Architecture and Fashion: An Interview with Alisa N.

Recently, FORGE Architecture and Design competed and won first place In Haworth’s 5V Immersive Fashion Experience. The winning creation, STRUCTURED VOLUME was inspired by Truebeck Construction’s SF office. We sat down with FORGE Job Captain, Alisa Nadolishny to discuss the work that went into the winning garment, her experience in fashion, and how the team brought their vision to life.

THE CONCEPT: “Combine architecture and fashion by interpreting an architecture or interiors project in the form of a fashion garment”

How did the team decide on Truebeck as inspiration for the garment?
We went through a couple of our projects that we thought would be good contenders, and landed on Truebeck because the design process was very collaborative between our team and the clients. It’s one we always come back to as a touchstone for some of our other interiors work, and it has a really interesting materiality and formal moves that we felt like we could riff on to create a garment. What this [project] had going for it were those gigantic light fixtures. I don’t know what the diameter is, but I am guessing at least 5 to 6 ft. Just these big black hemispheres, and we were looking at the photos and someone on the team was like, “Well, that could just be a skirt,” and that was pretty much the jumping off point. We went from there and looked at some of the other materiality, like the custom herringbone wood paneling on the entry feature wall, which was also repeated in the carpet, so things just started coming together.

From that initial idea, what was the process like developing a design?
We looked at inspiration both in the form of other images of that specific project [Truebeck] to really get into the materiality of it; also the structure of it. The really nice thing about it is that we didn’t try to cover up the beautiful trusses; they were exposed and celebrated, and so we started developing this concept of celebrating craft and highlighting structure as a beautiful component in and of itself.

We also looked at work from fashion designers. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons was a huge inspiration. I have the exhibition catalog from the show of hers that was put on at the costume institute at The Met a couple years back (Art of the In-Between). It was a beautifully designed exhibit, despite all of the people taking selfies in the gallery, and a lot of her work with the female form and kind of playing with stereotypical femininity and then turning it on its head to be more androgynous or subversive was really inspiring. The other main designers we looked at were Alexis Mabille, Balenciaga, Balmain, Dior, Maison Margiela, Kei Ninomiya, and Yohji Yamamoto. And then we looked at all the greats: Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, the big household names.

I understand you constructed and modeled the final garment; have you always been interested in fashion?
I did my undergrad in fine art, but while I was studying, I was also co-running a menswear company. I had a lot of practical experience with fashion design and production. I’m not the most experienced but I do have a sewing machine and a dress form, and I’ve always been very interested in fashion. It’s what I thought I would be when I grew up when I was little, but ended up going into architecture. So, it was a fun way to combine the things that I love. […] Garment design and fashion in general is something that I think I will be involved with forever, probably, one way or another.

What was the most challenging part?
Finding the time to construct it. It was very technical it’s got a crinoline, a petticoat, overskirt, and then this panelized bodice. It was a pretty challenging thing to put together. Definitely the most ambitious garment I’ve ever worked on.

What role did FORGE play in the team’s success?
There was great support [from FORGE]. We had a weekly meeting in the office to go over concept and the construction of the garment and progress on that. The photography was done by Mitch [Tobias], who has done all of our portraits. […] Without a photographer none of this would have happened; I mean, it could have, but it wouldn’t have been as great of a result. And there was just a whole lot of enthusiasm from everyone who was involved and everyone who knew about it. I think everyone was excited we were doing something creative and a little out of the box.

 How did the design process compare to the process used in architecture & interior design?
If you draw a spectrum, fashion is on one end because it’s very fast-paced—like, as soon as one season is in stores, you know those designers are already working on the upcoming collections a year ahead of time, so nothing sticks around for a very long time […] I know some designers are trying to change that, and more power to them, but it’s very, very fast-paced. Interiors is also relatively fast-paced but obviously slower because those spaces are meant to last for at least whatever the term of the lease is—but usually a couple of years. Then architecture is sort of the slowest goat in that race, where the process of design, construction, and the longevity of the end product is at a much longer time scale. So, working at those different time scales is really interesting, but I think also very complementary because architecture is the framework within which interiors and fashion live and exist and influence our lives.

Looking back at the whole experience, what was your favorite part? 
The photoshoot and the runway show were both really fun; creating [the garment] also was rewarding but so much work, but when it all came together in the shoot, and it was a team effort, and everyone was having a good time – that felt awesome. The runway show was the same thing, and we met some really great people from the other teams. It didn’t feel like a competition; we were all kind of just joking about stuff, hanging out backstage.

I’d love to do more stuff like it, it was a fun and fortuitous coincidence that this had to do with fashion and architecture, but I know there’s lots of other competitions out there and we’ve got lots of talented people who would love to participate in those things in the office. I think it’s a great way for us to flex our creative muscles, think outside the box, and just open ourselves up to different types of conversations and different types of ideas rather than just thinking “does this exiting plan meet code?”.

Photos: Mitch Tobias, Andrea Zhou, and Ray Del Fierro 

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