Designing Utopia

All beginnings are difficult, and this is also true for fashion. When Emilie Flöge posed in her ‘hanging dresses’ in the summer of 1906 on the Attersee for Gustav Klimt’s camera, Klimt didn’t only photograph ten simple items of clothing he had developed with Flöge. The pictures of
these airy dresses that appeared in the magazine German Art and Decoration, with their neck ruffles and disc-shaped flounces running down the arms, weren’t merely fashionable reform dresses. They document a vision of fashion founded on social upheaval and declare women’s freedom of movement as a concern for fashion.

Today, in the era of ‘anything goes’, fashion visions may look very different but they remain incredibly close to Flöge and Klimt’s commitment to loose silhouettes and clear forms, like Pia Bauernberger’s designs for instance. Her concept of a ‘Character’s Coat’ formally seems reminiscent of ‘tuta’, those simple overalls by the Italian Futurist Ernesto Michahelles (also known as Thayaht) from 1919. His focus a hundred years ago was also convenience, which he wanted to make available to people from all walks of life by means of patterns. The idea of making fashion cuts accessible to everyone was just as visionary, though it had already been credited to Ebeneezer Butterick. He printed the portioning of a man’s suit onto paper in Massachusetts in the nineteenth century. The patterns were all the rage in the US, and before long Butterick set up shop on Broadway. And today? Designer patterns can be searched for and downloaded free from the internet.

For Pia Bauernberger however individual solutions are foregrounded in the formal severity of her designs. She wonders: what would it be like if our clothes were tailored to us, our jobs, our personality, our identity? Soulless retailers would soon be out of a job. Pia Bauernberger designs jackets that suit people because they have been born from their careers. Bauernberger designed the ‘Character’s Coat’ for nine Austrian creatives: a graphic designer, an artist, a restaurateur, a jewellery-maker, a design duo. These modern uniforms fit precisely to both their personal lives and their working lives. The coat for the graphic designer Fabienne from Vienna is based on quadratic elements that suit the linear work of a graphic artist that can be worn both sitting at the computer and in meetings too: notepaper and pen fit in the small, square breast pocket and working tools like an iPad can fit in the larger flap pockets.

Isabel Helf’s visionary accessories made from wood and leather also react to the needs of the modern cosmopolitan. Her collection ‘Portable Compulsion’ translates the demands of city dwellers in cramped living conditions for space-saving objects into accessories. Even if the wooden
components nestle and clamp themselves to your tables, chairs and storage containers, these bags with angular handles and leather pouches have little in common with the Ikea principle ‘create space where there is none’. They are handmade and manufactured from wenge, rosewood, American walnut, brass and leather. On closer inspection, they contain clever storage options for iPads, cables, smartphones and pens. In the future, Helf’s bags will be casts and witnesses of the technological
status quo.
Categorising Roshi Porkar’s fashion is not so easy. Naming individual inspirations isn’t her thing and if you’re looking for one story behind her collection, you won’t find it. Porkar’s mixing and matching – this juxtaposition of various silhouettes, materials, references, the long floral dresses and the fake fur coats – is perhaps precisely what makes her work so contemporary: in the time of social media channels like Instagram where the fashion world is fed with the same never-ending stream of images, no one knows where things originate from. Are
the hands opening a bra that Roshi Porkar depicts on her yellow shirt a reference to Schiapaelli? Sometimes we don’t need to know the answer. Ambiguity can be a lot more exciting.

Dimitrije Gojkovic is similarly difficult to categorise; he chooses against detailed explanations of his work. He plays with a material whose function everyone knows: wool keeps you warm and is ultimately a winter material – this is the assumption anyway. Dimitrije reinvents it. He layers knitwear, mousseline and organza on top of one another;
his collection New Wool thrives on the unfussy coexistence of materials, layers and slits.

Flora Miranda’s aggressively futuristic designs, which seem to have sprung straight out of a classic science fiction fantasy, are something completely different; like Kasimir Malewitsch’s square-edged and angular costumes designed over a hundred years ago for the futuristic opera ‘Victory over the Sun’. Most of fashion’s visions of the future are associated with a shiny metallic surface. There are many examples:
Marty McFly’s silver-grey Nike High-Tops with illuminated text ribbon in Back to the Future. Or Maria’s costume in Metropolis. Or Jane Fonda as the astronaut Barbarella. There’s also André Courrège’s Space Look that he designed in the sixties – inspired by the period’s space exploration – while often using materials like varnish, plastic and PVC
in the manufacturing of his retro-futuristic collection. In contrast, Flora Miranda’s utopia seems quite tangible. Her collection ‘_sidereal_ethereal_immatereal_’ is comprised of horizontally layered, interwoven leather straps. The 3D effect doesn’t detract from her designs: it appears to segment the body of the wearer into stripes.

The clothing of the Utopians, as Thomas More exemplified, contents itself with modesty and is, by the way, pretty closely related to Klimt and Flöge’s visions of fashion:

‘[...] Throughout the island they wear the same sort of clothes without any other distinction, except what is necessary to distinguish the two sexes, and the married and unmarried; these clothes are pleasing to the eye, comfortable for body movements, and particularly suitable for cold and heat’ .
Utopia, Thomas More, 1516

Anne Feldkamp
Journalist, Der Standard