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José Augusto Santos Lima e Maria João Serrenho Santos Lima,

Abstract: The Incompleteness of Clothing, as Architecture consists of a research work within the scope of a Masters thesis in Architecture. This research is part of a line of interpretation between art and architecture, and synthesises, starting from the title of the work itself, the key ideas that corroborate its approach. It is carried out in the form of an experimental essay, in the sense that it tests the completion of its theoretical basis according to a physical support. Keywords: incompleteness, clothing, architecture, time.

1. The Incompleteness of Clothing, as Architecture Incompleteness emerges as an overall subject from which the development of the research is established, referring to the incomplete and impermanent state of all things: “It is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It is the beauty of things modest and simple. It is also the beauty of the passage of time expressed in material form” (Bush, 2010, page 9). Incompleteness understood as a characteristic of time and giving shape to a concept in the area of architecture stands on the physical world and questions the importance of incorporating time as an integral part of a project, whether this is relative to a building or an item of clothing. The subject of incompleteness raises issues relative to the passing of time and to its impact on that which is material; that is, it refutes the static solidness that is seen as ideal, suggesting a possible perspective of looking at the passage of time and the way that it manifests itself on that which is physical. Acceptance and appreciation of the transient state of all things is a result of the study of Japanese thought and philosophy, which is translated according to the temporal principle of wabi sabi. “Wabi sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect” (Powell, 2004). The materialisation of incompleteness is reflected in the lack of existence of a final result, with the formal aspect being a transitory condition that accompanies the inevitable passing of time. Acceptance and foreseeing of the passing through different phases is a natural consequence, with the intention being to achieve a final result, an aim that goes against the idea of incompleteness. Acceptance and comprehension of the antimonies of time, permanence and change, are essential to the understanding of the subject, despite referring to different and apparently opposite situations, a state of incompleteness implies the complementary co-existence of both of these. The thinking involved according to the idea of incompleteness is not restricted only to architecture; it is present on the greatest and smallest scale of the physical world we inhabit, and is seen as a concept that transcends scale. Transcending scale implies being transversal to several scales; that is, it is not only an idea that is present on different scales, but rather an idea that brings all the other scales together on one single scale.

The characteristic of the time being considered, incompleteness, establishes the guiding thread of this research through its transversal nature. More than being a question of size, it is a co-existence of scales in one single object, in this case, clothing1. The idea of action2 is implicit in the term clothing, the idea of the process and the search to transform the human body. The research includes the redefining of the term through the analysis of a set of works by artists and designers whose work deals with the issue of time according to a character of permanence; this involves re-thinking the term clothing through a specific architectural gaze. The relative pertinence of the use of the term in this research can be found in the clarity of its original meaning: according to the Cambridge Dictionaries Online website, the word clothing (noun) refers to “clothes, especially of a type made to protect the wearer against heat, water or machinery.� Its most essential meaning resides in the idea of protection, of covering and coating, with the act of dressing referring back to a primary need; the redefining of the term covers the fact that clothing goes beyond dressing out of need, having at its base a purpose that is counterpoised to the idea of fashion due to its volatility. Clothing refers to the processural work of creation underlying the works of Yohji Yamamoto3, Issey Miyake4 and Rei Kawakubo5, at the focus of which is not an ephemeral existence but the materialization of an idea that remains, impermeable to external tendencies. Timelessness, the characteristic of the works of these Japanese designers, is the reflection of the pertinence of their approach, resulting in a work that is not only set within the present moment. Being timeless, its value is maintained and conserves its relevance as a work of art. In their creative process there is a research work the sense of innovation of which differs from that which is sought by the fashion system6 and which is introduced into practice through the notion of process-work. Process-work consists of a processural work of seeking the representation of an idea according to a character of permanence. Taking the example of the subject matter underlying the work of Issey Miyake, which goes back to the beginning of the nineteen seventies, this continues to be explored; one piece of cloth has increased as a subject, giving shape to new typologies of a practice, like A-Poc and Pleats Please (Figure 1), that is surprising due to its linking the complexity of the technique and the simplicity of the final result.


