The recent Instagram project #MFWP investigates the places of Milano Fashion Week before the pandemic
Sometimes limits become opportunities and offer new chances to see things differently. Currently, the "new normal" of recent fashion weeks are made of bits delivered on screens. However, the city's image crowded with events fashion celebrities – that "old normal" we were used to - fortunately is not faded yet. The recent Instagram project #MFWP – created by the Italian designer and photographer Giuseppe De Francesco – investigates the places of Milano Fashion Week before the pandemic.
Twenty-five beautiful images of historic palaces, churches, cinemas, theaters, castles, or new constructions, deliver the gloomy atmosphere of the "La Dolce Vita" age of fashion shows in Milan. The slideshow – composed of images optimized for Instagram - starts with Trussardi, with its prestigious location of Museo Della Scienza e Della Tecnica – and ends with Dolce & Gabbana with its former Metropol cinema. The other brands' locations span from hundreds-years old venues to ex-industrial warehouses and aeronautical workshops, from modernist and rationalist buildings to contemporary hi-tech structures. All the sites hosted countless events in recent years, creating a synergistic link between fashion and architecture.
"Fashion is architecture: it is a matter of proportions," said Coco Chanel once. Architecture has been for years the favorite scenography for haute couture. Still, architecture prefers to be experienced physically rather than virtually. And the fashion brands are now struggling to find valuable digital alternatives to those buildings that have conveyed their corporate values and traditions for years. "Heterogeneous places characterized by tradition, reinterpretation, and modernity, set up in an evocative way and chosen to convey a unique experience in accordance with the values of the fashion brands," writes Giuseppe De Francesco in his introduction to this project. "A model of use of spaces, based on the rich and varied availability offered by the Milanese architectural fabric, which has proved successful over the years thanks to the experiences of the Salone del Mobile of Milan."
When I think of the relationship between fashion and architecture, the first image that comes to my mind is a photo of architect William Van Alen at the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball in New York. The most famous architects in NYC attended the ballet, wearing costumes inspired by their most esteemed structures. Of course, Van Alen's dress featured his legendary Chrysler Building, and he was the star of the group.
In the last decades, architecture and fashion have often crossed their paths. Sometimes architecture comes first, and fashion brands select old traditional buildings to convey timelessness, classicism, minimalism, solidity, etc. Some other time fashion comes first, and architecture follows, with star architects working to synthesize the fashion brands' values into stores or corporate events. It is the case of Herzog De Meuron with Prada, Curiosity with Versace, or Jun Aoki with Louis Vuitton.
Architecture and fashion are just two different ways to create shelters designed around their proportions of human beings: just working with different scales, materials, and time frames. Both deal with structure, skin, and materials. Both aim to achieve functionality, proportion, and beauty. Architects have to keep the buildings standing, and fashion designers shall design clothes that fit the human body. When we think of architecture, we imagine something heavy, monumental, and eternal. Conversely, fashion evokes in us a feeling of lightness and ephemeral. Nevertheless, it could also happen the reverse. Take, for example, the levity and evanescence of the buildings designed by Kengo Kuma. Or just consider the massive clothes designed by Yuri Pardi. The two disciplines sometimes even share the same creatives, seamlessly switching from one to the other. Some of them started designing buildings and ended wrapping human bodies as they would do with building structures. Pierre Cardin, Tom Ford, Gianni Versace, Pierre Balmain, and Zaha Hadid are poignant examples.
Clothing and architecture reflect the values and the norms of society. Talking about his masterwork, the Glass House, Philip Johnson said: "Sleep here? I could never sleep in this house. That's why I built the guest house." When architecture becomes too selfish, it changes into "Ego-tecture." This is what happened in the 90s when some "archistars" began to design buildings similar to haute couture dresses, often too far away from society's collective needs and savors.
Nevertheless, sometimes egotism is positive. Haute couture is avantgarde and anticipates trends thorough research on materials and technologies. Likewise, ego-tecture paved the way to the innovative visions of architecture and urbanism that we can see today.