THE LOOK

Exhibition and book

New Canaan, CT

2014

Architecture is to building as fashion is to clothing: both may be seen as excesses of their functional roots. Whereas in fashion the adjective “architectural” is an asset, a positive term that applies to a design with distinctively strong structure and form, the term “fashionable” in architecture is pejorative, suggesting a fleeting trend with no lasting worth. Architecture’s aspiration to permanence is a product not only of the high investment required to build but also of its commitment to lasting values. Fashion, by contrast, is driven by the manic desire to constantly refresh. The life span of a trend is a season, not a century. Both disciplines converge at the classic, a status reserved for the rare design of irreducible perfection that can withstand the test of time.

The architectural photography of Julius Shulman provides important insights into temporal alignments between architecture and fashion as well as the slippages between them. These photos capture classic midcentury modern houses and the lifestyles of their inhabitants: a dashing man prepares martinis while his shapely wife mingles with dinner guests or lounges poolside, soaking up the sun. Although the buildings in these photos have retained a timeless quality, their inhabitants appear anachronistic. The clothing and styling that once epitomized simple elegance instead date the inhabitants and inadvertently reveal the building’s true age.

One of architecture’s modernist icons, Philip Johnson’s Glass House of 1949, provides a relevant case study. An influential Museum of Modern Art board member, Johnson used the house as a salon, where he would host New York’s cultural elite. These gatherings were documented in casual photographs over the years, and each decade from the 1950s through the 1990s is discernible from the guests’ clothing styles, set against the classic backdrop of the house. These archival photos form a record of the last half century of fashion.

Occasionally these images reveal unexpected alignments between architecture and fashion across time. The preppy-hipster look of the stylish figure visiting the Glass House could easily be mistaken for that of a fashion forward visitor today were he not such a recognizable cultural icon. A guest at a garden party in the early years of the house dressed in a 1947 Christian Dior bar suit might appear similar to a present day visitor wearing one of the 2012 New Look revivals designed by Raf Simons for Dior. As trends typically come and go, only to return again, the fast wheel of fashion sometimes falls into alignment with the slow motion of architecture. This peculiar synchrony between “fashion time” and “architecture time” is both unsettling and liberating.

The Look is a narrative in eighteen scenes about youth, aging, timelessness, and identity. It is set in an ambiguous time. Dispersed throughout are ten accessories that comprise the 2013 capsule collection. These selections from runway couture and ready-to-wear collections are “assisted” classics. They are so highly mannered with today’s sensibilities that they live in the state of the past-present. The Glass House is a key protagonist.

Each year, the DESTE Foundation commissions an artist to curate a capsule collection comprising five to ten designs from that year’s international fashions. The artist may interpret the selected works and integrate them into an independent project. Diller Scofidio + Renfro was selected to curate the capsule collection for 2013.

FURTHER INFORMATION

More information about The Look is available here.

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