As featured on: The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation
Bandannas have been popular presidential campaign items since at least the 1840s. While wealthy, urban gentlemen sported neatly folded linen or silk handkerchiefs, farmers and blue-collar workers preferred to carry colorful cotton bandannas like this one. They dangled them from the hip pockets of their overalls or the front pockets of their frock coats worn to church on Sunday. At political parades and rallies, they would whip them out to twirl them by hand or swing them from atop a pole. They also used them to decorate front porches and even flew them from buggy whips while traveling by horse and carriage.
This bright red bandanna was created by the National Kerchief Company for Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential campaign of 1912. Roosevelt had assumed the Presidency in 1901 after the tragic assassination of President William McKinley and he was re-elected in a landslide in 1904. But he declared that he was not running for re-election in 1908 and, instead, backed his close friend and Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. Although Roosevelt’s backing helped Taft win the 1908 election, Taft became increasingly conservative and lacked Roosevelt’s energy, personal magnetism, and public support. Roosevelt’s own disenchantment with Taft finally convinced him to oppose him in the 1912 election. When Republican Party leaders decided to nominate Taft, Roosevelt organized his own party—the Progressive Party.
The rich imagery on this bandanna was intended to be an emotional appeal to voters, reminding them of how much Roosevelt had endeared himself to them a decade ago. First, the hat in the center of the bandanna symbolizes Roosevelt’s decision to run for President after a hiatus of four years, by proclaiming “My hat is in the ring.” But this is not just any hat. It is a slouch hat, a wide-brimmed felt hat that was commonly worn by the U.S. military since the Civil War and was still popular among cowboys and other Westerners. One side of the brim was often pinned up, allowing wearers to sling a rifle over their shoulder. This, in fact, was the type of hat that Roosevelt had made famous as he heroically led the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War in 1898.
Teddy Roosevelt’s initials printed around the outside of the hat were designed to look like a cattle brand, evoking Roosevelt’s ranching years in the Dakota Territory during the 1880s. During that time, he developed a love for the West, for cowboy life, for vigorous exercise, and for nature—all passions he brought to the White House and instilled in the American public during his Presidency.
Around the outer edge of the bandanna appears the caricatured image of Roosevelt himself, immediately recognizable through the slouch hat, spectacles, and mustache. The bandanna he is wearing was also a part of his Rough Rider uniform. Bandannas, in fact, became an iconic part of every Rough Rider’s uniform, popularized by the Western cowboys who joined Roosevelt’s volunteer cavalry and then embraced by everyone—even the high-falutin’ Eastern college men and intellectuals who were Roosevelt’s friends. Teddy Roosevelt himself had worn a blue bandanna with white polka dots with his custom-made khaki Rough Rider uniform. This likely accounts for the polka-dot background on the bandanna’s outer edge.
When Roosevelt joined the 1912 Presidential race, his run for re-election would prove to be the most impressive and exciting third party candidacy in American political history. In the end, however, the Roosevelt-Taft split in Republican votes opened the door for Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the election.
A bandanna full of symbols, in itself a symbol of Teddy Roosevelt—the Rough Rider, the hero, the cowboy, the everyman. It is a wonderful example of an object whose symbolic references people understood at the time and whose playful design can still delight us today.
Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life, enjoyed delving deeper into the symbolism behind her favorite Presidential campaign item in The Henry Ford’s collection.
When Charles Sable, curator of decorative arts, was tasked with updating The Henry Ford's American glass collection, he accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. He envisioned creating an all-new gallery on the grounds of The Henry Ford, a place to exhibit portions of the institution's 10,000 glass artifacts currently in storage.
The gallery would also give him a strong talking point with Bruce and Ann Bachmann, private collectors of one of the most important Studio Glass collections. According to Sable, the Studio Glass Movement, which originated in the early 1960s, is recognized as a turning point in the history of glass as artists explored the qualities of of the medium in a studio environment. Their goal was to create fine art, in place of craft or mass produced objects.
While other museums were interested in the Bachmann Collection, it was The Henry Ford that garnered their full attention. "The Bachmanns had very specific criteria for their collection," said Sable. "They were looking for an institution that was in an urban area, preferably in the Midwest where they live, had a large visitation, and was capable of exhibiting and maintaining the collection."
