This article is not just a review of the recent fashion shows presented in September in New York, London, Milan and Paris. It's an effort at drawing parallels between the fashion and automobile industries. It is a functional piece that examines current trends, yet is inspirational, and hopefully useful, in that it offers a path for the application of such trends in car design, citing (if existing) any past automotive examples with aesthetical similarities to the current trends and suggesting there is more to it than meets the eye.
One of the strongest themes of the latest shows is the use of structural and structured leathers and fabrics, as if they were armours drawn from different eras and cultures. The style is scifi, tribal or fetish, translated into crude oversized shapes, sharp and raw cuts.
The leather chosen by Tom Ford01 is stitched in geometric themes, or otherwise hot fixed without visible seams on large jackets similar to armadillo shells. The structural strength that Herve Leger reserves to his leather corsets, enhanced by zips that create flowing lines of definition, transform the visual and practical function of the material into something new. Leather becomes apparently structural, as in the monolithic interior of the 2007 Citroën C5 Airscape Concept02, or in the thin strips in tension that BMW designed to define the interior of its CS1 Concept back in 2002.
Issey Miyake03 and Gareth Pugh exploit futuristic, metallic and spatial inspirations. The first translates his congenial origami technique in silver leather blades, folded as thin metal sheets that evoke the sharp edges of Frank O'Gehry’s architecture, and the changing surfaces of the 2007 BMW GINA Concept04. The second focuses his creative power on a real deformation of the silhouette thanks to sculptural robot-shapes with high half-moon shoulders and rigid bustier. The lozenge and geometric patter, obtained by stitching or assembling grids of small identical elements such Balmain's black on black leather dresses05, can also be found in the 2013 Kia Provo06's interior – it is interesting how similar the effect is yet how different the function of the object.
There was plenty of tailoring merged with sport, in daring combinations of fluorescent colours and high-tech materials, generally not seen in the fashion world till now. Neoprene, double-knitted nylon, 3D fabrics, PVC, leather patchworks and nineties patterns were the highlights of this trend.
DKNY07, Tommy Hilfiger and Christopher Raeburn work with ultra minimalist shapes, raising functional neoprene to become a distinctive and prominent element within their collections. With squared dresses brightened by colour blocking and front zips that remind scuba suits, pockets, sleeves and necklines in contrast, along with sneakers with micro wedges in electric shades there was a sense of pop-fun style. A similar style has been used in past by the Volkswagen group for its concepts Skoda Joyster08 and Volkswagen up! in 2006/2007, and colours that recall older prototypes like the Italdesign 1974 Hyundai Pony Concept or the Peugeot Proxima of 1987.
Iceberg09 enhances colours by combining white with delicate pastel tones or bright accent hues, and patterns halfway between Memphis' works of the eighties and fractal fantasies of the nineties. The same used in those years in several prototypes, as the Mazda Hr-x210 of 1993, the 1991 Renault Laguna Concept or the 1993 Racoon Concept.
Jil Sander Navy and Band of Outsiders11 propose more neutral-toned grays, whites, blacks and dark blues as solutions on 3D technical fabrics or tightly woven nets. The flash hues, if present, are just details: coulisses or borders - a vision similar to that proposed in the interior of the Mercedes Style Coupé Concept12 last year, inspired by the now iconic Nike Flyknit footwear.
Optical perception of movement and depth. Patterns, thanks to fine transparencies and laser cuts, vary continuously creating changing effects. The semi-transparent layers and perforated fabrics show the colourful lingerie hidden underneath, while different patterns are combined in a contrast of overlays.
In Alexander Wang’s clothes, for example, the laser engraved leather has a linear design, pure and precise. The long fluid dresses by Milly13 are characterized by transparency, showing the fluorescent culottes through plastic nets or 3D textiles. These same transparencies can be seen in the 2010 Iosis Max Concept by Ford, or inside the 2011 Renault Captur Concept14.
Fendi15 and Jil Sander treat the summation these layers in a different ways. Fendi uses building blocks of colour in overlays of voile and organza that superimposed create a degradé of fluorescent pastel tones resulting in something similar that can be found in some examples of Recaro seats of the seventies, and the latest soft-toned interiors of French car manufacturers such as Renault and Citroen16. Jil Sander17 experiments, instead, with a geometric bon ton where fabric strips of black and white first and then tone-on-tone give life to an elegant composition, reminiscent of the graphic and material lines used at the turn of 1980 by Giugiaro in their Megagamma for Lancia, or the transparencies recently used by Mercedes in the 2011 A-Class Concept18.
Baroque but futuristic style, which combines conventional fabrics such as silk, cotton and lace with the more technical and industrial ones like PVC – this trend is colourful, golden, impregnated with brocades, and iridescent. It’s the perfect conjunction between the rococo splendour and a minimal future that remains cheeky in its gold-silver shades, but ironic on its own preciousness.
Dolce&Gabbana19 create clothing midway between sumptuous wallpaper and a catalogue of Piranesi prints. Ruins, therefore, seem to represent the decadence of sumptuousness similar to the "funeral" attitude of the black Louis Vuitton collection (the last of its historical creative director Marc Jacobs), and the same feeling of conscious inadequacy of Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, who realized in 2011 a Renault Twingo20 with an unusable and gilded baroque interior. Ermanno Scevrino and Simone Rocha, instead, immerse black laces in PVC, making them shiny, plastic, embossed, in an operation that seems to have the task of preserving the tradition and its manufacturing craft from the ravages of time.
Dries Van Noten21, Lanvin and Maison Rabin Kayrouz23 have instead chosen a more sober style, made of lightweight and reflective lamé, which lie on the bodies emphasizing the forms without superstructures. Their reflections, silvery or golden, can be compared to just a few examples in the automotive landscape. Two Kia concepts are significant, the only ones to present in metallic leather interior seating upholstery. The first is the Kia N ° 322 of 2009, whose name was a clear homage to the scent of Chanel, and its gold/honey nuance. The second is the Kia 2011 GT Concept, which luxed up the driving position by finishing it with gold leather. And lastly, the wonderful Bertone Lamborghini Marzal Concept24 of 1968, with its hypnotic mirrored interior.
Naturally, fashion has always been reflected in car design, and visa versa, but now more than ever the advent of technology has accelerated the potential for the magic that happens on runways to be integrated more readily into car design. Materials have transition from a state of wonder to a state of production and many of the trends highlighted above may have a permanent post on the inside of our cars in the near future. Stay tuned!
Monomio is a research consultancy of trends, materials, colours, finishes and industrial design products based in Milan, Italy.