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How Architecture and Real Estate Are the Ultimate Muse for Luxury Fashion

When Virgil Abloh unveiled his latest menswear collection for Louis Vuitton at Paris Fashion Week, he went back to his architectural roots. Two pieces went viral on social media. Both were bomber jackets that feature 2d cityscapes of some of the most world’s most iconic locations. If you’re an architect and a fashion fan, it’s a dream come true. We’re going to take a deep dive into how brands like Louis Vuitton are using the commercial real estate industry as their muse.

Paris Fashion Week was different this season because of the pandemic. Louis Vuitton is usually one of the must-see collections of the season, with the front row brimming with fashion editors, influencers, and a-list celebrities. Paris Fashion Week became a series of digital presentations, with each brand offering its own perspective. Louis Vuitton chose to film a traditional runway show without an audience.

The first architecture-inspired piece to walk down the runway was the “Paris Skyline Puffer”. This larger-than-life jacket features skyscrapers to create the illusion of a cityscape. They brought the most recognisable landmarks of Paris to life. Who else could put the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame on a jacket? Even if your dream vacation to Paris is on hold, you can show your love for the City of Lights another way.

The “New York City Skyline Puffer” focuses on New York skyscrapers with a few other cities thrown into the mix. These chosen buildings, including the John Hancock Centre from Virgil Abloh’s hometown of Chicago.

When the photos of the collection appeared on Twitter, Louis Vuitton described it as focusing on “man-made myths”. The brand added that Abloh used “fashion as a tool to change predetermined perceptions of dress codes”. Just like commercial real estate and buildings like those on the New York skyline challenge predetermined ideas, fashion does as well.

Would you make the splurge purchase to buy one of these jackets for the man in your life? Do you think you would steal it from their closet when they aren’t looking? Although the two puffer jackets are part of the menswear collection, they are fairly unisex.

While we wouldn’t recommend trying to wear one of these jackets while riding the subway, they tell us something interesting about where the fashion industry is heading.

It’s perhaps no surprise that Virgil Abloh has a Master’s degree in architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He also has a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can view Abloh’s architectural work on his website to see how it links to his current collection designs.

Virgil Abloh is not the only fashion designer with an education in the world of architecture. Raf Simons has a degree in industrial design and designed for the likes of Dior and Calvin Klein. Simons describes his designing practice as being “innovative construction with an emphasis on shape and form”. Sounds familiar, right?

Architects and fashion designs have many times in common, one of them being their ability to draw inspiration from the world around them. While architects might deal with more dirt than a Creative Director at Louis Vuitton, they have more in common than you’d think. Each has to be innovative and push the boundaries of their industry’s defined norms. The fabrics that designers use are like the building blocks that architects develop for their drawings. Pierre Balmain once said that “dressmaking is the architecture of movement”.

Fashion designers focus on 3d elements in the same way that architects do for commercial real estate. Pleating and layering build a silhouette and shape, just like frames and beams do in a property.

The designing process is similar between the two. There’s the need to focus on the structure by developing a silhouette while establishing its feasibility and practicality.

Louis Vuitton is far from the first fashion brand to use real estate as its muse.

For their Summer 2016, Chloe’s then Creative Director Clare Waight Keller took her inspiration from Arabesque architecture. The interweaving of the stonework design was the muse behind the lacework and patterns for that collection. During the same season, Phillip Lim turned to the portfolio of Luis Barragin, a Mexican architect for his design inspiration. He told Architectural Digest that he was “always drawn to images of his beautiful homes in the suburbs of Mexico City”. Lim interpreted the way Barragin used colour, mixing light and shadows while designing his summer 2016 collection.

Some designers are a little more lowkey with their recreations. For their Spring/Summer 2012 collection, Dolce & Gabbana recreated the stain glass windows of Notre Dame on a black 1920s flapper-inspired dress. They placed the gemstones to represent the positions and colour schemes of Notre Dame’s windows.

Not all brands choose to go back in time with their architectural muses. Balenciaga took inspiration from the Guggeneim Museum in Spain, translating the titanium through their fabric choices. A few years later, Raco Rabanne would use the same building to inspire their Fall 2013 collection, recreating the titanium curve into a long-sleeve tunic with a lighter fabric skirt.

Designers don’t necessarily have to take a literal interpretation of their architectural muses. Not everyone goes to the extremes of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton. Most designers use the hallmark design elements of commercial real estate and famous monuments as inspiration for fabric choices and pattern designs. Milly’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection recreated the distinctive shape of the Zaha Hadid Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku in a white mini dress. The oversized sleeves represented the curves of the building, along with the deep v-neckline.

Even when designers don’t use a specific piece of real estate as their inspiration, you can spot architectural elements in almost every collection. Using structured silhouettes with matters like wiring and different proportions gives fashion a touch of architectural design.

The next time you pick up a copy of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, stop and think as you flick through the glossy pages. You can see architectural elements and inspiration from commercial real estate everywhere you look. It might not be as obvious or ‘in your face’ as some collections we’ve mentioned in this article, but it’s all around us. While architects might deal with a little more dirt, they are often the muses behind the clothes we see on the runway at Paris Fashion Week.

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