After years of hard work, The Henry Ford recently added the Bachmann glass collection to its Archive of American Innovation. "As Bruce [Bachmann] told me, it was a good marriage," noted Sable of the donation. "He felt his collection would live here in perpetuity."
This month, the story of the Studio Glass Movement becomes a permanent exhibit in Henry Ford Museum with the opening of the Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery. "Our exhibit is a deep dive into how Studio Glass unfolded," said Sable. "It's the story of the combination of science and art that created a new and innovative chapter in the history of glass. As a history museum we look at the impact of Studio Glass on everyday life – we will include a section on mass-produced glass influenced by Studio Glass, but sold by retailers such as Crate and Barrel, Pier 1 Imports and others."
With donor support and fundraising, Sable's vision for an all-new glass gallery in Greenfield Village is also a reality. The Gallery of American Glass will open in the Liberty Craftworks District in spring 2017, giving thousands of visitors the opportunity to see the artistry and evolution of American glass through artifacts, digitized images and interactive displays.
Did You Know? The Bruce and Ann Bachmann Studio Glass Collection numbers approximately 300 pieces, with representation of every artist of importance, including Paul Stankard, Harvey Littleton and Toots Zynsky.
The all-new Gallery of American Glass is a careful redesign of the McDonald & Sons Machine Shop in Greenfield Village's Liberty Craftworks District. The Davidson-Gerson Modern Glass Gallery in Henry Ford Museum is located in the hall that once displayed the sliver and pewter collection.
Over the first half of the 20th century, many automakers focused their efforts on making cars more reliable, more comfortable and more powerful. Safety was a lesser concern. There were exceptions – laminated windshield glass, which didn’t break into sharp pieces, was in use by the late 1920s – but conventional wisdom held that safety didn’t sell. Customers wanted their cars to be faster, not safer.
By the 1950s, that attitude began to change. Cars were certainly faster by then, but they also had roads to accommodate the higher speeds. State-built turnpikes and Federally-funded Interstates had drivers zipping along at 75 miles per hour, and the booming postwar economy put more Americans behind the wheel each year. It’s little wonder that more drivers traveling at faster speeds led to a rise in accidents. By 1950, some 35,000 people were dying in auto accidents each year. Faculty members at Cornell University and officials at Liberty Mutual insurance took notice. In 1951, the two institutions teamed up to research a simple question: What causes injuries in automobile accidents?
Steering wheels and sharp edges could be lethal. (THF103543)
America’s highways became a laboratory, and police officers and emergency room doctors became research assistants. By carefully studying accident reports and medical records from around the country, the Cornell-Liberty team made several key discoveries. Car doors were a weak spot. Too often in an accident, a door was smashed open and one or more of the occupants was thrown from the vehicle. Furthermore, the team discovered that someone thrown from a car was more than twice as likely to receive serious injury. They learned that back seat passengers were three times safer than those in the front during a crash.
Researchers determined that the head was the most frequently injured part of the body, and that one in ten victims received a facial disfigurement. Contrary to popular belief at the time, the steering wheel provided no extra protection to the driver. Indeed, the wheel was often a cause of injury, being pushed into a driver’s chest during a crash. What’s more, control knobs, window frames and decorative ornaments often maimed accident victims.
Bucket seats cradle passengers while seat belts keep them secure. (THF90862)
The Cornell-Liberty team put its findings into practice by building a concept car that reduced or eliminated many of these dangers. Working from a 1956 Ford Fairlane, the team produced a car incorporating more than 60 protective features. In effect, they thought of their car like a giant egg carton designed to keep its fragile contents secure. The safety car’s accordion-style doors latched in three places, keeping them closed in a crash. Its bumper wrapped completely around the vehicle, protecting in low-speed accidents. Seat belts were prominent. Head restraints prevented whiplash injuries. The steering wheel and column were replaced by a pair of control handles. The dashboard, like other interior surfaces, was padded. Door handles were recessed. Unnecessary badges and baubles were removed.
