Influences: Bauhaus

Givenchy Fall 2010

Even more interesting than the presence of the Arts & Crafts movement on the runways for Fall 2010, is the presence of one of its contemporary aesthetic movements: Bauhaus. Long a favorite and familiar influence across all tenets of design, The Bauhaus has been seducing fashion designers for decades. Most notably (to call out the obvious) in 1965 with Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian collection. So what more is there to say in 2010?

Meaning "House of Building", The Bauhaus was a German design school that pursued a unification of art, craft, and technology just after World War I.

Founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany in 1919, the school drew parallels to the Arts & Crafts Movement, expanding on William Morris' adage that "form follows function". It differed from Arts & Crafts however, in that The Bauhaus considered the machine to be a positive element, making industrial and product design important parts of the school. Likewise, the aesthetic of The Bauhaus style (also known as The International Style,) was a complete departure from that of Arts & Crafts; here the stylized details and natural materials gave way to clean lines and a complete absence of ornamentation.

Two designers on the Fall 2010 runways claimed influences drawn from The Bauhaus: Donna Karan for DKNY and Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. Done in different ways, both designers have created crisp, modern collections that seem to celebrate The Bauhaus in its efficiency and practicality.

DKNY Fall 2010. Images from Style.com

DKNY utilized warm neutral shades and colorblocking to showcase The Bauhaus influence, creating glamorous and breezy pieces that look very wearable for all types of bodies. True, colorblocking in fashion is not new especially not colorblocked dresses with tendencies toward Mondrian. However this group looks sufficiently refreshed and kicky for this year's party girl.

(As a side note, I want to mention that Piet Mondrian was not, in fact, a "Bauhaus" artist per se. He did lecture at The Bauhaus, but his own artistic theory was Neo-Plasticism, more commonly known as the Dutch artistic movement of De Stijl - a contemporary of The Bauhaus.)

Givenchy Fall 2010. Images from Style.com

The collection offered by Givenchy turned up the Mondrian element even more with a stark mix of black, white, and bright red throughout. Riccardo Tisci specifically cited the Bauhaus palette, characterized by neutral grounds with pops of primaries, as his inspiration. While I didn't care for this interpreted in Fair Isle knits and oddly-cut lace, I believe the collection held together best when the strong colors were paired with strong, architectural silhouettes.

While The Bauhaus' influence on Fall 2010 isn't nearly as whimsical and lush as the influence of the Arts & Crafts movement, it does offer some interesting ideas. Perhaps in our world of fast fashion and new media we can incorporate more art and craftsmanship? I'm not sure what the exact lesson is, or why designers have come back to The Bauhaus again for this year.

It is ironic though, that The Bauhaus school never provided design history courses to its students. It was thought that everything should be designed according to principles rather than precedent.

Influences: Arts & Crafts

Detail from Anna Sui Fall 2010 with Rycroft Tile necklaceFashion, like art, repeats itself over and over. A cultural thermometer of sorts, the fashion world reflects and responds to the social climate faster than any other produced consumable product. Designers reflect our own fears and uncertainties and mix these with a heady cocktail of beauty, luxury, and desire.

It’s clear that with the current economic and social outlook, the era of bling and the gaudy counterfeit it created have faded away (thankfully). In its place there seems to be an inherent appreciation of craftsmanship and creativity. At its most obvious, this appreciation is found in the collections of Anna Sui and Duro Olowu, both of whom found inspiration in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th & early 20th Centuries.

A reaction against the Victorian era’s penchant for “reviving” historical styles and the soulless production of the Industrial Revolution, the Arts & Crafts Movement sought artistic reform, both in its process and product. Aesthetically, the movement sought simplicity of form without superfluous decoration, often exposing the construction of an item. As many of the studios were in rural areas, Arts and Crafts motifs were inspired by the flora and fauna found out of doors.  Seeking an “equality of arts”, the movement revived traditional crafts, and created the role of the “master craftsman” at the heart of production and design. Ironically, by placing greater importance on handicraft, the resulting products were too expensive to be purchased by anyone but the very rich.

Anna Sui Fall 2010. Images from Style.com.

Perhaps designers’ looking to this era and design philosophy portends a resurgence of true luxury goods? I doubt that this idealism will trickle down to the Canal Street shoppers, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

“If you cannot learn to love real art at least learn to hate sham art.” – William Morris

For her part, Anna Sui took her inspiration in the design motifs and crafts of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Citing the artistic furniture of Charles Rohlfs, her Fall collection was adorned in architectural, but colorful, floral prints and geometrics. Small Roycroft tiles mixed with natural wood to create simple necklaces, all designed by Erickson Beamon. The result was classic Anna Sui hippy girl, but with a dash of sophisticated craft.

Duro Olowu Fall 2010. Images from Style.com.

With a more modern take, Duro Olowu drew inspiration from Hidcote Manor, home of England’s great Arts & Crafts garden, which is now part of the British National Trust. Hidcote’s lavish topiaries and outdoor rooms led to cozy knitwear, mod geometrics, and just a whiff of floral print. 

I realize that these are but two designers among hundreds, and while fashion is always looking to the aesthetic movements of the past, I found it interesting that the Arts & Crafts Movement in particular found its way onto the runways at just this time. Going by the fashion thermometer, it seems we need more simple luxury, beauty, and craftsmanship in our lives. What do you think?