The lure of Area’s fall-winter 2020 collection is rooted in the belief that shopping for high-end clothing is emotional. The label run by design pair, Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk, mix several variables to create one of a kind show that followers of fashion have missed from New York Fashion Week for several years. The American design duo highlight a unique approach to making clothes: unbridled creative expression. The distinctive approach the pair utilize involve, ultimately, a design vocabulary employing personal creative expression, the gestural expressive embellishment found in all art. They intentionally pull the emotional levers of their audience releasing messages that invoke counterintuitive concepts that differentiate their products in the market.
The globalized soup of Area’s Fall-Winter 2020 Collection
The most important concept from Area’s fall-winter 2020 collection is the borderless free movement that characterizes a globalized world. This conceptual foundation rooted, even, in their choice of the venue (The Africa Center) for showing the collection revealed the messy nature of narrative and translation that occur when several different circumstances collide into each other with the hope of creating cross-cultural communication. The pair are American and European. They have formed a partnership with The Africa Center to promote African culture and craft in the United States. Area’s facile intention is good and the execution of that strategy is the key to a successful partnership.
In the collection, they utilize weaving techniques that are native to Africa. These techniques informed Area’s opening looks. But as American Vogue writes, “an Area collection is never just about one thing”. They are constantly referencing several things at once, different variables that constitute spaces such as Japan, France, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, and New York City design duo Myreality’s interior design melted together into unique alchemy within The Africa Center: the spaces do not construct a singular narrative. Fogg and Panszczyk push their creativity to non-narrative areas in defiance of the historical relationship between Africa and The Western World.
In nonlinear systems, the sum of the parts does not equal the whole. Creative expression as a way for making ‘a world’, a system comprised of parts, does not necessarily lead to inputs that equal a corresponding output. The interaction of the variables creates a nonlinear relationship. This comprises their product development strategy and the subsequent product innovation. Drawing formal inspiration from Africa is a move, on the surface, which seems avant-garde for designers who are championed and promoted by the likes of Kendall Jenner, part of their network marketing on Instagram; in fact, it is a technique that goes back to the foundation of the rebellion against traditional Western art.
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon which drew inspiration from African art and sculpture mixed with Paul Cézanne’s Bathers series is an early example of employing the ‘Otherness of Africa’ as an ‘innovation’ and ‘differentiation’ strategy within and for a Western audience.
Juicers, Giant Hearts and Soul Music
The ‘Otherness’ of early modern art found its counterpart in the design of everyday objects which banished ornament from its aesthetic vocabulary. Stripped of ornamentation, these objects were deemed ugly by consumers. For the innovators of modern design, ornamentation was associated, even, with immorality. Instead, the objects devoid of the use of ornament, an industrial design, revealed the often-repeated maxim: form follows function. The product was an outcome of a design process that excluded the expressionism inherent in individual style and gesture. The manufacture of denuded products moved in the direction of mass production. The countervailing approach was craft-based and small-scale manufacturing. These were the two primary approaches to design in the twentieth century.
The advent of Pop in the 1960s and the 1970s Craft Revival revealed a counterculture longing for more creative expression and individuality. These tendencies can be found in the work of the Castiglioni brothers, Gaetano Pesce and Vernon Panton. Their willingness to experiment revealed a new self-assurance in design.
The ensuing rise of Post-Modernism in the late 1970s and early 1980s lead to the questioning of Modernism’s grip on progressive design and architecture. The idea of creative expression became cool again. Designers such as the global design megastar Phillippe Starck reintroduced personal creative expression into the design mainstream. He deviated from the roots of the Bauhaus and modern design. His signature style, for example, his Juicy Salif Citrus Press for the Italian company Alessi, transformed common industrial products into highly idiosyncratic gestures based on his own distinct and individual approach to design.
For Area building their brand idiosyncratically means a unique approach to textiles. Fogg and Panszczyk used Japanese-French postcards which were rendered in chain dresses made by UV-printing sunsets and palm trees onto the metal. They went even further by deconstructing Madame Grès’s pleats into teal fringes that dangled from a chandelier-like bodice. Their signature use of crystal trim informed a knit sweater worn over Ishioka leather stay-ups. The embellishment moved to the overly exaggerated heart-shaped pieces made in Cinderella blue and Kim Kardashian West neon green. In the contemporary scene of on-point collaborations, Area worked with Myreality to create tiny chair bag statement pieces. According to American Vogue,” the least practical, most alluring accessory of the fall 2020 season.” The common accessory, the handbag, becomes a highly idiosyncratic gesture.
Area’s use of influences from Africa to Dracula to inform their collection is idiosyncratic. It is a brand strategy that brings to bear the forces of their creative self-expression. The collection is a form of riffing and ad-libbing: similar in emotive intent to the beginning of the song Just Friends by Musiq Soulchild. These techniques found in the music of enslaved Africans and their offspring created a global market founded on the voice of an oppressed people. That individual interpretation of a melody in a piece of music revealing an expressive, emotional and individual style became synonymous with Soul music – the beautiful melody of an oppressed people. By partnering with The Africa Center does Area intend to reveal that history of oppression of a people, the mass erasure of that history and its oblique influences in contemporary fashion and society at large?