The dashboard is uncluttered and the gauges are easy to read. (THF90865)
The best way to survive an accident is to avoid one, so the Cornell-Liberty team took driver visibility and distraction into account. The panoramic windshield – cleaned by five wipers – gave the driver an unobstructed view (as did the driver’s position, in the middle of the car rather than on the left side). Controls were kept to a minimum, and the oversized speedometer dial and gauges were placed directly below the driver’s sightline. The fuel gauge even had a “low level” indicator – something of a novelty in 1957. Indeed, the Cornell-Liberty team seemed to have anticipated every possible distraction; contemporary press reports noted that the offset front seats discouraged “necking while driving.”
Neither Cornell nor Liberty Mutual had any plans to manufacture or sell safety cars, of course. Instead, they hoped that their project would bring more attention to crash protection from the public and – more to the point – from automakers. A decade later, after some additional prodding from Ralph Nader and new government regulations, safety was an established priority in Detroit. And while the car you drive today may not have five windshield wipers or handlebar steering, it’s certainly got a bit of the 1957 Liberty-Cornell Safety Car inside.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
The attendees are members of the Presidential Commission on the Development of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. From left, they are: Dr. Robert Wright, commission Chairman; Renee Amoore; Vicky Bailey; Andrew McLemore, Jr.; Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.; Senator Rick Santorum, R-Penn.; Michael Lomax; Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.; Harold Skramstad, Jr.; Barbara Franco; Robert Wilkins; Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; Cicely Tyson; Lerone Bennett, Jr.; Congressman John Larson, D-Conn.; Eric Sexton; Claudine Brown; Larry Small, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; Currie Ballard. White House photo by Paul Morse.
We celebrate a new national museum for the citizens of the United States – the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The idea of a national museum for African Americans started 100 years ago when black Civil War veterans announced their intentions in Washington D.C. to create a building on the Mall that would commemorate the deeds, struggles and contributions of Black Americans for the advancement of our nation. In 1929, the same year Henry Ford opened his museum complex in Dearborn, Michigan, President Herbert Hoover appointed a commission to study the idea of establishing an African American museum. However, the commission languished and was eventually dissolved 15 years later.
The Civil War veterans’ dream to commemorate the history and culture of African Americans was revived by civil rights icon and U. S. Representative John Lewis, who knows about perseverance and leadership through his many key roles in the 1960s American Civil Rights Movement. For 15 years, Representative Lewis co-sponsored and reintroduced legislation annually to establish a national museum to preserve and present African American history and culture. The museum bill finally passed in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and, on December 16, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the National Museum of African American History and Culture Act authorizing the creation of the new Smithsonian Institution museum. John Lewis attended the presidential bill signing ceremony along with members of the African American Presidential Commission, including The Henry Ford’s President Emeritus Harold Skramstad.
In July 2005, Lonnie Bunch was appointed as the founding Executive Director to lead the establishment of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mr. Bunch’s vision is that the stories, objects and lives presented in the museum will “make America better.” On September 24, 2016, the museum opened to the public with a dedication ceremony led by President Barack Obama. Our new national museum enables current and future generations to engage in their history at an institution destined to, as Mr. Bunch hopes, “make America better.”
Christian W. Overland is Executive Vice President of The Henry Ford.
As part of our continuing partnership with Google Arts & Culture, we are excited to announce the September 13, 2016, launch of “Natural History,” our third themed release on the platform! This is an interactive, dynamic and immersive discovery experience covering the diversity and fragility of nature, featuring over 170 online exhibits and 300,000 artifacts from dozens of cultural heritage institutions. You might wonder why The Henry Ford is included in this release, alongside some of the world’s most esteemed natural history museums. The answer is that though natural history is not a collecting focus for us, the stories we tell of American innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness often intertwine with the flora and fauna around us—in fact, many of our stories cannot be told without careful consideration of the environment in which they transpired.
Our participation in the release includes three online exhibits telling such stories. “The Many Facets of John Burroughs” tells the story of the famed naturalist and author who became close friends with Henry Ford in his later life. The challenges faced by Henry Ford’s rubber-growing venture along the Amazon River in Brazil from the 1920s through the 1940s are explored in “Fordlandia.” And last, “Yellowstone, America’s First National Park” chronicles the development of this attempt to share America’s natural wonders with the masses—even before the birth of the National Park Service.
