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A LIFE BEYOND THE IMMEDIATE FORM

Is what you see always what you get?

Text by Augustine Hammond

Some clothes aren’t static but transformative, seamlessly morphing from one form to another.

In modular dressing, the same piece shifts in line and proportion depending on the way they are styled and draped – take the sari, which can be worn in over a hundred documented ways. Designer Sandra Garratt developed a modular clothing system using scrap fabric to cinch, support and manipulate base layers into 60 different variations in the 1980s, and fashion designer Norma Kamali, has been making modular clothing for the working woman for four decades. More recently, young designers are also opting for multifunction in form, shape and silhouette to challenge fixed ideas not only about what we wear, but how we wear it. 

 

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J E CAIFashion designer Jiaen Cai was immersed in ancient Chinese Taoist teaching when he set up J E CAI in 2019, and so his founding ideas were based on the belief that one thing should contain within it the germ of another: as he says, “I wanted to create a whole fashion system, as opposed to just making a single beautiful collection.” The outcome is what he calls an Algorithmic Modular System: one garment is composed of multi-use elements so that infinite assemblies can be made of the same parts. In Cai’s novel mode, components can be attached and detached at their seams to form tailored jackets, tube tops, miniskirts and culottes.

Photography: Mikito Iizuka / Styling: Irene Barra / Hair: Kei Takano / Make-up: Kosei Kitada / Model: Gracie A at Present Model Management

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J E CAIFashion designer Jiaen Cai was immersed in ancient Chinese Taoist teaching when he set up J E CAI in 2019, and so his founding ideas were based on the belief that one thing should contain within it the germ of another: as he says, “I wanted to create a whole fashion system, as opposed to just making a single beautiful collection.” The outcome is what he calls an Algorithmic Modular System: one garment is composed of multi-use elements so that infinite assemblies can be made of the same parts. In Cai’s novel mode, components can be attached and detached at their seams to form tailored jackets, tube tops, miniskirts and culottes.

Photography: Mikito Iizuka / Styling: Irene Barra / Hair: Kei Takano / Make-up: Kosei Kitada / Model: Gracie A at Present Model Management

HodakovaFashion designer Ellen Hodakova Larsson also focuses on the utilitarian. Growing up on a horse farm in Strängnäs, Sweden, her mother is a seamstress who specialises in fur repair, which meant the designer was exposed to a resourceful and practical approach to dress from a young age. This permeates in her own practice, as she creates pieces fashioned solely from repurposed materials. Making the old into the new, Larsson turns leather belts into panelled pencil skirts, clutch bags into kitten heels and, notoriously, 112303 sewing needles into a ball gown. Last year, her efforts to do the unordinary were recognised by the Fabric of Life and Designer of the Year Awards from the Swedish Fashion Council.

Image courtesy of Hodakova.

 

HODAKOVA AW23 LOOK 23

HodakovaFashion designer Ellen Hodakova Larsson also focuses on the utilitarian. Growing up on a horse farm in Strängnäs, Sweden, her mother is a seamstress who specialises in fur repair, which meant the designer was exposed to a resourceful and practical approach to dress from a young age. This permeates in her own practice, as she creates pieces fashioned solely from repurposed materials. Making the old into the new, Larsson turns leather belts into panelled pencil skirts, clutch bags into kitten heels and, notoriously, 112303 sewing needles into a ball gown. Last year, her efforts to do the unordinary were recognised by the Fabric of Life and Designer of the Year Awards from the Swedish Fashion Council.

Image courtesy of Hodakova.

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JOHANNA PARV Estonian-born designer Johanna Parv’s practice is informed by people-watching. She meticulously studies how women on the street arrange their outfits, with handbags awkwardly flung over shoulders, skirts hitched up and trouser legs tucked into socks to avoid bicycle wheel spokes chewing up the fabric. “I see clothing as something dynamic and adjustable that should adapt to different everyday situations,” says Parv: “I design for motion.” Under this maxim, she creates solution-led performancewear, with buildable elements like clip-on belt bags, fold-away skirts with built-in cycling shorts and floor-length nylon gowns with nifty handbag compartments.

Photography: Mikito Iizuka / Styling: Irene Barra / Hair: Kei Takano / Make-up: Kosei Kitada / Model: Gracie A at Present Model Management

 

 

 

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JOHANNA PARV Estonian-born designer Johanna Parv’s practice is informed by people-watching. She meticulously studies how women on the street arrange their outfits, with handbags awkwardly flung over shoulders, skirts hitched up and trouser legs tucked into socks to avoid bicycle wheel spokes chewing up the fabric. “I see clothing as something dynamic and adjustable that should adapt to different everyday situations,” says Parv: “I design for motion.” Under this maxim, she creates solution-led performancewear, with buildable elements like clip-on belt bags, fold-away skirts with built-in cycling shorts and floor-length nylon gowns with nifty handbag compartments.

Photography: Mikito Iizuka / Styling: Irene Barra / Hair: Kei Takano / Make-up: Kosei Kitada / Model: Gracie A at Present Model Management

 

Sofia Ilmonen With an aesthetic that sits outside of the typically clean, utilitarian guise of modular fashion, Helsinki-based designer Sofia Ilmonen creates billowing dresses from panels of draped chiffon, silk and velvet, assembled with precise technical prowess. Cut only from squares and fitted together with 3D-printed button and loop mechanisms, her process eliminates the need for zip fastenings and indeed any sewing at all. As Ilomen says, “They are clothes in the form of Lego blocks.”

Image courtesy of Sofia Ilmonen.

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Sofia Ilmonen With an aesthetic that sits outside of the typically clean, utilitarian guise of modular fashion, Helsinki-based designer Sofia Ilmonen creates billowing dresses from panels of draped chiffon, silk and velvet, assembled with precise technical prowess. Cut only from squares and fitted together with 3D-printed button and loop mechanisms, her process eliminates the need for zip fastenings and indeed any sewing at all. As Ilomen says, “They are clothes in the form of Lego blocks.”

Image courtesy of Sofia Ilmonen.

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