mood, and this feeling, into a room with another color, and mood, and feeling, versus this big, giant open space.

Ignaz: I'm more simple and clean. I'm going to use the word modern, not so much, contemporary. I like looking at contemporary homes, but I'm more modern, meaning more mid-century. Textures are more beautiful. I enjoy that. The relationship with finishes. I like an open space, primarily because I want to see all my art and my objects, and the views. Walls limit the views. I like the different vistas in that open space. And just simple practicality, to be quite honest; not cluttered at all. Typically, even in architecture, cluttered spaces or cluttered architecture kind of make me nervous.

Which industry do you think is evolving faster?

Ignaz: That's an interesting question. I think both industries are always trying to lead. You don't want to be behind, so I think that that drive to lead and evolve never really goes away.

Interview by Sarah Kimes, a senior associate vice president at CallisonRTKL. Photography by Megan Huang.