Our presence also includes close to 300 individual artifacts from our collections. These include objects related to each of our exhibit themes, but also significant individual artifacts such as John Muir’s pocket compass, two science texts used by the Wright Brothers and their family, and George Washington Carver’s microscope. In addition, we were very pleased to discover during our research for this project three shadowboxes of seashells collected by legendary innovator Thomas Edison in Fort Myers, Florida, an unexpected find we documented earlier this year on our blog. Prints (including several each by John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson), photographs, and other items highlighting the natural world round out our participation.
Visit g.co/naturalhistory to check out all the exhibits and artifacts within this brand new Natural History experience.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
What did you do this summer? Earlier this summer, winners of our 2015-16 Building Stories student creative contest visited Henry Ford Museum to tour the exhibit With Liberty and Justice for All. They had photos taken on the Rosa Parks Bus, a fitting memento of their hard work writing poignant stories on Rosa Parks, one of our nation’s most impactful social innovators. Please enjoy the story written by our grand prize winner, Yani Li, here.
From left: Teacher Dr. Melissa Collins, Elementary First Prize Winner Isaiah Watkins, Middle School First Prize Winner Sarah Ellis, High School First Prize and Overall Winner Yani Li, and teacher Julie Ellis.
While the Building Stories contest has been cancelled moving forward so that The Henry Ford can reconsider its contest offerings, we encourage teachers to make use of the primary source “foundational materials” developed for Building Stories.
Catherine Tuczek is Curator of School & Public Learning at The Henry Ford.
Maureen Foelkl is one of this year's Teacher Innovator Award winners. She shared her thoughts about her experience here at The Henry Ford; take a look here to see the rest of this year's winners.
From the moment I spied the entrance gates to Th Henry Ford it reminded me of Disneyland as a child. The anticipation of the innovative educators’ experience was coming to fruition. The Henry Fod's Frederick Rubin and Phil Grumm greeted the innovative teacher group with a warm welcome and an introduction to our week.
Our days were thoughtfully planned. We began the experience interacting with modern day creators at Maker Faire Detroit. We were given the privilege of awarding blue ribbons to makers we believe captured the true innovative spirit. There were many creative ideas that it made it virtually impossible to isolate just two blue ribbon winners.
I was personally inspired by a 12-year-old maker that had taken used clothing and converted the rags into costumes that young adults stylishly wore. He started his own YouTube channel to show others how they could create their own woven masterpieces. The maker ribbon was his true inspiration to continue his own innovative creations. As an educator, this is what I value. An avenue to make students feel valued and successful.
The team from The Henry Ford is a phenomenal group of leaders that made the Teacher Innovator award meaningful. Cynthia Jones, Marc Greuther, Catherine Tuczek, Ben Seymour, Ryan Spencer, along with the most pleasant and helpful group of employees contributed to the positive experience at the museum. I now have nine additional educators I feel connected to for future inspirational teaching lessons.
I am creating an E-STEM unit of study for outdoor school. The Henry Ford's website will be invaluable as I begin to generate meaningful lessons. One of my lessons, on John Muir the expert navigator will expose students to the history of direction. Young navigators will learn to use a compass. I will have students take a brief overview from and research the history of the compass. For me, the lesson comes to life because I was fortunate to have a behind the scenes tour of the archives. Standing inches away from this compass allows me to tell a story behind the piece. I will share the knowledge to the next generation of learners in hope that they too will become explorers of their world.
The 2016 Teacher Innovator Award Winners: Far Back: Scott Weiler. From Left to right: Fabian Reid, Catherine Turso, George Hademenos, Jill Badalamenti, Cindy Lewis, Leon Tynes, Tracie Adams, Maureen Foelkl. (Unable to attend: Jessica Klass)
I highly encourage teachers to visit Henry Ford Museum and take time to introduce your students to the world of innovation via their website to inspire the creativity in teaching and learning.
Maureen Foelkl is a Teacher Innovator Award Winner at The Henry Ford and is a teacher at Chapman Hill Elementary in Salem, Oregon.
Greenfield Village and you can’t help but notice the clothing. From the colonialera linen garments worn by the Daggett Farmhouse staff as they go about their daily chores to the 1920s flapperstyle dresses donned by the village singers, or even the protective clothing worn by the pottery shop staff in the Liberty Craftworks district — all outfits in Greenfield Village are designed to add to the guest experience. In many cases, these tangible elements help accurately showcase the time period being interpreted.
