Toronto Fashion Week this week. This is the Richie Rich AMUSE collection with Pamela Anderson and PETA. Combining a club/lounge (This is London), with a raised 9m long catwalk, confetti, wafer-thin models, live DJ, focused spot-lighting, and mediocre clothes, the atmosphere was set for a great evening of disposable fashion fun. A much more relaxed ambiance than the rest of the fashion shows held within the white tents of 1030 King St. W. (photos courtesy of Michael CC Lin).


Visual Merchandising II

Click for higher resolution.

This is the 2nd in a possible series of window displays (the first one is here).

In this window run, the fable of Hans Christian Anderson's The Emperor's New Clothes is depicted against the city of Paris. Paris was chosen for its dominant and influential role in the fashion industry, while the specific buildings are (from left to right) the Panthéon, Centre Georges Pompidou, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, the Moulin Rouge, and Notre Dame Cathedral. They are in orthographic drawings in elevation and section, giving the viewer glimpses of the interior and exterior, as if the gathering crowds are winding through all layers of the city, past each genius loci (as Aldo Rossi had coined) of the city of lights. With ubiquitous brand identities imposed on all public spaces of today, the city itself becomes part of the brand's added value (New York, Paris, London, Milan, Tokyo!). It is a part of the litany of luxury pilgrimages. The inflated figures of the very proud and very naked king and his minions carrying his non-existent cape parading amongst the people refer to the perceived power difference of the power dynamic between the makers of taste and the masses. But this power is in no way despotic as the people notice but are not enchanted by the myth of his "new clothes". If anything, he is the latest fashion victim, because the system of luxury is perversely based on "the new even before producing it and so accomplishes that paradox in which the ‘new’ is both unpredictable and yet already decreed." (Roland Barthes, The Language of Fashion, 117)



In this capitalist, mass-elitist, logo-flashing, image-exhausting culture, are the only two truly luxurious things that remain time and philanthropy?


designing desire

According to the article "High Architecture" by Daniel Herman in Harvard Design School's Guide to Shopping, out of the 21 Pritzker prize winners to date (when the article was written), 7 of them had no projects dedicated to shopping at all. And half of the rest had only 1, including unbuilt schemes. And out of those, many often left those projects out of their monographs. So what is so undesirable about shopping to architects? And heaven forbid a project be called a "mall" -- it is always a festival marketplace, mixed-use complex, museum, design center, showroom.... it seems that "high architecture" still delivers very normative shopping spaces. Especially when it comes to department stores, the free plan is basically treated as a given, the core is always centrally located. And any true architectural innovation is implemented only in the building envelope, seeming to say that the space for shopping don't need to be modified, just packaged prettily.

But when it comes to flagships of designer brands, a whole list of partnerships start to emerge. Like the old Vitruvian motto: "firmitas, utilitas, venustas" (firmness, utility, delight), the role of an architect within retail design can endure its image, establish brand equity, and create desire.

A handful of examples:

Thomas Heatherwick for Harvey Nichols (London)
William Russell for Alexander McQueen (Milan)
Future Systems for Birmingham Selfridges
Klein Dytham for Undercover Lab (Tokyo)
Phillippe Starck for Maison Baccarat (Paris)
Found Associates for Kurt Geiger (London)
Yabu Pushelburg for Lane Crawford (HK)
Jun Aoki for Louis Vuitton (Omotesando)
Kazuyo Sejima+Ryue Nishizawa for Christian Dior
Future Systems for Commes des Garcons
Tadao Ando for Collezione minimal
Massimiliano Fuksas for Emporio Armani (NYC)
Herzog & de Meuron for Prada (Tokyo)
Rem Koolhaas for Prada (NYC & LA)
Renzo Piano for Maison Hermes (Tokyo)
Richard Gluckman for Helmut Lang

It is the transfer of an identity through design that is able to fully fuse the brand's "statement" with that of the "experience". Thus, the impression is that the source of authenticity has been fully maintained (a key component to luxury), as the consumer partakes in this myth through the act of shopping. Like places of deity and treasury, the myths created are reinforced and sustained through the forms of the building. To be successful in designing spaces that create desire, there must be engagement, stimulation, and a balance of novelty with repetition.


