The search for a pertinent and updated definition of fashion leads to the perusal of what architects, designers, philosophers and historians have had to say. The centrality of design remains a clear focal point in the complex relation between clothing and body
The word “design” is so omnipresent in our Italian lives, that we have stopped feeling the need to translate it. The English word design sounds like the Italian word disegno (drawing). Both terms share the same etymon, but while disegno refers to an action that places a mark or an idea on paper, the semantic field of design is not limited to the materiality of pencil and paper. Design means a project, and has no particular tie to the physical making of things (objects, buildings, structures). Rather it refers more to breaking down an idea into its constituent parts, and comprehending its real and potential developments. The route leading from ideation to production and consumption of fashion items follows a design logic that inserts fashion into the disciplines having to do with design. But being a complex system, fashion has its very own way of relating to the idea of design’s variations and forms.
What makes the definition of fashion design unique, or at least gives it a crucial value, is its intrinsic connection to the body. The body is living material. It disobeys. It is subject to the passing of time and the fraught perception we have of ourselves. Fashion is the instrument we have to control the body and render its nature and culture. The first person to consider the relation between clothing and body from a design viewpoint was the architect and designer Bernard Rudofsky. He showed the results of his considerations in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944. The title “Are Clothes Modern?” is a research question, a kind of academic convention required from everyone who embarks on a research project. The answer given by Rudofsky is not simple or immediately comprehensible. The exhibition, a three-dimensional representation of the designer’s thought process, shows that the body is the raw material that the clothes have the task of modifying, for better or worse. They must transport the body’s classical and natural forms into the contemporary instant.
Bernard Rudofsky, “Are clothes modern?”, MoMA, New York, 1944
In a certain sense, when the garment is worn, it is the representation of modernity as an eternally present quality. According to Rudofsky, what transports clothing and bodies into modernity is fashion – with its unreasonableness, contradictions, arbitrariness, cyclicity, incomprehensibility and “profound superficiality”. If we consider the contemporary fashion system as a globally radiating field of forces, one of the virtual focuses that determinates its fluctuations and revolutions is the designer. The designer pinpoints the problems, acts on demands that require answers, and resolves the problems with creativity and intelligence.