Nature offers us the chance to carry out exciting explorations into several geometrical figures and shapes. The complicated structure of nests made by social insects is, for example, particularly intriguing since it is the product of the labour of many thousands of individuals working according to a fixed sequence of simple behaviours and producing an impressive and complex whole. Wasp nests vary indeed in structure, size and raw materials employed, with the genus Polybia being the smallest of paper nest makers.
Remarkable structures found in nature - such as honeycombs - quite often inspired a variety of applications in the creative arts. Frank Stella's irregularly shaped "Etymology (Q 10)" from the Moby Dick Series (1990) is characterised by disparate elements such as sinuous wave-like forms fluently flowing from a nucleus and opening onto other elements - like steel tubing - that expand outward. The piece also includes a thick honeycombed metal structure that seems to be the focal point of the structure.
Fashion has also taken inspiration from these natural shapes and forms: Sarah Burton based Alexander McQueen's Spring/Summer 2013 collection on honeycombed embroideries, prints and organza structures and patterns (matched with headdresses inspired by beekeepers' veils).
Come next Autumn, honeycombs and expandable structures based on geometries will be fashionable once again. Some of the most spectacular examples of these complex structures appeared on the Parisian runways, in particular during Junya Watanabe's catwalk show.
His Autumn/Winter 2015-16 collection started with full inverted cupcake-like skirts and, little by little, it developed through expandable pieces in structured felt-like fabrics, matched at times with lampshade-like headdresses (ideal if you will be staging a recreation of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and you need a chess piece costume...) and cartoonish hairstyles.
Some of separates, outerwear and dresses were based on the Chinese flat paper decorations known as paper gourds that can be opened up to reveal a hidden and more fantastic world of colours and volumes (think about Li Hongbo's sculptures and you get an idea...).
Other garments were characterised by irreverent fabric spikes based on the configuration of an origami fortune teller (make several, then stitch them together one after the next and you will get a rough version of Watanabe's scarves), while the effects of trellis-like packaging cardboard was cleverly reproduced into laser-cut capes, coats, ponchos, and biker jackets.
Variation and dimensionality, transformation, movement and mutability were the key words to unlock this collection characterised by a multi-layered and mille-feuilled aesthetic and revolving around elastic accordion and concertina folds.
Quite a few Japanese designers throughout the years moved from the Japanese tradition of origami to create examples of "flat yet expanding" garments, among them also Hiroaki Ohya, who, as you may remember, created a while back a red polyester film ensemble that could be folded flat or could extend to resemble a beehive.
Watanabe is also not new to these structures and complex pleating systems emerged in many of his designs: in his A/W 2000-01 "Techno Couture" collection there were for example plenty of honeycomb or bell-shaped structures and exaggerated yet ethereal ruffs in blue, yellow and red polyester organdie, but in this collection he focused more on combining wearable and tailored pieces with these striking structures.
The designer played a lot with dichotomies, mixing in a visually striking way in his jackets and coats classic tailoring with expandable structures, and juxtaposing in his crisp white shirts with spiky fabric elements spiralling around the collar area, the elegantly formal and the extravagantly transgressive in a very desirable way.
While nowadays it remains extremely difficult to create something genuinely innovative, uniquely outstanding and cleverly playful at the same time, Watanabe seems to manage to do so almost effortlessly, even though his process of creation can only derive from long researches into multiple sources and disciplines.
It is possible to detect in this collection a series of inspirations including tailoring and sculpting, but also history (some of the honeycombed necklines looked like modern versions of Elizabethan ruffs recreated in bright shades of red, purple or pink), nature, interior design and architecture.
The latter was also mixed with mathematics, algorithms (during the show, the models seemed to have mathematical equations scribbled on their skin...) and fractals.
Looking at Watanabe's designs it is almost impossible not to make comparisons and links with convincing expandable architectural structures such as Wing Yi Hui and Lap Ming Wong's experimental "Wood Morphogenesis" project (2010) that balanced control with the natural response of wood capacities.
At the same time it is also quite easy to think about these designs in connection with the researches on fractals and on explosive multiplication of fractal constructions and dimensions by Polish-born French mathematician Benoit B. Mandelbrot, or with principles such as multiplicity of alternative definitions of dimension, and negative dimensions conceived as measures of the notion of quantitative measure of emptiness.
As they force the wearer to establish a new relationship with the space surrounding her, Watanabe's expandable designs can be filed under the "conceptual" category, but they remain at the same time wearable.
The designs are also the tangible proof that there are very few innovations in contemporary fashion and those designers introducing them are mainly working on the technical aspects of a garment and, more specifically, on the pattern-making, while carrying out also a few experiments with fabrics and textiles.
Fashionistas interested in the honeycomb may also want to check out This Is the Uniform's A/W 2015 collection that features see-through organza tracksuits with infinitely less complex structures than Watanabe's.
Fashion fans with a passion for themes such as static and dynamic forces, mass and volumes and contrasting principles such as the stiff/flexible dichotomy, should instead opt for Issey Miyake's A/W 2015-16 womenswear collection.
Entitled "Colorscope", this collection by Creative Director Yoshiyuki Miyamae features many garments made with experimental fabrics and characterised by geometrical motifs (geometry was also employed as the main inspiration for the show invitation - a circle that folded into a rectangle).
In some of the separates included in the collection yellow, red, purple, aquamarine and blue shades seemed to be trapped in a black honeycomb structure. The solution behind this mysterious effect is once again based on mathematical equations and on the 3-D Steam Stretch technology.
Unveiled in the Autumn/Winter 2014 collection, this innovative technique allows to incorporate in advance creases into a design.
Applying steam to the cloth, the fabric is given more volume and in this way it becomes easier to create expansive cloud-like pieces (see this video to discover more about this technique).
The collection also features designs in a polyhedral textile with a 3-D star pattern inspired by snow crystals that produce an abstract quality when applied to different shades of dark tones such as grey, or call to mind Dutch wax fabrics in their yellow, blue, pink, red and purple versions.
One very last touch in this geometrical collection was added at the very end of the catwalk show with several models wearing mesh body stockings and what looked like mini-skirts or large fabric belts that unfurled into ample skirts covered in multi-coloured geometrical patterns and multiplicative fractals. It looks like next Autumn some of us won't be just thinking about complex geometric concepts, but we'll also be wearing them.
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