The essay does not consider the term in Portuguese in order to maintain the proposed redefining of the term. The most approximate and faithful translation of the term clothing into Portuguese would be the verb vestir. 2

The redefining of the term considers that clothing implies an action, arising from the presence of the suffix -ing.


Yohji Yamamoto (1943-) is a Japanese fashion designer based in Tokyo and Paris. Besides the Yohji Yamamoto line, which includes collections for men and women, he also designs a younger line called Y-3.0 4

Issey Miyake (1938-) is a Japanese fashion designer; his work is internationally acclaimed, both his main line under his own name and for the many different creations he has carried out throughout his career, such as: A-POC, Pleats Please, etc. 5 6

Rei Kawakubo (1942-) is an iconic Japanese female designer, founder of the well-known Comme des Garçons.

The fashion system is considered to be an immaterial social phenomenon, an institutionalised system that involves a set of collective activities that aim at the permanent continuation of the phenomenon.

Figure 1: King and Queen Spring Summer 1999, Issey Miyake and Dai Fujiwara; Issey Miyake Spring Summer 1999 ‘a-poc’ parade finale, Paris; A-POC concept.

Process-work is present in the subject matter that the study cases deal with throughout their professional career, but it can also be found in an individual item that bears this search and accumulated knowledge, the result of the intensive exploration of a subject and of a search for the materialization of an idea. The process-work that characterises clothing seeks to innovate, based on a line of permanence, which grants it a timeless character without any limit to its valid time span. The aim is to achieve innovation according to a constructive sense, one of pertinence of content. One may conclude that clothing incorporates change within permanence, in a volatile context such as is fashion. as Architecture defines the specific gaze through which the research is carried out. The subject is dealt with according to an architectural perspective: the incompleteness of clothing is based on premises that are trans-scale7, relevant and pertinent in the context of architecture. The use of the preposition as brings about a different perspective, according to an approach that applies a characteristic of time to a nonconventional context: clothing. The specific gaze is brought about through the intersecting of the subject of incompleteness with the study cases, and is supported through references from architecture8, where the subject is present, and which allow the reading of a thinking that is transversal to several different scales. It involves justifying the considered polyvalence of the concept in showing how this thinking can be found on different scales, in different programmes, outside of the architectural context, and essentially to show the pertinence of the use of tools that can be taken from the study of incompleteness.


Architecture as Expanded Field

Following on from the trans-scale reasoning, the essay brings together the lexicon of terms that characterise an incomplete state: unfinished, imperfect, impermanent, asymmetry, support, transformation and flexibility. The lexicon of incompleteness, which emerges in order to explain and clarify the characteristics of the concept, form the central argument of the research as its matrix; it provides pertinent premises in the architectural context, premises which are transversal to several different scales. Each characteristic raises problematics that are explored and developed throughout the essay; as these are not synonyms, each term is analysed according to the viewpoint of the incomplete and is supported by the work of an author or work of architecture of note.


What is understood by trans-scale premises is the lexicon that characterizes the concept of incompleteness and which is defined in sub-chapter 1.2 Architecture as Expanded Field. 8

What is understood by references to architecture are built projects on the level of construction and landscape as well as theoretical concepts traditionally used in the architectural field.

The transversality of the lexicon justifies the argument that defends architecture as an all-encompassing discipline, one that is not conditioned to an area of intervention that is closed in upon itself. The Incompleteness of Clothing, as Architecture is introduced into Cidália Silva’s concept of Architecture as Expanded Field, which makes the ambivalence of the discipline explicit: “but also that artists are engaging territories usually associated with architecture and urban design and, conversely, architects are engaging in operations that usually would be considered the work of artists or landscape designers” (Silva, 2011, p.56). ART - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Architects Artists - - - - - - - - - - - - - ARCHITECTURE Figure 2: Scheme Art - Architecture

Architecture, as an expanded field that moves among different disciplines, is increasingly less of a static object but rather a working tool. Through the figure 1 the intention is to reinforce the idea that, due to the “fusion” between the territories of art and architecture, the role of the architect is stopping being limited to a pre-established work and is now able to contribute in a pertinent manner, in collaboration with other creative areas, in the drawing up of projects that are not restricted to the conventional project of architecture.


