Architectural Fashion | A Historical Perspective
As a fashion design student in Florence, historical perspective is something stressed in my classes. Honoring and understanding the past is a value that extends to how contemporary artists and businesses operate in this magical city where the Renaissance began. In my first lessons, I learned about Florence’s fashion history (Florence is home to Italy’s first runway show by the way, not Milan) and reviewed the twentieth century’s evolution of the Western silhouette in womenswear. These were starting points that led me to study couture fashion of the ’40s and ’50s. After exploring Roberto Capucci’s early work (check out his famous Nove Gonne dress that was featured in an American Cadillac advertisement in 1959) from his Florence days, I began to search for other masters of form from this era in Italy and beyond. Such research would be incomplete without reviewing Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga and English-American designer Charles James. Like Capucci, their shapes were bold and daring for the time. Take James’ Labia dress from 1948—which was cut to resemble the parted labia of the vagina—or Balenciaga’s floor-length white velvet fishnet coat as provocative inspiration. It is mind-blowing how these garments take on a life of their own through their structure and volume, craftsmanship, and design spirit.
When I think of architectural fashion, I think of exaggerated shapes, new forms, and fabric manipulation. Iconic designers like Capucci, James, and Balenciaga were architects of clothing and are now coveted names in any fashion museum or research center.
As for contemporary masters in volume and structure, Garmentory has a lot to offer. Choose from favorites like Issey Miyake’s famed Bao Bao bag, Beklina’s shapely summer hats, and Studio Nicholson’s trousers. In these styles, what references do you notice? Don’t forget knitwear architects, like Cormio and Pearle Knits, whose designs are perfect for those who are less keen on big volume but still crave structural artistic flair.
In terms of timeless style and enduring quality, architectural garments and accessories tend to get better with age. They reflect the imagination of the designer and prompt admirers to ask, “How’d you get that idea!?” They are pieces that often have a story with rich cultural and historical references. For pieces that will surely spark your own creative fancy, keep scrolling.