About Time: Redressing the Runway



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The fashion industry remains one of the most profitable and significant markets of the global economy. The eminence of the industry often overshadows its own negative impacts that play a role in the social and environmental well-being of the ecosystem. The terms, “back of house” and “front of house” are used in this investigation to indicate the fashion production process the everyday consumer does not see, and the point of sale retail environment that the consumer experiences, respectively. “Back of house” operations such as the exploitation of natural resources and workers, and the production of contamination and pollution, are asked by the extravaganza and glamour of the “front of house.” The selected “front of house” design precedent for exploration and deconstruction is the fashion runway, which displays an idealized image of  commodity. Created for the intention of desire and spectacle, runway shows encourage consumption and even overconsumption, employing allure to conceal the ugly reality of the industry. The architectural design in this thesis incorporates semi-transparent fabric as a front-of-house set design element to tell a narrative on the back-of-house of the fashion industry. As a way to communicate flow, movement, excess, contamination, and suffocation of the industry, the fabric set design transforms with a modeled choreography throughout the duration of the show. The choreography is designed after the movement of workers in the supply chain in order to convey the toll that labor takes on the body. The runway is sited in the fashion capital of Milan, Italy, due to its prestige and history of manufacturing and craftsmanship. The runway show is divided into three acts: (1) Construction, (2) Consumption, and (3) Deconstruction. Within the three acts, the circulatory relationship between the audience and the models changes, as a way to change the perspective of the audience to reveal their influence within the fashion cycle.  Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project and Guy Debord's The Society of the Spectacle offer philosophical sources in the development of the thesis objective and design. Benjamin's work investigates architecture in its development to host the uprising of modern consumption in nineteenth-century Paris, more specifically, the arch as a symbol and fetishization of commodified goods and experiences (3). He specifies the series of arches as a designed “dreamworld” that cloaks the realities of capitalism (13). Benjamin’s proposal of “dialectical images” suggests that by collaging the past and present into a single moment, its contradictions become apparent (462). Within the runway design, the back of house acts as the “past,” while the front of house acts as the “present,” coming together to uncover the beauty and ugly of the fashion industry. Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle expands upon Benjamin's criticism on consumer culture, where Dubord proposes that everything that was once living has now become mere age reproduction (2). “Spectacle” as defined by Debord is “the autonomous movement of the non-living,” which influences and arbitrates relationships and perceptions amongst humans (2). Furthermore, Debord cites the method of “détournement” as a way to subvert existing mass media images to generate new criticism (8). The use of depicting Milan’s monumental arches in the form of catenary arches within the runway design is a form of détournement to critique the fashion industry. Semi-transparent fabric is used as a metaphorical material to create a transformational runway design that subverts and uncovers the spectacle of runway shows. Generally used as a construction element in fashion, the fabric becomes redefined in the runway show to expose the underbelly of the problematic industry. This is done through the formation of catenary arches with the fabric, juxtaposing the existing traditional architecture of arches in the Brera courtyard. The purpose of transforming the once solid architectural feature of the arches into a new materiality that is light and flexible is to metaphorically see through the façade of the industry and into the production process that the everyday consumer does not understand in the garments they purchase from retailers. Through draping,  stiching, and layering, the fabric is manipulated in a number of ways throughout the runway show, which is transformed with and by a choreography that mirrors the bodily labor of workers. The transformation of fabric explores the material’s spatial and temporal possibilities on the runway, creating moments of tension, movement, and contradiction. Such moments are to convey the negative impacts of the industry on people and the planet, being labor exploitation and environmental degradation. In presenting issues in a theatrical format, the hope is to start a conversation to propose alternative solutions for a more sustainable and ethical practice. The research methodology adapts the architecture design process to produce schematic variations of fabric as a narrative piece in the runway design. Sketches, models, diagrams, and architectural drawings are tested and developed to inquire various design strategies and concepts. The final result is a runway design that incorporates fabric as a set element to redress the essence of the runway, fashioning a critique on the spectacle that challenges and informs the audience about controversies associated with the fashion industry. Benjamin, W. (1999). The Arcades Project. (H. Eiland & K. McLaughlin, Trans.). Harvard University Press. Original work published 1982) Debord, G. (1995). The Society of the Spectacle. (D. Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). Zone Books. (Original work published 1967)



Set design, Runway shows, Fashion, Supply chain, Theatre, Dance, Choreography, Environment, Art installation, Architecture