“Clothing is such a big part of history,” said Tracy Donohue, general manager of The Henry Ford’s Clothing Studio, which creates most of The Henry Ford’s reproduction apparel and textiles for daily programs as well as seasonal events. “It’s a huge part of how we live even today. The period clothing we provide helps bring to life the stories we tell in the village and enhances the experience for our visitors.”
The Clothing Studio is tucked away on the second floor of Lovett Hall. It provides clothing for nearly 800 people a year in accurate period garments, costumes and uniforms, and covers more than 250 years of fashion — from 1760 to the present day — making the studio one of the premier museum period clothing and costume shops in the country.
The scope and flow of work in the studio is immense, from outfitting staff and presenters for the everyday to clothing hundreds for extra seasonal programs such as Historic Base Ball, Hallowe’en and Holiday Nights. Work on the April opening of Greenfield Village, for example, begins before the Holiday Nights program ends in December, with the sewing of hundreds of stock garments and accessories in preparation for hundreds of fitting sessions for new and current employees.
“When it comes to historic clothing, our goal is to create garments accurate to the period — what our research indicates people in that time and place wore,” said Donohue. “For our group, planning for Hallowe’en is an especially fun challenge. We have more creative license with costumes for this event than we typically do with our daily period clothing.”
For Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village, the studio staff researches new characters and can work on the design and development for more elaborate wearables for months. In addition to new costume creation, each year existing outfits are refreshed and/or reinvented. Last year, for example, the studio added the Queen of Hearts, Opera Clown and a number of other new characters to the Hallowe’en catalog. Plus, they freshened the look of the beloved dancing skeletons and the popular pirates.
Historic clothing, period photographs, prints, trade catalogs and magazines from the Archive of American Innovation provide a wealth of on-site resources to explore the styles, clothing construction and fabrics worn by people decades or centuries ago. Each year, Jeanine Head Miller, curator of domestic life, and Fran Faile, textile conservator, host the studio’s talented staff for a field trip to the collections storage area for an up-close look at original clothing from a variety of time periods.
“Getting the details right really matters,” Miller said. “Clothing is part of the powerful immersive experience we provide in Greenfield Village. Having people in accurate period clothing in the homes and the buildings helps our visitors understand and immerse themselves in the past, and think about how it connects to their own lives today.”
Did You Know? The Clothing Studio has a comprehensive computerized inventory management system, which tracks close to 50,000 items.
During each night of Hallowe’en, Clothing Studio staff are on call, checking on costumed presenters throughout the evening to ensure they look their best.
What They're Wearing Under There At Greenfield Village, costume accuracy goes well beyond what’s on the surface. Depending on the time period they’re interpreting, women may also wear chemises, corsets and stays.
“Our presenters have a lot of pride in wearing the clothing and wearing it correctly,” said Donohue.
While the undergarments function in the service of historic accuracy, corsets also provide back support and chemises help absorb sweat. Natural fibers in cotton fabrics breathe, so they’re often cooler to wear than modern-day synthetic fabrics. And when the weather runs to extreme cold conditions, layers of period-appropriate outerwear help keep village staff warm. The staff at the Clothing Studio also sometimes turns to a few of today’s tricks to keep staff comfortable. Wind- and water-resistant performance fabrications are often built into Hallowe’en costumes to offer a level of protection from outdoor elements.
“It can be 100 degrees in the summer and 10 degrees on a cold Holiday Night,” Donohue said. “Our staff is out in the elements, and they still have to look amazing. We care about the look and overall visual appearance of the outfit, of course, but we also care about the person wearing it.”
From The Henry Ford Magazine. This story originally ran in the June-December 2016 issue.
Seventeen Ford GT cars pose for a group portrait on Pebble Beach’s 18th fairway. P/1046, which finished first at Le Mans 50 years ago, leads the pack.
