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The Interrelationship Between Fashion and Architecture

This work is concerned with the interrelationship between fashion and architecture. By starting with a description of the fashion system, the work focuses on answering the three criteria set questions, namely, how fashion and architecture interrelate, how architecture can be explained to exploit the fashion system and to what extent both fashion and architecture are involved in excess.

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Guided by the thesis that seeks to analyze how fashion and architecture interrelate from the point of view of the fashion system as theorized by Barthes, it goes forward to explain the questions as listed respectively from the instructions. The first section deals with explaining fashion system as Barthes saw it, while the second section undertakes to explain how architecture exploits or can be said to be a subject of fashion system. In the third section, the paper deals with excess in fashion and architecture from a historical point of view and ends up with a contemporary vision.

Talking about fashion may never be complete and all inclusive if the ideas and works of Roland Barthes are left out. Roland Barthes who was born in a family of a military office, Louis Barthes, in France, in 1915, contributed immensely to writing, semiology, critics, structuralism theory and fashion, to some extent. A man who lived a discrete homosexual life achieved much in these fields so that today his influence is felt despite his immature death in the 20th century. Endowed highly and differently in terms of his intellectual faculties, Barthes went ahead to demystify the mass culture and notions literature through various international works of which intention, time and space does not allow us in this present work.

Of much interest is the fashion system, a classical notion that he derived to explain issues between image language and the real presentation of a dress. As such, to Barthes, there were different ways of looking at fashion and, therefore, the need to understand and explain how each was related to the real dress. Brought up by a single mother, after the death of Louis Barthes, Roland had a particular attachment to fashion owing to his mothers interests in fashion photography (Barthes, 2012). The concern of this paper will rest on analysis of how fashion and architecture interrelate from the point of view of fashion system as theorized by Barthes.

The paper will start with deep but brief insight of what the fashion system entails as well as its propositions. According to the fashion system Barthes comes out as one brilliant figure in history who was interested in understanding how signs work as systems of expressions besides the conventional usage of language. In an interview conducted in 1967 (Howard & Ward, 1983), he observes that the idea of fashion system occurred to him after he discovered that that there was a way sign systems could be used for analysis besides the usage of language.

According to him, the use of extra linguistics to describe or represent information could be completely purified. As a result, therefore, by taking fashion as his subject of analysis, he observed that photographic images in fashion magazines were accompanied by written texts that sort to describe the garment. A garment cloth appearing in a fashion magazine is comprised of the image characterized by the icon and a written which is made up of verbal structures and there is the perception of the real cloth garment comprised of seams, pleats as the means of its production.

He felt that language imposes certain aspects like choice and perception and, as such, the written garment froze the image clothing to that level. In essence, he observed that if the editor describes the image cloth using language positively or negatively, this perception is passed to the reader. This position, therefore, made him opine that language was different from what was in reality and, hence, connotation was the only key thing. To him, thus, written fashion refers to items of clothing, garments or shoes and not fashion. If a full description of fashion is to be given its proper definition, it is by applying the signifier and the signified interpretation in order to get the full meaning. In rhetorical system, Barthes outlined that fashion is developed by bringing together signification plus connotation in order to describe itself fully (Barthes, 1990). As such, to him, the conclusion was that fashion was an abstract notion that was produced by a system of signs that did not produce women nor clothing.

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This notion from Barthes is observable in other disciplines and for the purpose of this work architecture. The interrelationship between fashion and architecture is explainable from this classical notion in a number of different ways. History of development, processes and purposes for both fashion and architecture indicate that they have influenced each other considerably (Miles, 2008 ).

Modern practices to a most extent indicate that fashion and architecture intersect in respect to expression of ideas that are social, cultural and personal. It is obvious to note in this work that different cultures have been in history described as having unique architecture representing their way of life. It has followed that a close analysis of fashion reveals similar results like architecture. Both fashion and architecture are understood to cater for the requirements of the user and are influenced by the developments of the age of existence.

It is only natural to say that fashion and architecture share the same ideals when the idea of shelter and body protection is brought forward. Both are entailed in creating space and volume of materials that can only be explained in two dimensions. On a different scale, however, it is worthy to note they are different in that proportions, sizes and shapes differ although they are meant to provide a solution on human scale terms. Advance in years has illustrated their direct influence on each other. The architects have sought to use the processes used in fashion like pleating, folding, draping and weaving to come up with designs replicating them. On the other hand, designers have sought to push fashion in seeking fresh ways to design garments whose themes and principles are influenced by architecture like volume and structure. As such, the two have intermarried to bring new, fresh as well as exciting concepts that create new meaning and opportunities (Barthes, 1990).