The Art of Impermanence

The understanding of incompleteness results from the study of Japanese culture through the case studies: Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. These designers appeared on the Parisian fashion scene at the beginning of the nineteen eighties; the revolutionary aesthetic of Japanese design questions the established values in the West, which promoted symmetry, the feminine and the woman as a sex object; they were termed avant-garde due to their “shapeless” clothes and due to the abuse of a palette of dark colours, with Western society reacting with some surprise and distrust in relation to the explicit deconstruction of the solid values of European aesthetics. Their work, which was a veritable reflection of a society and of a culture, is of note due to its consistent conceptual charge based on the concepts of wabi sabi and ma. Wabi sabi is a Japanese aesthetic philosophy shrouded in mystery. It was born out of the ideals of Zen, and cannot be duly explained through verbal expression; it involved the monks seeking illumination through releasing themselves from all pre-conceived notions in relation to life and reality: “wabi sabi art embodies the lives of the monks and is built on the precepts of simplicity, humility, restraint, naturalness, joy, and melancholy as well as the defining element of impermanence. Wabi sabi art challenges us to unlearn our views of beauty and to rediscover the intimate beauty to be found in the smallest details of nature’s artistry” (Juniper, 2003, p. ix). This aesthetic philosophy, called the Art of Impermanence by the author Andrew Juniper, finds its highest expression in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and contributes to the lexicon of incompleteness with the following terms: unfinished, imperfect and impermanent. Wabi sabi, which refers to time, consists of a trans-scale philosophy of life that is present in architecture, in clothing, in the landscape or in a simple object. The Ma principle consists of a spatial question that is intrinsically present in the work of Japanese designers through the “superfluous ‘space’ between the garment and the body, (…) , is more than simply a void: it is a rich space that possesses incalculable energy” (Akiko, 2010, p.16). Japanese design reflects a constant search for the relationship between the body and the garment, which comes from the cultural heritage latent in the kimono. This traditional Japanese garment consists of an assemblage of rectangular pieces of cloth and is flat when it is not being worn, as it only takes on its final shape when it encounters the human body: “making clothes is all about how to relate flat fabric to a three-dimensional figure in the form of the human body” (Akiko, 2010, p.16). The kimono, within one item of clothing, brings together the materialisation of a set of prepositions that reflect Japanese culture and thought and which continue to be practiced through the work of Kawakubo, Miyake and Yamamoto.

Figure 3: Tea Ceremony, Japan, photographed by Eliza R. Scidmore, National Geographic Book; Rei Kawakubo/ Comme des Garçons, Autumn Winter 1983-84, photograph by Maoya Hatekeyama, 2009.

2. Post-McQueen Embryos Participation in the workshop Post-McQueen Embryos, held by the AA School Paris9, from the 19th to the 30th of March 2012, at the Arts Décoratifs, in Paris, made it possible to materialize the theoretical bases that this research has been developing. The material produced results from a first person experience that became extremely relevant in the research process. The subject of incompleteness took on greater strength and consistency in the research phase due to the work of seeking the representation of that idea.10 The Post-McQueen Embryos workshop is a research laboratory that explores the [Fashion + Architecture] body of work. The laboratory is lectured by architects and attended by students of the subject, and makes a reflection on architecture’s mode d’emploi through an attempt to eradicate the limitations and norms that condition today’s fashion design: “the workshop seeks to challenge much more than just clothing design” (Ayala11, 2012). Haute (Cul)ture is the subject raised by Isaie Bloch12 as a way of instigating and promoting a critical reflection on the state of current haute couture. Haute couture is an independent artistic platform that does not respond to the same conditionings as the world of prêt-à-porter. The limitations imposed on the production of haute couture by La Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris, as well as the commercial pressures involved, do not allow it to stray from the conventional in the creation phase, thus losing its original essence. The Post-McQueen13 period refers to the present moment, which is suffering the consequences of the loss of the person who at the beginning of the century returned an authenticity to


AA School Paris set up a Visiting School of the Architectural Association School of Architecture, based in London. During its editions the Visiting School, which is held bi-annually in Paris, explores the emerging practices resulting from the contribution of two different artistic areas, Fashion + Architecture. 10

The work of representation of the idea of incompleteness can be found in Chapter 2.1 The Incompleteness in Material Form.


