Don't Fence Me In
March 03 2022
Almost like a coming of age scenario, we reach a point in our lives when the looming chokehold of “naming” ourselves in society is at hand. And usually when this happens, whatever name we choose, or major we declare, is something that follows us for the rest of our lives. The molded cast we are told we cannot break and the choice we are forced too soon to make, ‘multidisciplinary’ is the name buried at the bottom of all lists. “Multidisciplinary” is a practice interlinked with intersectionality, which also sits on the burner too hot to touch. Doctors cannot be lawyers and a career in ‘the arts’ can be utterly too confusing to classify.
Moreover, to a prosaic mind, fashion is hardly ever seen as a form of the arts. This could be because the average citizen and recent generations have spent much of their lives plugged into the matrix of fast fashion and true fashion is now synonymously brewed over as ‘materialism’. They are not conscious of the value a single piece of cloth holds while the perception of price and planet is completely lost on them. Art has many distinctions from “Fine” to “DIY”; the democratization of this medium is not per se a negative when being made accessible to more than the elite, but it is negative when used to undermine the dreaming and conceiving of it (creation as a whole).
Eckhaus Latta, the American design duo, is one young example of contemporary success regarding the cross-pollination of fashion and the [rest of the] arts. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) alumni, founders Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta studied sculpture and textile design respectively. After graduating in 2010, Eckhaus began working as an accessories designer at Marc by Marc Jacobs while Latta established her own textile company, simultaneously working as a knitwear designer at Opening Ceremony. One short year later, the two rejoined forces and launched their label’s first collection in New York for Spring/Summer 2013. The gender-fluid designs of Eckhaus Latta run parallel to the fluidity of arts and expression as a whole. How each practice plays into the other is a widely familiar phenomenon for multidisciplinary artists; fashion is just one wave that breaks into the rest.
RISD describes their sculpture department as “growth of the individual as part of a larger community” and encourages their students "to experiment and push beyond obvious solutions" so they "think holistically and understand the importance of the work they make as it relates to the world”. If our current existence is tethered to technological advances and augmented reality, then intersectionality and cross-pollination must also remain at the forefront of creation. The mission statement graciously provided by RISD cements the notion that nothing is singular; with this in mind, possibility and aspiration can grow.
When Belgian designer, Raf Simons, spoke to Suzy Annetta at Milan Design Week for Design Anthology in 2019, he alluded to the intense pace and stamina required for fashion in comparison to design and architecture. Having studied industrial and furniture design before his fashion debut, he used his reference and knowledge to point out that the constant machine (being fashion) is like all of the arts combined on steroids – always changing. It is no wonder that our bodily canvases are adapting at increased speeds as well.
As a result, our references must come from every direction, something relevant to the most esteemed designers. Take Samuel Ross of A-Cold-Wall, whose formal background began in graphic design and illustration, or Miuccia Prada, who has a Ph.D. in political science, and trained at Teatro Piccolo to become a mime.
A more literal/visual example is when Hussein Chalayan turned four chair covers and a coffee table into four dresses and a wooden skirt for his Autumn/Winter 2000 presentation at London Fashion Week. Drawing on themes of architecture, aerodynamics, and space, to say the least, he and numerous designers have a shared commonality of combining philosophical ideals with wearable clothes. The late Virgil Abloh also championed the idea of not believing in disciplines, but rather using disciplines as building blocks for more than one pursuit. “We can use our architectural brain and do many things,” he told Dezeen in December 2020. Fashion was Abloh’s vehicle for investigating architecture and its existence in a post-Google and Amazon world.
The word ‘fashion’ today is redundant and the usage of such is something to wince at. But the fact of the matter is, fashion is more than what we cloak ourselves in. We are discussing a concept that lives in the pantheon of expressions alongside adapt, construct, mold, forge, and more. A noun, or verb, that at its very foundation requires a litany of niche skills, understanding, and appreciation of said practice in order to thrive.
To have one study is to investigate one unit of an entire train system– while it is possible for the one cart to run independently and alone, one wonders what the benefit would be to stay in the same wagon when given tools to readily explore the next. Fashion is at the crux of all cross-pollination. From socio-economic, environmental, (sub)culture, and mainstream reality. It’s a practice always lumped on our plate (some plates more intentionally than others), waiting, cooling until digested.
Text by Shahrnaz Javid