When discussing sustainability and how to design durable and sustainable objects, I have always found aesthetics an important factor. No matter how good you are, as a designer, at implementing zero waste strategies; long-life textiles; minimal-washing advice; re-design of old garments and re-use of materials in your designs, you won’t necessarily establish a real ”bond” between consumer and product. You won’t create a desire to keep and maintain the product for years and years unless the design is aesthetically sustainable. Unless the look of a dress is continuously appealing to you, you wouldn’t keep wearing it, even if it didn’t wear out, or even if the thoughts behind the design and the design methods were ever so interesting and likeable. I intend to investigate the components and facets of aesthetic sustainability in this post and the ones to follow.
An aesthetic experience is an emotional experience containing sensuous delight. It often implies both visual and tactile stimulation leading to a wish to see more and to touch again. In other words, the aesthetic experience can lead to an emotional connection between object and subject, which creates a bond. This can lead to the consumer feeling encouraged to maintain and keep the object. The knitwear by the Faroe Islands design-duo Gudrun & Gudrun imply an obvious tactile experience. The visible process behind the garments adds time to the design - a way of creating a connection between subject and object that I will be discussing further in my coming post. The quality and beauty of the coarse yarn also provides the customer with the feeling that this jumper could be a lifetime-companion.
Figure 1: Gudrun & Gudrun AW12
Aesthetic sustainability is about designing clothing that has a lasting expression - a look that is somewhat constant or timeless. But how can you apply invariable qualities to clothes design, which by definition are affected by fashion and therefore by volatility and shifting trends?
In her recent post on design that look at models from history and nature, Matilda Aspinall introduces Swedish designer Anja Hynynen, who, in order to provide garments with durability, runs workshops in which her customers can learn how to restyle and up-cycle their clothing. This is an interesting way of acknowledging that durability consists of a synergy between “consistency” and “variation”.
Working strategically with aesthetic sustainability means working towards minimal consumption and thereby “educating” the consumers to invest in fewer, but good, durable objects. Aesthetics, however, concerns beauty. Then we are back at the “trend dilemma”: since beauty is closely connected to taste, cultural standards, and Zeitgeist ideals, it can seem hard, if not impossible, to talk about timeless and constant garments. Is aesthetic sustainability incompatible with trends? Is the goal, when aiming for the aesthetically sustainable expression, anti-trend? The problem with working towards anti-trend is that this then often becomes a trend. There are historically so many examples of sub cultural and avant-garde expressions, meant as an anti-thesis to the main trends, which end up as fashionable, volatile, time-typical looks. Going against the existing trends doesn’t seem to be the right approach when seeking an aesthetically sustainable expression. But how do you then approach designing aesthetically durable clothing?
Rather than working against current trends and creating an “anti-trend-expression”, it makes more sense to seek, what I would call an aesthetically flexible look whether that means neutral and subtle, or a complex and multifunctional look.
When I first started exploring aesthetic sustainability, I initially thought of an aesthetically durable expression as minimalistic, symmetrical, and subtle - an expression that you would never get tired of, due to it’s understated and adaptable look. But another thought quickly came to my mind. Could an aesthetically sustainable design-object also be an object so complex that you never feel like you are done with it? This thought intrigued me.
The dress that I would never get tired of, would be either so minimalistic, and “neutral” that it would provide me with a subtle, flattering look for any occasion – or so complex and multifunctional that I would never get tired of looking at it and investigating it’s expressions.
Many designers work with the creation of minimalistic clothing that have subtle and flexible expression in the sense that the symmetry and harmony of the styles make them easily decodable, and thereby easily adaptable. Swedish COS does this by aiming for “timeless design that lives beyond seasons”, as they write on their website.
Figure 2: COS AW12
The complex and multifunctional take on aesthetic sustainability is, however, also brought to life by many textile and clothing designers. Danish designer Barbara I Gongini creates garments that can be worn in multiple ways, due to ties and zippers, and sometimes even extra sleeve holes. The styles thereby offer an obvious flexibility– and a bond between the individual and the garment is created due to interaction and influence.
Figure 3: Barbara I Gongini AW12
Swedish brand Nor Autonom also works with the integration of multifunctional elements in their clothing, which makes the look of each piece changeable and thereby adds a stimulating complexity to the styles.
Figure 4: Nor Autonom SS13
In my coming posts I will be investigating aesthetic sustainability and the durable look further, as well as exemplifying the aspects of these terms.