Jorge Ayala, architect, is the founder of the AA School Paris.


Isaie Bloch, architect, performed the role of tutor during the Post-McQueen Embryos workshop.


Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) was a British designer and couturier who became a reference due to his unique approach to design and who did not restrict himself to the conventional production of articles of clothing. His way of working explored creation as an art form to the maximum, giving way to a platform that creates beyond the physical limitations relative to traditional fashion design.

couture that it had lost at the height of the nineties: back in the days, couture was not moved by commercial success, but formed a boundless creative laboratory. Haute (Cul)ture suggests a redefining of the values of haute couture. Through a research that deals with digital and physical platforms, the workshop intends to be a catalyst for a reformulation of the values inherent to it: “There is not a craft which lost its original knowledge due to technical progress. Instead, they all evolved, enlarged their skills and possibilities, nourishing contemporary standards and strive towards future improvement” (Bloch, 2012, p.3). Through an architectural approach, the laboratory aims at making items of clothing that are the reflection of an experimental approach that creates without the restrictions of current haute couture. The intention is to use non-conventional methods in relation to design and to production in order to mark out the difference in relation to the established “creative behaviour and sculptural techniques in couture” (Ayala, 2012). Architecture emerges in the form of a catalyst that gives an incentive to the creating of clothes items that do not keep to the common limitations of traditional techniques. The traditional method relative to the design and making of items of clothing remains the same, other than the evolutions inherent to mass production; working on the bust, the making of moulds, the handling of the fabrics and a fundamentally two dimensional thinking restricts design to a result that cannot distance itself from its previous approaches. The catalyst does not arise from the imposition of a new method, but from an approach that provides the experimenting of new tools for working and thinking. The workshop is a research laboratory that intends to intervene in an experimental manner on a subject that is little explored and founded in the architectural context. It is based on current design techniques that are a part of the architectural working method, keeping far from the traditional approach to fashion design. Bodily Architecture is a notion that is presented and defended by the research laboratory, referring to architecture as a device, as a tool for working and thinking that allows a new approach in relation to the design and making of items of clothing, using the human scale as a starting point.

Figure 4: Record of the individual working process, developed during the workshop.

The bringing about of this architectural approach is present in the work carried out by Isaie Bloch in collaboration with Iris van Herpen14 in the production of a micro-collection presented during the winter edition of the Paris Fashion Week 2011-2012 (Figure 5). The items resulting from the Isaie and Iris partnership form a physical example that derives from the application of architectural knowledge in the production of haute couture – sculptural dresses formalized through the 3D print technique. Bloch defends the contribution of the role of the architect in the field of fashion design, as the practical application of architectural knowledge allows the liberation of the traditional methods that condition product design, starting from an approach that plays the role of amplifying new possibilities (Bloch, 2012).


Iris van Herpen (1984-), dutch fashion designer who began her career in Alexander McQueen’s studio and who is today working solo. She devotes herself to creating haute couture following a unique approach that works the coexistence of manual work with the most recent technological innovation.

Figure 5: Capriole by Iris van Herpen, in collaboration with Isaie Bloch, during Paris Haute Couture for Fall Winter 2011-12.