There goes the neighbourhood

Cartier by Hans Nadelhoffer, Chronicle Books 2007

"In the 1980s Cartier granted Hans Nadelhoffer exclusive access to its archives in order to write the definitive history. Long out of print, Nadelhoffer's exhaustive research has been revived with lush new photography and design sketches of the world's most distinctive and finely crafted jewelry. Through charming and compelling anecdotes, these famed gems and the elite clientele who don them are brought to life."

What I find most interesting is chapter 2:
(but it's tough reading off Google Books!)

Rue de la Paix, New Bond Street, and Fifth Avenue

These are the locations of the three major Cartier boutiques:
13 Rue de la Paix, Paris
175-176 New Bond Street, London
653 Fifth Avenue, New York

It talks about the development of the stores themselves, from the politics of location to the clientele demographic shifts due to a change in dimensions, circumstance, architecture, neighbours, and cultural climate.


architects do it on drafting tables

JWP Epicenter collection of souvenir tshirts by Prada (released October 9, 2009)

Prada stores in plans, sections, and elevations superimposed on top of each other like an amateur architecture portfolio layout for the orthographic nerd in all of us...(£135 each)

stores include:
Aoyama in Tokyo, Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, Broadway in New York, Old Bond Street in London, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Rome, and Via Montenapoleone in Milan.


Visual Merchandising

Click for larger resolution.

This is my hypothetical window display of a department store in the league of Le Bon Marche, Galeries Lafayette, Lane Crawford, or Fortnum & Mason. The entire window of each bay is taken up by a larger-than-life image of (in)famous mugs of the people who make the haute couture world tick. Instead of the traditional mannequin or model on display, it is the behind-the-scenes masterminds who keep the fashion system in check. Because even at its most liberating, fashion is still sadistic, always in a dynamic state of power differential. Desire is created, and this moving target of beauty is fundamental or else there is no raison d'etre to objects of luxury. The floating decapitations are meant to evoke the mighty Wizard of Oz illusion pre-reveal to Dorothy. They stare down, with varying degrees of condescendance, indifference, or disdain. They impose, as a celebrity, and as the creative force that sanctioned the merchandise behind those walls.

The chosen are (from left to right):
Anna Wintour - editor of American Vogue
Karl Lagerfeld - own label, Chanel, and Fendi
Suzy Menkes - editor of International Herald Tribune
John Galliano - own label and Christian Dior
Vivienne Westwood - own label
Hamish Bowles - European editor-at-large Vogue

(thinking of making some more....)


a fashion show

The etymology of the word “glamour” comes from a variant of Scottish gramarye "magic, enchantment, spell," in a medieval sense of "any sort of scholarship, especially occult learning" from 1720. (http://www.etymonline.com/) and that is certainly what a fashion show is – a form of commercial seduction. According to Guy Debord, the fashion show is a self-absorbed “spectacle unto itself… sealed in the show space of the runway, with its attendant protocols and hierarchies. Like the spectacle, it spatialises time and destroys memory.” (Debord, 193) It is also, on a more practical level, to attract press coverage and fulfil the commercial realities of a design house. Because although there is a lot of media coverage of this field, its actual economic force is relatively meagre. Its significance lies in the fact that it’s “symbolically central, although economically peripheral” (Evans, 294). There is a cultural impact that these shows carry that filter to the masses. As Thomas Richards wrote, the fashion show is about allurement and advertisement: “the theatre through which capitalism acts” (Richards, 251). Worth and Poiret, pioneers in the haute couture world, often hid their commercial realities of their businesses behind justifications of artistry of the contemporary fashion show. (Duggan, 243-70)

Now, more than ever, the fashion garment circulates not as the object but as the image, meaning that the image has become the commodity itself. Due to increasingly visualised media outlets, the priority is to have the most graphic runway images transmitted via print for global audiences.

