BUILT TO WEAR
According to the late, great Coco Chanel, ‘Fashion is architecture. It is a matter of proportions’ and I’d agree. Both fashion and architecture produce spaces for us to inhabit. Granted, we may not wear the same pair of shoes for 30 years, but when we have the choice and opportunity, we use both to demonstrate the kind of people we are.
The Art Deco Modern Cinema Impero in Asmara, Eritrea, is the inspiration of Miista’s latest collection. It’s elegant and unusual, an Italian-built architectural gem that offers a visual collision of culture and ideas within its environment. (To give you some context, Eritrea is probably one of the smallest, poorest and closed countries on the planet.) Built in 1937, it was one of the many buildings created by the Italian colonists in the modern, futurist style. The city’s architecture represented a total cultural take over for Benito Mussolini and his Fascist party, who had aspirations for conquering neighbouring Ethiopia. Mussolini encouraged Italian architects and engineers to transform Asmara into a modernist utopia, with cinemas, cafés, imported bicycles and sycamore trees and called the city, “La Piccola Roma” – Africa’s little Rome. Granted its independence in 1991, Eritrea, unlike many other post-colonial states, decided to conserve its architectural heritage, and despite continuing social and political difficulties, the buildings have remained.
The aesthetics of Modernism have held a distinct appeal to many contemporary designers, with its clean, unified lines and use of non-traditional materials and form. The iconic Swiss modernist, Le Corbusier, created ‘houses that were machines for living in’ with every element of the structure designed with a purpose in mind. His refined minimalism has influenced many brilliant designers from Tom Ford (who studied architecture before switching to fashion in his final year at Parsons School of Design) to Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons.
Iris van Herpen fuses the past and future to construct structures for the body. The Dutch designer’s famous ‘cathedral’ dress (from her MICRO 2012 collection) for example was inspired by the intricate wooden carvings in Flemish cathedrals, Van Herpen, has pioneered using 3D printing in garment making and literally constructed pieces (in collaboration with artist Bart Hess, architect Isaie Bloch, and 3D print company Materialise). This particular piece was made with a SLS (selective laser sintering) process that uses a laser to melt fine powders into 3D shapes and then plated the dress in a thin layer of metal which resulted in bronze finish. (http://www.additivefashion.com/iris-van-herpen-micro-jan-2012/) The dress is incredibly detailed and beautiful, demonstrating a mastery of craftsmanship that you’d expect to see in couture whilst using the latest technological approaches.
Ukrainian designer, Julie Paskal also applies her architectural training to the construction of clothes using signature laser-cutting technique and an exploratory approach to materials. She sees architecture as giving her, ‘the notion of proportions, shapes, color and combinations’ Her brand, PASKAL successfully combines simplicity, elegance and minimalism with a lightness of touch, ‘a dreamy vibe—joy and pleasure’ she says, playing with nudity using tulle,organza and colour.
The current realities for Eritrea are still hugely challenging, but for Asmara in its architectural time-warp one feels that perhaps these buildings offer a small source of pride for its residents. In 2016, Eritrea applied to become UNESCO World Heritage site and I so hope that’s it granted, perhaps this will offer the city an opportunity for joy.