Appetite for Destruction

...a powerful impetus for design

by Georgia Shaw
The act of creation in fashion, from the finishing of a garment by a young designer in their studio to luxury couturiers in Paris’ 8th Arrondissement, signifies the bringing together of creative thought and fabric. Yet creativity and the act of creation in fashion design have unwittingly become synonymous. Peel back the layers of assumption to consider if you will, destruction as a starting point in design – an idea which poses new, significant tangents for designers.

Destruction in the fashion industry is more pervasive than one might first think. Fashion tries hard to maintain a Zen like detachment as a continuous, cumulative wave of ideas and material objects, yet the industry actively requires a form of destruction of one season to warrant another. Trends are systematically incepted and rejected allowing destruction to oscillate through fashion, procuring an industry in which reputations, businesses and brand identities are built and destroyed.

Taking an early career sabbatical, one of the world’s most successful designers took the opportunity to quite literally rehash the fashion digestive system beyond recognition. Earlier this year, Helmut Lang presented a series of unassuming sculptures at The Fireplace Project Gallery in East Hampton, formed from what first appeared as loosely bonded, industrial materials roughly painted white. His sculptures represented something far more profound than their appearance having been created from the remnants of a prolific fashion career. Lang, the artist, who had retired from the fashion industry in 2004 had shred more than 6,000 garments from his archive reconfiguring the fabrics, furs, feathers, leather and metal back to raw materials to create the 12 tubular sculptures. The designer who had enjoyed a career at the forefront a New York’s nexus of 1990s minimalist, monochrome, structured design was now questioning the value of fashion as more than the sum of its parts.

The desecration of the archive of a globally influential fashion heavyweight draws back the elements of fashion design to its bare bones identifying the principles of the creative process from an entirely new angle. If we relate this theme to collections from emerging designers the response is varied. OSBURGUESES’ ‘Nuclear Winter’ A/W 2011 collection relies on the physical deconstruction of garments. A visual scattering and reassemblance to create tailored piece with multiple collars for a volumous, off-guard elegance. The designer Os Burgueses explored themes of destruction, chaos and creation of new histories played out with a muted colour palette of gunmetal and petrol blue complimented by contrasting fabrics in felted wool and synthetic-leather to invoke an industrial feel.

The metaphor of deconstruction in nature acted as inspiration for Sonja den Elzen, the designer behind label Thieves. The ambience of her ‘Conscience’ collection was inspired by Peter Mettler’s film “Petropolis” which was created for Greenpeace to explore the exploitation of Canada’s Boreals forest by mining. As if created from the reflective, black, polluting petrol seen in the film, den Elzen’s simple pieces are created from materials which appear simultaneously dark and disturbing but beautifully tactile. Thematically, the collection adheres to a utilitarianism as if armour to protect the wearer from this polluted landscape.

A confronting interpretation of the theme is icons of destruction explored by Liam Freeman’s ‘Woman of Mass Destruction’ A/W 2011 collection of which the young designer cites Margaret Thatcher as a muse. It manifests as a stylish range of tailored separates which ask questions about the duality of her ubiquitous elegance and distaste for her political policy. Notably, the student riots earlier this year acted as a source of inspiration for Freeman which draws links with the imagery of miners’ strikes against Thatcherism in the mid 1980s. Sophisticated references to Thatcher as a muse continue throughout the collection in which boots and trousers are fused invoking an industrial functionalism. Similarly, foiled black leather is used to represent the shimmering of broken glass as a poetic reference to Thatcher’s shattering impact on industry. Elegant stream-lining and exaggerated shoulders used throughout the collection create a powerful but uncompromisingly stylish silhouette emphasised with controlled injections of royal blue, a colour the prime minister was famously photographed wearing. Freeman’s collection even includes elegant handbags, a ‘power’ accessory which Thatcher always carried on public outings which complete the lady-like but potent message of his designs.

To recognise how this theme may influence design is to recognise that creation and its abstract form, destruction are simultaneously part of the fashion psyche. We may even go so far to recognise destruction as a more powerful impetus for design allowing for something new and potentially improved to evolve. This new interpretation of the creative process frames fashion designers not only as intrepid artists but potentially design aggressors inviting paths of new inquiry. Importantly, it also recognises the omnipotent power of destruction whether physically, environmentally, politically or indeed, creatively.