the Elements – from floors to featherwork


the Definition

How would you define a table?

If you define it as a top on four legs, then it will always be a top on four legs. But if you define it as a secondary plane that is offset from the ground plane, then it can take on many different forms. That is how innovations happen. When we are able to isolate the essence of an object from its form, we can finally let go of all preconceptions that often clutter our thinking.


the Series

During a recent trip to New York, I had visited the Manus x Machina exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, design by the OMA team and curated by Andrew Bolton. It is a fantastic fashion collection (including haute couture as well as prêt-à-porter pieces) that captures the works by Chistian Dior, Coco Channel, Iris van Herpen, Valentino, Alexander McQueen, just to name a few. However in the end, it didn’t matter which piece was done by whom or which fashion house had the most representative in the overall show –the whole collection works as “a spectrum of practice whereby the hand and machine are equal protagonists in solving design problems.”[1]

Shear fabric serves as a fluid transition between the different sections – each highlighting a specific construction (or what architects like to call “tectonic”) such as, pleating, lacework, and embroidery. As I ambled through the gallery, I can’t help notice the similarity to OMA’s Elements of Architecture at the 2014 Venice Biennale. At the biennale, fourteen rooms showcased the elements, the kit of parts to a building, such as façade, floor, window, wall, and roof. Because of how both exhibits were organized by “tectonic,” they become a coin-sorter type of experience, where the viewer is up against ten to fifty doors, all seemingly the same, and yet slightly different from one another.


the Questioning

When we index similar or related designs, or components side by side, we start to understand the bare essence that defines that object and to later test the limits of that essence. For instance, what is pleating? What is the advantage to pleating? How can we push the limits on how we use pleating in garment? Similarly, what is a wall? Is it simply a boundary? How can we create a wall that serves as a boundary that is not a white plastered wall? Perhaps this was one of the questions that led up to the “ghost cathedral” design.



Just as the floor/ground plane is the most basic element in architecture, the canvas/fabric becomes the key ingredient for fashion design.

“Colombe” Dress, Issey Miyake, 1991
(image: Anesta Iwan)

“One of my dreams was to see if we could make clothing without conventional tools, such as needles, threads, and scissors. Here is the result: the fabric is woven monofilament, … cut by heat and put together with snaps and leather straps.”

– Issey Miyake


… where the definition of floor is stretched beyond that of the infinite flat plane.

SANAA, Rolex Learning Center, 2010



The façade is often seen as the face to a building just as embroidery and lacework often capture the glamour of the complete garment simply by being the first visible surface. The modules that are present in the façade and the lace/embroidery work as one composition.

Iris van Herpen, “Dress,” 2013-14
(image: Anesta Iwan)

“…you can see the metal power grow piece by piece…before it sets. The coloration is exquisite because white the rubber is still wet and soft we add a very thin enamel powder that has iridescent qualities.”

– Iris van Herpen


 Iris van Herpen, “Dress,” 2015
(image: Anesta Iwan)

“laser-cut silicone chevrons … I assembled the dress myself – by hand…it took days and days, but it was a fun process –like Lego – a gigantic puzzle. I call the technique 3-D lacework.”

– Iris van Herpen


Herzog & de Meuron, de Young Museum, 2005



Pleating often creates structure in fabric, just as walls form the structure and configuration of a space.

Junya Watanabe,CAPE,” 2015-16
(image: Anesta Iwan)

“[This collection was about] exploring dimensionality through clothing.”

– Junya Watanabe


Issey Miyake, “Rhythm Pleats”, 1990
(image: Anesta Iwan)



Barkow Leibinger, Kinetic Wall, 2014 Venice Biennale[2]



One of the earliest roof design is in the form of a thatched shelter, which can be seen in the layers in the feather-work series.

Gareth Pugh, “Dress,” 2015-16
(image: Anesta Iwan)

“Every straw was cut by hand…They were attached individually…On the runway, you could hear them before you saw them. And they moved beautifully – like feathers caught in a gust of wind.”

– Gareth Pugh


Renzo Piano, Tjibaou Cultural Center, 1998



When we speak of essentials, perhaps balconies are not often the first on the list, and yet they still do enhance a building in a way that cannot be explained in their absence. Florals, like balconies, are often a common motif in fashion and because they are not the utmost priority, they are freer in form and character.

Hussein Chalayan, “’Kaikoku’ Floating Dress,” 2013-14
(image: Anesta Iwan)

“Each ‘pollen’ is spring loaded. During a peak moment, all the pollens are released into the air…it was intended as a poetic gesture, as the dress is meant to symbolize new beginnings.”

– Hussein Chalayan



[1] “OMA Designs The Met’s Manus X Machina Fashion Exhibition”. 2016.Dezeen.



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