“Fashion doesn’t solely exist in clothing: fashion is in the sky, in the streets, in our minds, in the way we live”. These are the famous words by Coco Chanel, French stylist of the mid 1900. Fashion and architecture both capture the changes of a city: one dresses the people, the other the location.
The relationship between fashion and architecture can be found in many historical periods as well as in the social contexts of the time, which often contributes to the appearance of a city: a perfect example is the typical flagship store of big fashion brands designed by an “archi-star”.
Since the 90s there have been significant changes in the business of fashion: prestigious fashion houses were purchased by big groups and the flagship stores have become key for their marketing strategies. In this scenario, the architect is called upon to play a key role: translate into tangible forms the underlying values of the brand by providing an attractive and a super-recognizable image.
The Maison de Verre in Paris (1927-1931) can be defined as the archetypal flagship store and indeed it is one of the most evoked by showroom designers.
Maison De Verre, Paris, Arch. Charreau, 1927/1931
The Maison de Verre by Pierre Chareau is a glass volume supported by a thin iron structure and is a model of architectural lightness and simplicity.
One of the most emblematic flagship stores built at the beginning of the millennium is the Maison Hermes in Tokyo by Renzo Piano.
Maison Hermes, Tokyo, Arch. Renzo Piano, 2001 (outside)
Internal view of Maison Hermes in Tokyo, Arch. Renzo Piano
Comparing these two architectures, the common goal of transparency and lightness is obtained by using glass bricks and iron, materials that avoids overexposing the brand in the urban context. The principle of transparent volumes is also applied in the Epicentro Prada in Tokyo, designed by Swiss studio Herzog & de Meuron.
Epicentro, Tokyo, Arch.tti Herzog & de Meuron, 2003
Besides, if architecture has found a clear limit to its anachronistic aspirations of immortality due to the speed of urban transformation, fashion has ceased to appear as a phenomenon of superficial aestheticism. From being an individual activity, its transformation into an industrial manufacturer generates a large proportion of national income as well as representing one of the most dynamic and contemporary shows.
The integration between these two forms of expression is found, for example, in the Selfridges Department Store in Birmingham designed by British architects Future System, whose facade is characterized by the use of chrome-plated metal discs, a clear reference to the metallic textures used by Paco Rabanne in some of his fashion collections.
Comparing the facade of Selfridges (2004) with a metallic garment by Paco Rabanne
A special union between architect and designer takes shape, as is the case between Giorgio Armani and Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, who designed the Armani stores in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo. New expressions are introduced in architecture with interactive, inflatable and even portable structures like the Prada Transformer by Rem Koolhaas in Seoul. The latter is the construction of a temporary pavilion consisting of a rotating and changing structure in a tetrahedral volume that can accommodate 4 different events (an exhibition, an art installation, film screening and a runway) allowing its 4 sides (a hexagon, a cross, a rectangle and a circle) to be used as a creative hub depending on the necessary space or installation.
Another innovative project involving the architect Zaha Hadid and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was the creation of the Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion to celebrate the success of the iconic “Chanel 2.55” bag. This temporary structure, similar to a spaceship, hosted an exhibition of contemporary art in which 20 international artists showed their creations, touring the world including Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York and Paris.
Mobile Art Pavilion, Parigi, Arch. Zaha Hadid, 2007
Both fashion and architecture use common shapes such as the spiral to achieve a building structure or a piece of clothing, like a staircase or a skirt. It’s all a matter of forms: those that cover and those that dress.