Architecture Unanticipated: Sarah Watanabe

When we look closely at the two disciplines of architecture and fashion, we can see that the link between the two is stronger than just appreciation and imitation. The design theories that support these trades are growing ever the more similar, and more than ever we are seeing cross-pollination and movement of designers between both fields.  Sarah Watanabe is a designer who has forged links between the fashion and architectural worlds.

Perth local and graduate from the School of Architecture, UWA, Sarah is the founder of the label Monster Alphabets. After completing her degree in architecture she studied at Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, graduating with a Diploma of Garment Creation. Sarah launched Monster Alphabets in 2012 and since has found great success in the industry. Just last year Monster Alphabets was one of the six national winners of the Project Nextgen for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, recognised for creative and future business potential.

What makes Sarah’s label so interesting is the influence that the architectural world has had on her work. Sarah took some valuable time out of her day to answer a few questions about the links between the two worlds.

Did you enjoy studying fashion?

“Yes it was a lot easier than studying architecture. The experience was lighter and more enjoyable – but this may be due to the fact that I was a mature age student and I had developed better time management skills by then. If you survive architecture school, you can survive anything- with ease..!”

Does the design process feel similar to when you designed throughout university?

“In a way yes.  I think design is more of a problem solving exercise.  In architecture you are basically providing a spatial design to allow people to perform certain activity (function) and similar applies in fashion.  I am basically designing clothing that will ultimately protect human beings from the climate and provide clothing to allow people to perform certain tasks – work wear, party wear, leisure wear, sports wear etc. In fashion the marketing side of the business plays a big role in the design process.  You are constantly thinking about the PR appeal of the garment. It is because we basically have not secured a client to buy our pieces when we are designing them – therefore one of the many design outcomes must be to design a product that can attract as much media opportunities as possible.  The more photogenic a garment is, more traction you will have in social media and in print media thus increasing exposure – reaching to as many potential customers which hopefully leads to sales.

How has your education in architecture informed your current design work?

“The functionality aspect of the garment that I design is a very important and I guess this stems from my architectural education – Form follows Function!”

Do you have any principles or philosophies that inform your designs?

“Less is always more and God is in the details – I take a lot of care in thinking through how the garments are constructed to achieve the most effortless silhouette. How a garment is finished is really important – how the seams are concealed etc”

Why choose fashion instead of architecture?

“I enjoy designing in small scale where I can control every aspect of the process. There is not as much liaising with different parties (consultants).”

  

Fig. 1. Jay Cho. 2016, Colour digital image. Sarah Watanabe’s Void dress, editorial shoot. Available from: Monster Alphabets Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/pg/monster.alphabets/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1363010673712017 (accessed March 18, 2017).

Fig. 2. Jay Cho. 2016, Colour digital image. Sarah Watanabe’s Collection, editorial shoot. Available from: Monster Alphabets Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/pg/monster.alphabets/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1363010673712017 (accessed March 18, 2017).

Fig. 3. Monster Alphabets. 2016, Colour digital image. Sarah Watanabe’s Diamond dress. Available from: Monster Alphabets website, https://www.monsteralphabets.com/new-gallery/zduok6idjz02rx9ez7r93q4c5txauc (accessed March 17, 2017).

When looking at Sarah’s work it is evident the influence her architectural background has had on her designs. It is hinted at in the structure of the garments, the fluidity in some and the rigour of others. Her principle of ‘less is more’ has produced works of simple beauty – that focus on the medium and the artistry of their construction. This is inherently architectural, and yet clearly the fashion industry affords her the freedoms and creative license to be able to achieve designs with which she is content.

Who are your favourite fashion designers?

“Yohji Yamamoto.”

Who are your favourite architects?

“Peter Zumthor, Rick Joy.”

 

Fig. 4. Monica Feudi. 2016, Colour digital image. Yohji Yamamoto’s Fall Ready-to-wear, 2017 Launch. Available From: http://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2017-ready-to-wear/yohji-yamamoto/slideshow/collection#39 (accessed March 20, 2017).

Fig. 5. Felipe Camus. 2013, Black and white image. Peter Zumthor’s Saint Benedict Chapel. Available From: http://www.archdaily.com/418996/ad-classics-saint-benedict-chapel-peter-zumthor (accessed March 20, 2017).

Do you look to architecture for inspiration?

“Yes and No.  Architecture will always be an underlying inspiration in every creation of mine but I think it’s more about the idea of architecture and the nostalgia associated with it.”

Do you think, and if so how, fashion influences or informs architecture?

“I think this dialogue between the two disciplines is a very romantic one but I personally think this is quite limited especially in terms of the growing trend in fast fashion. I think the concept of time is very different in Fashion and Architecture.  Where architecture is designed with the idea of “long term”, to last at least a decade; fashion is actually only designed with one season in mind.  The duration of the season depends on the brand or the retailer and can range from 6 weeks to 6 months. Fashion is ever evolving and the cycle is getting faster every year– some brands produce 12 collections a year. I just don’t know how fashion could influence or inform architecture when it is always evolving and changing sort of like a shapeshifter.”

Sarah makes an interesting point. It is as if the two are moving parallel to each other, at different speeds. Occasionally they will look over to one another – imitate, be inspired, converse – but the two can never truly meet. They are set to continue travelling separate paths, always together but never touching. This is probably a good thing – because it means there will always be something to learn from the other.

Would you ever return to the architecture industry?

“Never say never but I feel more confident in my ability to design and make clothing than buildings.  It’s so much more fun!”

Fig. 6,7&8 . Monster Alphabets. 2016, Colour digital image. Sarah Watanabe’s Collection, Mercedes-Benz fashion week Australia 2016, Nextgen show. Available from: Monster Alphabets website, https://www.monsteralphabets.com/mbfwa/2016/10/26/925ocw154du211skjgd9j90mdrempz (accessed March 17, 2017).

Beth Litjens

Beth is currently beginning her Masters of Architecture at the University of Western Australia. For the past three years she has worked as an Art and Drama Technician at Mercedes College. Though formerly studying architecture, she is passionate about many aspects of design including photography, graphics, textiles and crafts. Her love of organisation is also a personality trait not easily missed and her cooking skills have been said to be ‘to die for’.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting article that shows the widespread effect that architectural principles can have on other areas of the creative arts. Likewise fashion offers many opportunities for ideas that can influence architecture.

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