It’s a big year for Ford Motor Company’s iconic GT40 race car. Fifty years ago, New Zealander drivers Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren realized Henry Ford II’s ambitious goal to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, while two other GT40s took second and third place. This year, in a bold move, Ford returned to Le Mans with the all-new GT and, in fairy tale fashion, won its class 50 years to the day after the Amon/McLaren victory. Meanwhile, demand for the forthcoming street version of the new GT is so great that Ford just announced it’ll be adding two more production years to the supercar’s limited run. What better time, then, to celebrate the GT40 at the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance?
Three cars representing four years of consecutive Le Mans victories: Our Mark IV J-5 (1967), P/1075 (1968-69), and P/1046 (1966). Private owners and museums around the world answered the call from Pebble Beach organizers. On August 21, they filled the 18th fairway with what might have been the most impressive collection of Ford GT cars ever assembled outside of the Circuit de la Sarthe. No fewer than 17 GT40s and GT40 variants made the trip to California, and it seemed that every important car was there. There was chassis P/1046, the GT40 Mark II that Amon and McLaren drove to victory in 1966. Freshly – and brilliantly – restored to its race day appearance, the car took “Best in Class” honors from the Pebble Beach judges. Alongside it were 1966’s second and third place cars driven by Ken Miles and Denny Hulme, and Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson, respectively.
GT40 P/1015 won the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona with Ken Miles and Lloyd Ruby. Four months later, it finished second at Le Mans with Miles and Denny Hulme.
Le Mans winners from other years were present, too. Our Mark IV chassis J-5, of course, won in 1967 with Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt sharing the driver duties. Then there was chassis P/1075, the GT40 Mark I that won Le Mans twice in a row, with drivers Lucien Bianchi and Pedro Rodriguez in 1968, and with Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver in 1969. Ford Motor Company itself pulled out of Le Mans after 1967, but privateer John Wyer did the GT40 proud with those back-to-back victories.
From Switzerland came this replica of GT/101, the very first GT40, which turned heads at the 1964 New York Auto Show.
Le Mans wasn’t the only race represented at Pebble Beach. Mark IV chassis J-4, which won the 1967 12 Hours of Sebring with Bruce McLaren and Mario Andretti at the wheel, was there on the fairway. So was GT40 P/1074, the Mirage variant which took first place at Belgium’s Spa 1000-kilometer race in 1968 with Jacky Ickx and Dick Thompson. The collection was rounded out with a replica of GT/101, the first-ever GT40, and the prototype 1967 GT40 Mark III that modified the track racer into a more civilized street machine.
The rare GT40 Mark III. Just seven of these refined road cars were ever built. To put the icing on the cake, the GT40 also featured on this year’s official concours poster. The painting, by noted automotive artist Ken Eberts, features the 1966 trio of 1-2-3 finish cars posed in front of the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Behind the cars stand Carroll Shelby, Henry Ford II and Edsel Ford II. (The younger Mr. Ford not only witnessed the 1966 victory with his father, he was also at Le Mans this year for the 2016 win.)
This year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans of the GT40. We were honored to participate with the Mark IV, and we look forward to watching the next chapter of GT history unfold with Ford Performance’s new generation of cars.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
More often than not, these two disciplines and the artists that practice them go hand in hand
When the founders of Kate Spade decided in 2015 that they wanted to once again make a go of the accessories business, they decided that their new label, called Frances Valentine, would consist primarily of shoes instead of handbags (which was the thing they originally became famous for in the early 1990s).
The handbag market is crowded enough, they said, so rather than offer dozens of pocketbooks, they whipped up just a few easy-to-carry totes and a broad range of footwear, including everything from casual sneakers to sky-high stilettos.
No matter what category they’re chasing, designers Andy Spade and Kate Valentine — who changed her surname in order to create a delineation between the real person and the still-active brand — will always favor clean lines mixed with artful graphic flourishes. That’s why the collection’s pièce de résistance is a chunky geodesic heel that makes an appearance in the designer’s spring collection under a strappy sandal and, in the fall, a sharp Chelsea boot. The heel was inspired by American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, whose futuristic domes can be found everywhere from Russell Township, Ohio, to Montreal, Québec.
It’s a novel interpretation, but hardly an unexpected one. “Fashion is architecture,” Coco Chanel once said. “It is a matter of proportions.”