'Viktor & Rolf on strike' posters. Autumn-Winter 1996-7

But as Viktor & Rolf’s collections seem to parody this knowledge, it also realizes that resistance to the spectacle does not come easily, nor is there a dire need to resist at all.

scavenger hunt

[photo from garancedore.com]

Fashion designers have the luxury of taking inspiration throughout the eras without falsifying history. This means that historical references of the past can be scavenged and looped back to the present to give it contemporary meaning. Even though innovation and novelty are seen to be at the forefront of fashion, it is still a ‘network of historical constellations in which past and present are telescoped together.” (Evans, 22) These liberties designers can take are reminiscent of the character of the 19th-century ragpicker in Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project: “Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show. I shall appropriate no ingenious formulations, purloin no valuables. But the rags, the refuse – these I will not describe but put on display.” (Benjamin, 860)

Since fashion imagery is inherently mutable, it can be seen as semiotically unstable, using select images of the past that are recontextualized for the present. Coherent narratives do not exist as the genealogy of the object keeps on being rewritten with temporal retracing influenced by current issues. Fragments of the past are articulated through the marketing and iconography around the physical product itself. Raphael Samuel’s Theatres of Memory speaks of how objects are message and emotion bearing entities. This is the same method that contemporary fashion images can stimulate ideas and meanings beyond the object, and relate to the values, beliefs, attitudes, and relationships of the past.

In Writing and Difference, Jacques Derrida quotes Aldo Rossi speaking of the city as a skeleton “haunted by meaning and culture” and how contemporary fashion can act like these urban building types, as “skeletons of history into armatures for ideas.” (Derrida, 3). This is the defining characteristic of luxury fashion advertising today: that ‘in order to become the new, fashion always cites the old – not simply the ancient or classical, but their reflection within its own sartorial past.” (Lehmann, xx). But this pillaging is more of a reinterpretation of the range of ideas about spectacle and lifestyle, rather than a proper re-visit to previous aesthetics. And our society marks and loves these differences in citations, because, as Susan Sontag put it: “industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies.” (Sontag, 24)


Torre Agbar, is that you?

L'Homme Yves Saint Laurent, Design by Jean Nouvel, Eau de Toilette, 90ml, £57.50, from Harrods

"Once an architect achieves the sort of global acclaim that Jean Nouvel has, it's not just requests for iconic urban landmarks that land on the desk - the starchitect's touch is also called on to change the topography of our dressing tables.

Jean Nouvel has made his first contribution to the cosmetics world this month with a limited edition bottle design for Yves Saint Laurent's most recently launched men's fragrance, L'Homme.

'I wanted to give it a clear-cut shape, so it would easily fit a man's hand while still stimulating different aspects of his imagination,' says Nouvel of the erect tube that sits into a bolt-shaped stand, that doubles as the lid. 'I wanted it to express the scent's inherent contrasts of virility and fragility. Through its design, the bottle symbolises a fully assumed virility, while the fine glass creates a contrast implying a kind of fragility and softness.'

Indeed. Nouvel has also introduced a playful new design detail - the float which carries the YSL logo and swims around in the fragrance, 'placing the brand at the heart of the fragrance'.

Introducing architects and product designers to cosmetics and fragrance packaging design is proving to be a sure way to shake up firmly entrenched convention in the area, and this is no exception. With his limited edition L'Homme Yves Saint Laurent, Nouvel is turning perfume bottle design on its head." [wallpaper.com]

In this amalgamation of luxury and industrial design, the architect imposes his ideas about the significance of form on a much smaller scale. While the symbolism is undeniable, the effect is mixed.


and the countdown begins....

So I've given myself an ultimatum: April or bust. And so illustrated above is how time looks when your days seem to be filled with nothing but you're trying to work towards something. With all the formalities and procedures around defending, I actually need to finish the draft thesis by the end of February... This gives me 21 weeks. 147 days. GO.