Fashionably Bauhaus

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This year marks the centennial of the Bauhaus, one of the most important movements in art and design history. Founded by German architect Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus school is famed for its revolutionary “total” arts approach, blending fine arts, crafts, and technology. During its 14-year tenure, the school focused on practical, unified arts. Its creative influence spanned a range of art practices, architecture, and design. Key artists from the movement include Anni and Josef Albers, László Moholy-Nagy, and Wassily Kandinsky. While architecture and design pioneers Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier were also Bauhaus devotees. These creators and their work spurred the movement deep within the reaches of art and design.

The Bauhaus philosophy defined a new aesthetic around its ideals: simplicity, utility, and function with a view towards the future. This conceptual approach transformed the look and feel of the arts. The movement rippled into fashion, reflecting its pure, reductive ideas. These Bauhaus hallmarks are very apparent—even a century later—in the lines, geometry, and color of modern stylings.

Minimalism comes to light in varied modes of fashion design. Icon Jil Sander is known for refined shapes and neutral palettes. The first luxury house to collaborate with a sneaker company, Sander translated her simple elegance for the King sneaker with Puma in 1996 and the +J Collection with Uniqlo in 2009—touching on the collective, innovative Bauhaus spirit. For Fall/Winter 2016, Sander’s designs centered around shadow and light, referencing László Moholy-Nagy’s visual experiments with movement and lighting. The artist’s “new vision” has inspired other designers, including Rei Kawakubo’s 1981 debut for Comme des Garçons, which showed avant-garde, deconstructed silhouettes. Nearly four decades later, contemporary brand Khaite unveiled its own version of practical simplicity—updated, classic pieces with a feminine sensibility for Fall/Winter 2019.

Other keystones of Bauhaus style include geometry and primary color. The fashion brand Emilio Pucci has long-used angular, color-blocked patterns in its designs since its eponym founded it in 1949. Mary Quant, ‘60s pioneer of the miniskirt, paired youthful shift dresses with geometric patterns and brightly-colored tights throughout her career. Also of the era, André Courrèges took a mod, streamlined approach to Space Age combinations of the “little white dress” and early go-go boots. Later, for Fall/Winter 1965, Yves Saint Laurent created an iconic series of Mondrian-inspired shift dresses, suggesting timely influences of both art and fashion.

Miuccia Prada, too, has embraced Bauhaus convention in the color and architectural lines of her structured Ouverture bags from 2014, while Junya Watanabe championed newness with bright colors and daring shapes for Comme des Garçons in Spring/Summer 2015. Contemporary designer Mary Katrantzou—who created vivid patterns for projects with Adidas and Longchamp—directly referenced the arts movement, fusing bold Bauhaus graphics and decorative Victorian designs for Fall/Winter 2018. The ready complement of stark lines and vibrant color is written throughout decades of fashion history.

Designer collaborations, a major industry trend, are another nod to the interdisciplinary Bauhaus. Swedish fashion brand Acne Studios has partnered on a range of projects—both in and outside of the style space—including Bianchi Bicycles, Fjällräven, Lanvin, Lord Snowdon, as well as artists Katerina Jebb, William Wegman, and Hilma af Klint. For Spring/Summer 2017, Parisian collective Vetements teamed up with an eclectic range of 18 brands, such as Carhartt, Reebok, Juicy Couture, Manolo Blahnik, Brioni, and Kawasaki, for reinventions of original designs. The connected Bauhaus mood is also in full stride at Paul Smith—the designer’s 2015 check and plaid patterns were influenced by Josef and Anni Albers’ travels to Mexico. Then, in the fall of 2018, the Paul Smith x Anni Albers capsule collection launched knitwear inspired by the artist’s textiles, linking style, creativity, and the cooperative arts vantage.

Technology and the future are prominent Bauhaus themes that are realized in fashion’s futurism. Paco Rabanne has designed with ultramodern plastics and metals since his first collection in 1964, Twelve Experimental Dresses showed his signature chainmail looks. Ahead of Y2K, Alexander McQueen envisioned robotic models—aglow in LED bodysuits—on mirrored runways for Givenchy Fall/Winter 1999. His later namesake collection, Plato’s Atlantis featured models as exotic sea monsters with reptilian scales and armadillo shoes in Spring/Summer 2010, offering an otherworldly take on the future.

Fashion, art, and technology come together in the designs of Hussein Chalayan—noted for inventive, conceptual pieces. Chalayan’s 2007 “transformer dresses” shape shifted with micro-motors adjusting sleeves and hems. Later that year, he created a “video dress” with 15,000 LED lights to display revolving cityscapes. At the same time, Thierry Mugler often embraced the fantastic in forward designs like his motorcycle corset in George Michael’s “Too Funky” video and his otherworldly La Chimère gown for Fall/Winter 1997. These revolutionary fashion moments use technology to forge new style horizons.

Bauhaus influence is fused into much of the fashion that graces contemporary runways. Currents of the arts movement can be traced to designs that are minimal, colorful, collaborative, or progressive. Fashion creators of decades past and present find inspiration in the timeless Bauhaus ideas. In the former century and the next, these principles continue to shape the arts of style and design.

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