The World Of Design Is Rescuing Fashion, One Collaboration At A Time

08 November 2019
Style, Design, Fashion, Collaboration, Rue Kothari
Image: Illustration: Michael Hoeweler
Rue Kothari on Design For GQ Middle East

Sometimes, I like to personify design as the once-geeky, now-cool kid that everyone wants to be. Other days it’s that career-slash that gets chucked onto the end of every superfluous job to add some much needed credibility, like model-slash-actor or hairdresser-slash-artist (and no, I didn’t make that last one up).

Nowadays when we talk about design, it’s often as it appears at the intersection with another discipline, like Design x Art, or Design x Tech. Everything sounds so much more in vogue with a design suffix, right?

With Fall Fashion Weeks just behind us, there was no shortage of brands dragging the discerning design crowd to the runway. And while they do turn up – admittedly wearing mostly black and sitting quietly at the back – they also spend on beautiful clothes because after all, good design is good design, whatever the object.

Fashion’s need to stay relevant, to continue reinventing, to find ever-new ways of defining itself – and let’s face it, to keep selling stuff – has led to some brilliant diversifications into design. It’s been led by stalwarts Louis Vuitton and Hermès, with their ‘voyager’ lines, taking their heritage of leatherwork and tailoring to create mini-maisons of travel products, or accessories. This was closely followed by Tod’s, Loewe and Versace, all creating concepts that bring their style, emblems and cache into the homes of die-hard fans.

The resulting collections are almost always covetable and highly accessible; veering away from the over-intellectualisation and elitism that weighs down design purists, and making it fun for everyone. If you don’t count the price tag, it all sounds rather democratic, and this, unlike Brexit, is something I’m happy to vote for.

This September, Paris was the setting for an eccentric new collaboration by fashion’s dark queen Anne Demeulemeester with Belgian ceramics brand Serax. Her pared-back approach is weirdly attractive, and a successful first attempt at making beautiful objects. Inspired by her ‘back to basics’ lifestyle, probably brought-on by being jettisoned from her own company, the porcelain plates and cutlery have an organic feel, and are far friendlier and more attainable than a pair of her asymmetric pants. Whatever the essence of this collaboration, it feels artisanal and real.

And then, of course, there are the collaborations that reek of naivety. Hark back to June of this year when Vitra, the iconic Swiss furniture brand, announced their collaboration with Virgil Abloh. Following in the hallowed footsteps of such design legends as Charles and Ray Eames, Verner Panton and Jean Prouvé, the founder of cult label Off-White and artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear had some big, non-streetwear shoes to fill. Clearly an attempt by Vitra to slip onto the most-wanted list for millennial consumers, it wasn’t well received by Vitra fans. Perhaps the McCobb-like chair he designed for IKEA earlier that year had left a stain.

The lesson here is clear. Two brands are not always better than one.

Not so, for the Maison Dior x Dimore Studio collab for Milan Design Week this year – a rare hybrid beast indeed. This was Dior’s first major cooperation with the design world, and they picked well. Dimore are much loved, take a serious approach to their work, yet are clever and playful. Together, they produced a collection of 14 rare metal objects: vases, platters, lighter and ashtray, frames and an umbrella stand (of all things), but presented as pieces of art and uniquely crafted. Rather than push them like a big hitting H&M x Kenzo collection, the launch was soft and the collection available only on special order for a year.

This coming together of great talent is not just a vanity project. Taking a sweeping look at the fashion industry, much of it is in a period of pain, or in flux. Some brands are stepping away, some showing once a year, some not at all. It’s the natural evolution that has tripped up the music and publishing industries, and ultimately will lead to a fashion industry that is perhaps, more conscious, more responsible and more accountable. This x-ing with design is to keep the dream alive, and long may it live. Even at New York’s September shows, there was a nod to design solutions to subvert the huge criticism now being levelled at the wasteful practices of parts of the fashion industry. Some brands gave note to the impact of their shows, using efficient lighting and energy, rented furniture and recyclable decor. It may be tokenistic for now, but, as always, I have high hopes for the future.