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F(AA)shion Dialogues

A Paris-based workshop by the Architectural Association School looks at the connection between fashion and architecture

The world around us is going through some major revolutions that include environmental and social changes. In our fluctuating present in constant turmoil, different disciplines are merging together and there is a strong need for new responses, visions and experimentation. In this search for fresh approaches some fashion designers developed collaborations with architects, while the latter have instead been looking at ways of offering alternative interpretations to build stories and hospitable spaces. Trying to explore the new possibilities offered by fashion and architecture, the Architectural Association School launched the “F(AA)shion” workshop, an intensive design-based programme of lectures currently on at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

The aim of the workshop, entitled “Re-fashioning”, is developing ideas and design practices through interdisciplinary laboratories and analysing digital-based investigations, physical performance and manufacturing. Students are asked to analyse form, embrace the entire process of production, look at digital fabrication, assemble prototypes, explore ways in which emerging designers can engage audiences and consider the future of fashion retailers.

The workshop is curated by Jorge Ayala, Director of the AA Visiting School in Paris and Founder of [Ay]A Studio, an international design studio committed to cutting edge research and experimentation engaging in the fields of design, architecture and landscape urbanism in both theoretical and professional praxis.

Dazed Digital: What prompted you to start the F(AA)shion workshop in Paris? 
Jorge Ayala: Two main reasons: first the fact that a couple of years ago the prestigious Architectural Association School (AA London) started offering the opportunity to study in other countries, allowing healthy exchanges of ideas between different people. Second my experiences as an architecture student and a passionate fashion fan. I still remember how, while producing a series of folded structural surfaces with a synthetic fabric as a study model, I surprised myself thinking that wasn’t architecture but fashion, yet I felt frustrated at not being able at the time to bridge the gap between these two disciplines.

DD: What inspired the theme of the “Re-fashioning” workshop?
Jorge Ayala: The word “fashion” is one of the most employed tags on the Internet and on social networks such as Twitter. But the verb “to fashion” means “to form”, “give shape”, “forge”, while this word also indicates a “method”. So the main theme of the workshop is looking at developing non-conventional design expressions with emerging logics of construction and work towards a mutual understanding of the fashion and architecture connection.

DD: What kind of approaches will you be using to tackle the fashion and architecture connection?
Jorge Ayala: While setting the syllabus I took a radical position trying to reject the repetitive ideas based on seasonal trends since today’s fashion scene is not solely a collection of captured images, but an ensemble of socio-morphological forces connecting people and catalysing experimental and open-ended design. We therefore tailored a double strategy – the ‘studio atelier’ and the lecture series – both led by interdisciplinary experts in digitally fabricated processes and physical investigations.

DD: Which similarities can you draw between architecture and fashion?
Jorge Ayala: There are several common processes in architecture and fashion that occur during the conceptual stage. Technological and social transformations, natural cycles and cultural resources define some parallel grounds within both realms. Besides, fashion designers are keen to acknowledge the value of innovative displays within seductive retail spaces to attract consumers. There have been a couple of architectural manifestos and high-end collaborations along these lines that prove it, for example the very first Prada store designed in New York by Rem Koolhaas. Despite seeing them as parallel practices, there is also a main difference: fashion designers work towards a short timescale that renews itself season after season; architects traditionally focus on works that will stay with us forever.

DD: What’s the architect and the fashion designer’s role in the 21st century?
Jorge Ayala: We live in a climate of intellectual turmoil and the greatest danger is to play it safe. This is why I think the architect and the fashion designer should have an entrepreneurial role in our society.

DD: The pressures to create new collections season after season are enormous on fashion designers, do you think that the collaborative modus operandi of architectural firms may relieve designers from the stresses connected with the relentless processes of creating a collection?  
Jorge Ayala: Definitely. Architecture has also become an accelerated ground of experimentation due to the improvement of technology, open source protocols and a large access to the Internet. These tools are employed on a daily basis by architects and I think they will help different design practices developing their work in a much easier and sustainable way.

DD: In your opinion, which contemporary designers are bridging the gaps between fashion and architecture?
Jorge Ayala: I love Alexandra Verschueren’s work, her foldable cape based on geometric shapes and the series of dresses from her first collection are quite architectural, almost based on the z-axis, the reference axis of a three-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system. This was the main reason why we invited her to be a part of the AA Paris School. I quite like also the works of Tara Donovan since they are quite contemporary and also look at the debate about recycling plastic materials. At the [Ay]A Studio we are actually working on a series of “pièces uniques” that seek to deliver new techniques of conceptual design and construction methods.

DD: Which designers are bringing interesting architectural perspectives into their work?
Jorge Ayala: Iris van Herpen and Daniel Widrig’s woven forms are mind-blowing. I also love Zoe Bradley’s garments and, for what regards menswear, Gareth Pugh is one of my favourite designers. All of them have different construction methods and agendas to generate strong three-dimensional experiences.

DD: In your opinion, what will the students and participants who enrolled in the F(AA)shion workshop bring back home?
Jorge Ayala: In the last decade architecture got mixed with many other disciplines, from biology to economy, computer science and even cinema. All the lecturers, students and sponsors at the Paris AA School want to be a part of this wider debate. Hopefully at the end of the workshop our students will also realise that design should be the star and not designers!

The “F(AA)shion” workshop is at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs until 31st March   

Images courtesy of Jorge Ayala; Alexandra Verschueren Image © Alexandra Verschueren, 2010