Coco Chanel famously said that “fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions.” As with most things the iconic designer said or did, it wasn’t long before the world followed her lead.
Classic designers like Versace, Balmain and Cardin all studied architecture before switching to fashion, while legendary architects like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry have taken time off from designing buildings to work on jewelry, shoes and bags.
There’s a strong interplay between the design elements involved in both architecture and fashion, so it’s not surprising that so many creatives have tried their hand at both. Here's our pick of the top ten times architecture inspired fashion:
While Cardin started out learning the basics of fashion as a 14-year-old clothier’s apprentice, he went on to study architecture at university. However, his fling with designing buildings finished with his final semester, and he returned to fashion with the house of Paquin. In 1947, he became head of Christian Dior’s tailleur atelier and founded his own house in 1950.
While his early work helping to design Dior’s “New Look” focused on restoring femininity to women’s clothes, from the ’50s onwards, Cardin’s background in architecture became a stronger and stronger influence. The avant-garde, space-age designs he was known for—such as bubble dresses, the worldwide fad he started in 1954—place an emphasis on clothing as bodily architecture rather than pieces of fabric. Like a classic architect, his designs demonstrate more concern for geometry than for the female form.
While Simons never formally studied architecture, he was interested in it and studied its less flashy cousin, industrial design. After completing his course in 1991, Simons switched to fashion. He told Harper’s Bazaar in 2013 that, "as an industrial designer, you design the thing by yourself and then it goes away from you, whereas fashion is in constant relation to the body and to psychology, which makes it more complicated and challenging."
Simons has described his own work as having “innovative construction with emphasis on shape and form”, and his interest in architecture and industrial design is apparent in the garments themselves. His architectural influence showed in the choice of venue for his 2016 Dior resort collection. He selected the Palais Bulles to display his show-stopping designs, a bubble house with a thousand windows designed by Hungarian architect Antti Lovag. The quirky, retro-futurist feel ensured that the surrounding architecture was every bit as eye-catching as Simons’ designs.
The menswear designer studied architecture at the Parsons School of Design and decided to switch to fashion in his final year, while studying abroad in Paris. In an interview with The Independent, he stated: "I just woke up one morning and thought, 'What am I doing?' Architecture was too serious. I mean, every architectural project I ever did, I worked a dress into it somehow. So I realized that fashion was the right balance between art and commerce, and that was it."
Despite his rejection of architecture as a career, Ford has acknowledged the powerful influence architecture has on his designs. In a 2006 interview in Wallpaper, Ford described Mies van der Rohe as the one architect who influenced him the most. “With Mies, God was in the detail,” he said. “I find the idea of chromed I-beams in the Tugendhat House so simple but so luxe. Refined minimalism—this is what excites me as a designer.”
Renaissance man Williams’ career is a masterclass in having your cake and eating it too, with the musician dabbling in different disciplines, despite no formal training in either fashion or architecture. He collaborated with the late architect Zaha Hadid in both art forms, with the pair designing prefab houses and Adidas trainers together.
The pair’s innovative reinterpretation of the classic trainer’s shell toe showed a strong architectural influence. Williams is also the creative director of Bionic Yarn, a fashion startup that crafts clothes from recycled ocean plastic – this focus on materials above all other concerns also seems to suggest a strong architectural influence.
Describing the Sudanese designer’s professional background as “diverse” is an understatement. Asim graduated from the Bartlett School of Architecture, completed a postgraduate degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science, trained as a psychoanalyst with the UN before interning in fashion, including with Vivienne Westwood.
However, Asim’s architectural background is the career milestone most visible in his elegant, minimalist designs. His garments reveal a preoccupation with structure, and Asim is keen to make the connection between his work and architecture clear for those who haven’t recognized it for themselves. His Instagram feed includes almost as many shots of buildings and industrial design features as it does pictures of his clothes.
Comme des Garçons
Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons cites the legendary Swiss architect Le Corbusier as a key influence. In a 1995 interview with Dazed and Confused, Kawabuko acknowledged that she respected the “simplicity and spaciousness” of Le Corbusier’s aesthetic. This was particularly evident in her fall 2015 show, in which color and patterns were nixed to ensure that form took precedence over other considerations. This is unsurprising: historically, Kawakubo has always designed clothing that function more like structures than garments.
The Swedish designer completed a masters in architecture in Melbourne and Sweden and after winning a competition, her work was exhibited during Oslo Architecture Triennial. But she admits on her website that she “still hasn’t found what [she’s] looking for.”
After switching to fashion, she said that “the tempo is fast, there are no limits, I can use all my experience and I feel at home.” But despite turning to fashion, the architectural influence is writ big in Grettve’s work, with her Twitter account description set to “Swedish architectural fashion studio.” The minimalism of the garments Grettve designs means, as with buildings, the quirky proportions of her clothes take centre stage.
Hadid’s collaboration with Williams wasn’t the only occasion on which the fashion world got a taste of her unforgettable aesthetic. She designed a bag for Louis Vuitton, a necklace for Swarovski and shoes for Melissa and Lacoste and each time, her designs showed the same inimitable originality as her buildings, with emphasis on the structure of the piece.
Her Swarovski necklace showed how much free rein the architect was given, with the boldness and sheer size of her design contrasting with Swarovski’s normally far more delicate, hyper-feminine vision.
After completing a masters in architecture, Brazilian designer Lins began his fashion career as a freelance pattern maker. Success wasn’t far off: he honed his talents working for some of the biggest names in fashion, including John Galliano, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo and Jean Paul Gaultier, before establishing his own line l’Atelier Gustavolins in 2003.
The overlap between architecture and fashion is also highly recognisable in Lins’ designs, whose drapery and fluid cuts emphasise the importance of structure to his aesthetic. Lins spoke to Creative Mapping about the interplay between the two disciplines in his work and how even his kimono-influenced designs embody this connection: “I have insight into study about Japanese architecture, and the base of Japanese architecture is the tatami,” he said.
Last but certainly not least is Kanye West’s fashion line. The rapper has a longstanding interest in architecture, having collaborated with Rem Koolhaas to create a seven screen performance pavilion for the Cannes Film Festival and inspiring impassioned defences of his work by student architects and his clothes’ minimalism and concentration on cut and angles seem like evidence of West’s interest in architecture overlapping with his dedication to fashion.
It's surprising that fashion and architecture don’t intersect even more than they already do. The two disciplines, no matter how fancifully executed, share one key characteristic: they’re both art rooted in practicality.
Buildings and clothes both shelter us from the elements and both conceal their earthy raison d’etre with beauty and whimsy. Perhaps the only key difference is one Balmain, yet another ex-architecture student, pinpointed when he described the art of dressmaking to Elle magazine as “the architecture of movement.”
Now check out our guide to beautiful architectural photography you can shoot on your iPhone.