The Incompleteness in Material Form

The Incompleteness in Material Form describes the experimental work of bringing about the central idea of the research. The opportunity to try out the materialisation of a state of incompleteness arose with participation in the Post-McQueen Embryos workshop. The initial approach arises from the will to make clothing according to an architectural method and reasoning. Its application to a non-conventional context goes beyond a simple reduction in scale and becomes a question of trans-scale idea and thought. The work carried out at the workshop arises as an attempt to materialise incompleteness through a non-determinist project that is incomplete. It is not intended as an imposition of a faithful representation of that which is understood as incompleteness, but as an attempt to represent it through an experimental approach. Referring to the incomplete state of something returns one to a reflection on the passage of time and to the way how, in this case, clothing responds to its passage. In foreseeing the transformation of an article considerations are made in relation to the future which are not real, in the sense that it is not possible to foresee future events (what-we-don’t-know), but it is upon this solid base that the project is developed, and which is termed the support. In emerging associated to John Habraken’s15 idea of supports, and being a part of the lexicon of incompleteness, the idea of the support alludes to the present moment, that which is thought and brought about using the available tools and having past references as a base (what-we-know). It is through the forming of a support that one attempts to find the bases upon which the project evolves over time. The capacity for transformation and the freedom of composition that are inherent to the support do not aim at the making of a final drawing, but of a drawing that gives an incentive to and aims at its future modification: “to draw a level of permanence that changes over time” (Silva, 2011, p.58). The materialisation of incompleteness is tried out on an outfit16 that has its base in the human body, and which is decomposed in a set of layers with different properties (Figure 6). The clothing project is incomplete due to the presence of a “space” that awaits intervention by the user in the sense that it allows development and evolution according to the wishes and needs of the wearer, “deliberately leaving something unfinished so it can be completed by the game of imagination” (Okakura, 1906, p.48).


John Habraken (1928-) is a Dutch architect who is devoted to architectural theory and method and to urban design. He is the author of a great many books and articles of note. 16

The term outfit refers to the set of different layers, to the clothing project as a whole.

Figure 6: Illustration work on the project developed during the workshop Embryos Post-McQueen, identification of the different layers (work done in the post-workshop).

The clothing project is decomposed into three different layers that take on different behaviours; each layer refers to a different property characterising incompleteness: unfinished, asymmetric and imperfect. The independent character of each layer was thought out in order to allow a freedom of composition by the user, with each layer supported by a set of bibliographical references in relation to the lexicon of incompleteness and to the case studies. “The garment as an event, as a metaphor between body and space, as a place of exploration, extending beyond the realm of fashion” (Ratti, 2011).

3. Reflections The considerations relative to the learning process that accompanied the course of the research are presented as a final reflection. The crossing of the several different subject matters that The Incompleteness of Clothing, as Architecture allowed led to a reflection on the passage of time over the physical world in which we live, through the deepening of fashion as an extremely relevant area of academic study and the discovery of an aspect of the discipline of architecture that was still to be explored. As a student of architecture, the study of incompleteness altered the perspective through which a project is drawn up, giving rise to a questioning of its purpose and founding bases. Independently of the programme or of scale, time began to be a part of the set of intentions on which a project takes shape.

Thanks My thanks to Professor Cidália Silva, supervisor of this research, for having believed in this work from the outset, for her stimulation and motivation which make this research a process of personal discovery. To Jorge Ayala and Isaie Bloch, for the availability they showed in order to clarify my doubts. To António Carlos Soares, for his inspiration and support on the level of representation. A tribute to freedom of expression, doing away with conventions.

References Akiko, F., Vinken, B. and Frankel, S., 2010. Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion. London: Merrell Publishers Ltd. Ayala, J., 2012. Discussion on the subject Bodily Architecture (Personal Communication, 29 March 2012). Bloch, I., 2012. Discussion on the subject Bodily Architecture (Personal Communication, 30 March 2012). Bloch, I., 2012. Haute (Cul)ture. In: Ayala, J., 2012. Post-McQueen Embryos’ supporting documentation. Bush, K., 2010. Preface. In: F. Akiko, B. Vinken, and S. Frankel, 2010. Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion. London: Merrell Publishers Ltd. Cambridge Dictionaries Online. [online] Available at: Juniper, A., 2003. Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence. USA: Tuttle Publishing. Kawamura, Y., 2005. Fashion-ology: An Introduction to Fashion Studies. New York: Berg. Okakura, K. 2007 [1906]. O Livro do Chá. [The Book of Tea]. Lisboa: Edições Cotovia. Powell, R., 2004. Wabi Sabi Simple. Holbrook, MA/US: Adams Media Corporation. Ratti, M., 2011. MoMO, window for curating art projects. [online] Available at: Silva, C. Architecture as Expanded Field. The International Journal of the Constructed Environment. Volume 1, Issue 3 (2011, p. 55-70).

The incompleteness of clothing, as architecture.  

The Incompleteness of Clothing, as Architecture consists of a research work within the scope of a Masters thesis in Architecture. The articl...