BODY OR BUILDING Indeed, fashion and accessories designers have long applied the principles of architecture to their chosen medium. There are endless examples of the two intermingling. What they have in common is functionality. Unlike art, which often has no end use other than contemplation, architecture and fashion both serve a purpose. The precision required to erect a building or some other sort of edifice is an inspiration for designers, who must often bring structure to a material that lacks form.
It’s no surprise that several of fashion history’s greatest practiced or at least studied architecture before learning to drape a dress. Tom Ford was an undergrad at Parsons Paris (a branch campus of New York’s esteemed The New School) when his eye began to stray from the monumental toward the sartorial. Legendary Italian designer Gianni Versace studied architectural drafting while moonlighting as a buyer for his mother’s clothing store in southern Italy. Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre, who earned a degree in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic Institute, began his fashion career designing accessories, a process that is often more in line with that of his intended profession — perhaps because it requires the eye of an industrial designer.
Dubbed “the architect of fashion,” Ferre went on to lead the House of Dior from 1989 to 1996. His most notable contribution to fashion, however, is his white shirt iterations. (A garment that requires plenty of engineering to get right.)
Becca McCharen, the Brooklynbased designer behind Chromat, has used the foundations of her architecture degree from the University of Virginia to build an unorthodox fashion label. “Architecture school taught me how to approach a design project,” she said. “It is my full reference on how to design.”
Without any formal fashion training, McCharen treats each garment as if it’s a building. “I think of the body as a building site,” she continued. “Just as you’d be looking at materials and the map of a site before you start plans, we’re looking at context, too. Joints and the movement of the joints all around the place we’re designing for.”
The designer, best known for the cage-like structures she molds to the body, also uses her electrical engineering know-how to wire garments so that they are illuminated in an enticing, not hokey, way.
A MUTUAL ADMIRATION It might be the minimalists, many of whom are not trained architects, who take the practice’s theories most wholeheartedly.
Cuban-born American designer Narciso Rodriguez wanted to be an architect before he became a fashion designer, and the exacting lines of his clothing reflect that. “Architecture is always one of the foundations for me,” he once told The New York Times. The New York-based designer’s favorite buildings include resident treasures such as the Seagram, Empire State and Chrysler buildings.
The Turkish-born, London-based designer Hussein Chalayan has been known to draw more directly from the well of home design, crafting a skirt out of a coffee table and creating a dress that functions as a chair. Or there is Los Angeles-based designer (and former architect) Airi Isoda, whose company is called wrk-shp. She has taken to dipping clutches in latex house paint and coats in concrete.
Isoda, who studied architecture at the University of Southern California, has said the exhibit Skin & Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion & Architecture at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles was a lightbulb moment. “It was the first time I saw fashion in a new light — conceptual and architecture for the body,” Isoda told the website Archinect. “Viewing an elaborately draped dress with folds similar to a façade of a building I studied in school … it was just an eye-opening experience because I saw intellectual fashion, past its somewhat superficial and superfluous nature.”
Isoda went on to study fashion design; wrk-shp is a culmination of her multiple disciplines. The company designs clothing and accessories, lighting, objects and buildings in Los Angeles and beyond. In fact, the buildings of Japanese architect Toyo Ito inspired Isoda’s latest apparel collection. In particular, his “lily pad” columns have informed her silhouettes and pocket details.
It’s important to note that the relationship between fashion and architecture is one of mutual admiration. “Starchitects” are often commissioned to design clothing and accessories. For instance, architect Zaha Hadid was almost as well known for her honeycomb-lattice jewelry as she was for erecting the Guangzhou Opera House. Before her death in 2016, she had also collaborated with the shoe label United Nude, as has Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.
But many of the most important fashion and architecture collaborations have nothing to do with actual clothes. Consider the ongoing partnership between Koolhaas and Prada. He has designed several retail stores for the Italian brand and also collaborates with its leader, Miuccia Prada, on collection visuals. The relationship between these two — underscored in the skate-park-like Prada store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, which still impresses 15 years after it opened — has served as an example for many. Like Prada’s clothes, Koolhaas’ concepts remain interesting years, and even decades, after they are conceived.
Making things that last, not just structurally but also intellectually, is the greatest challenge for both architects and fashion designers. Perhaps the fact that clothing and buildings are both rooted in need first and desire second best explains why these two worlds cannot be uncoupled from one another.