The official Bauhaus-Archiv x Highsnobiety collection celebrates 100 years of disrupting design and is available to cop now on the Highsnobiety Shop. Keep reading to discover how Bauhaus continues to inspire fashion and design industry leaders today.
Since Walter Gropius created the Bauhaus in 1919, the international communities of art and design have refused to stop talking about it. Its synonymity with modernist design principles lead it to be mentioned whenever creatives opt for minimalism, functionality, and craftsmanship for the sake of a social good. And yet, its meaning today stretches far beyond that; into the realm of high-priced streetwear and eye-catching haute couture, and designers whose artistic principles seem miles away from the advice of Bauhaus legends, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Paul Klee.
To understand further how Bauhaus’ principles have influenced the work of industry leaders today, we sat down with Nicholas Tazza of Fork Spoon, a “visual and spatial communication” design studio that’s known for designing Aimé Leon Dore’s New York City store, among other prestigious projects,
During the conversation, Tazza, who also teaches at Pennsylvania’s Moore College of Art and Design as well as Rutgers University in New Jersey, discussed the Bauhaus in relation to four major figures in the world of art and design. The conclusion? Today’s biggest creatives not only still take interest in Bauhausian principles, but seek to actively challenge them in the name of forward-thinking.
Perhaps the most straightforwardly Bauhaus-influenced designer in the current fashion discourse, Virgil Abloh has taken an axe to conventionality at Off-White™ and Louis Vuitton. With Off-White™, which he considers a creative platform more than an out-and-out fashion label, he has not only created coveted clothing but also furniture in collaboration with IKEA, a brand that arguably has its own Bauhausian merits.
Abloh has directly cited the Bauhaus as inspiration in interviews. In particular, he often changes his own definitions of self, from architect to designer and more, in the vein of Bauhausian interchangeability. His influence comes in part from his education: “The Illinois Institute of Technology has a Mies Van der Rohe curriculum, rooted in the Bauhaus, etc,” he told Designboom late last year, “and that’s what the whole premise was… They’re all just terms. You get titled this and you can do that. You could be a writer, you could be a painter, but architecture to me is a term for all things, holistic design, having a point of view.”
“If you should be able to design a business card,” Tazza explains in regard to this Bauhausian philosophy, “you should be able to understand how a chair works and design a chair. It’s the idea of experience instead of form.”
Where Abloh’s Bauhausian influence is worn on his sleeve, Rei Kawakubo’s is much more subtle, a theoretical relationship drawn upon by students of the form. Her work with Commes des Garçons takes deep interest in avant-garde works, but the work can also be seen as recalling Bauhaus designer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Additionally, Kawakubo also harbors a famous resistance toward being pigeonholed as a fashion designer, not unlike Abloh.
Tazza argues that often, today’s designers invoke the spirit of the Bauhaus even while challenging its principles; the Bauhaus was created as a response to the world’s needs, and those needs are different in 2019 from what they were in 1919. “That’s why it’s really funny to talk about the applications of the Bauhaus to modernism in contemporary culture because we are facing a completely different set of challenges than were faced a long time ago,” he says. Designers like Kawakubo who reject a user-friendly, approachable design in their works are still seeking to face contemporary challenges. “What is our Bauhaus moment? Where do we apply ourselves so we can better affect the world?”
British designer Samuel Ross has built his own fashion brand on avant-garde, industrial streetwear with clear influence from designers like Kawakubo. Hired by Abloh as a design assistant in 2012, he has since carved his own lane with A-COLD-WALL* as another polymath in the world of fashion. Among his calling cards is a fascination with using unconventional materials like PVC, plastic and nylon.
“Just like the Bauhaus used materials of their time, Ross is using materials of his time,” says Tazza. Ross also, much like the other designers on this list, uses industrial materials not merely out of necessity and pragmatism, but as an exploration of current global issues within a high-priced haute couture setting.
Ross also co-founded Concrete Objects, which concerns itself with creating simple impactful objects for daily use.
No designer nor artistic figure of the 21st century represents the dissonant Bauhausian influence on modern design quite like Kanye West. The loquacious hip-hop artist and designer at the helm of the YEEZY clothing brand, as well as the orchestrator of the DONDA creative collective, has incorporated modernist, Bauhausian ideas into his work at numerous points. DONDA is an example of a modern adaptation of the Bauhaus, as it combines designers and artists of various skillsets and ideologies to create content. Yet, whether or not West truly aligns with that populist, accessibility-based philosophy of the Bauhaus is up for debate.
“The YEEZYs are maximalist sneakers to death,” says Tazza. “They are just function follows form for sure.”
West has, however, explored minimalistic, industrial ideas in the past, most notably for his 2013 record Yeezus, which he described to the New York Times as being inspired by architecture and a Le Corbusier lamp.
Yet these conscious visitations of Bauhausian design principles are different from the necessitated minimalism within most modernist design situations. And besides, if it’s a Kanye West work, can it ever truly be minimalist? “We always ask the question: when the designer becomes bigger than the design, does the design or the idea fail?” says Tazza. “Does the celebrity impact the intended result? And I really think that’s true; because who he is as a person maybe clouds what he wants to accomplish.”