The 20th century marks a significant change in the interrelationship between architecture and fashion especially in the 1980s. This happened as a result of cultural diversity, enquiry and energy, individualism, non conformists’ proposition and perspectives that emerged mirrored against a back ground of urban nihilism (Miles, 2008). The result led to the disappearance of boundaries between disciplines as cultures came together creatively to discuss rich exchanges and possibilities that would bring new extensions unimagined before. As such, it was a fertile period almost comparable to Renaissance back in history and, therefore, architects and designers could now start sharing the same table (Miles, 2008).

The presentation of fashion and architecture in the media changed in 1980s by adopting the style and broader view of visual culture. The Blueprint magazine produced in 1982 was the first ever to cross and present the two fields together hence smashing their boundaries (Lipstadt, 2000). In the 1990s, famous fashion designers and architects engaged in exhibitions and discussions that meant to illustrate and generate debate about the intersection of architecture and fashion. Packsoy and Yalcn (n.d) state that fashion and architecture provide materials medium for each other, hence, their intersection in practices and thinking. In their work, they detail that architecture is an inspiration to fashion designers based on either overall theme or detail.

According to them, architecture and fashion are forms that utilize three dimensional and space ideas and further that both are related to fine and visual arts.

Originating from architecture, fashion seeks to create three dimensions by incorporating spatiality in the design of clothes by using body shaped garments. The act of making textile to construct garments that are based on the human body satisfies the requirements of three dimensional definitions. This reinforces on architecture and other arts that basis lies in three dimension form and space. It is out of this integration that fashion designed clothes seeking to be conceived in relation to function and the contours of the body as visualized by Riegelman (2003). Based on the fact that fashion changes constantly and with season, it has compelled fashion designers to seek for inspiration from many quarters and as such architecture.

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The Sydney Opera House designed by architect John Urtzon, is built on Sydney harbor and its design resembles a giant sailing ship. It is made up of overlapping shell roof structure. This piece of awesome architecture inspired Ozezen (2004) times by using the same structure design of Opera House to come up with parts of garments. The overlapping orange like parts of the Opera roof were used to design overlapping sleeves of the blouse and short skirt. The blue waters of the Sydney Harbour were used to give the fabric its colour hence exacting architectural details in fashion to clothe the human body. These examples of fashion are illustrated by Galata Tower and Horuzolu’s garments designs, La Boca-Bueno Aires and Flimfleks (2004) costume designs as well as Safranbolu Houses with Daye’s costumes designs (Galata Tower Information: Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture safranbolu Houses: Horuzolu, 2004: Daye, 2004). This list is endless and, therefore, solidifies the case for intersection of fashion and architecture in that the form of an architect leads a designer to create new breath taking modern fashion.

Architecture has also been influenced in a number of ways by fashion as the following indicates. OMA/Rem Koolhaas designed the Seattle Central Library in the form of wrapped mesh skin around diamond shaped panes of glass that are transparent yet they form part of the structural system. In this design, the overall form of the building borrows heavily from fabric in that the five areas meant to serve the Library like the office administration, book storage, meeting areas, staff and parking spaces were created through pushing and pulling of form sin different directions. In essence, the idea of a material fabric is conceived in this building hence it owes it origin to fashion industry that it ends up looking like a fish net stoking. In Greg Lynn’s Slavin House, Venice in California the usage of manufacturing techniques carries the day (Miles, 2008). However, the use of window walls with soap bubble shapes made up of interlocking plastic modules resemble the 1960s Paco Robane dress hence outlining an intersection of fashion and architecture once again. This intersection of fashion and architecture has pushed the two fields far leading to emergence of beautiful, inspiring and commercial models in both disciplines as well as acting as fodder for other fields like art and jewelry making (Miles, 2008).

On the notion of fashion system architecture stands a new height when compared to early models in architecture. According to Roland Barthes (1990), the fashion system is a notion that has developed a code that does not really talk about the women or the garments. In modern architecture, the influence and interrelationship with fashion, arts and other kinds of design has painted away the early boundaries and closed form rules that would only be interpreted by architect’s drawing and the real building seen standing after construction. With the emergence of cross-pollinated cultures as well as disciplines interrelation, architecture exploits the subject of fashion system. This is clear from the presentation, exhibitions and symposium of architectural designs as well as architects ideas on platforms meant to explicate and showcase more of the field (Varnelis, 1998).

As such, the detailing of architectural buildings of style from early centuries by the media appearing alongside a written architectural building started very early. However, according to Barthes fashion system, the analysis of these architectural buildings from the image and written point of views is far from the real architectural building. The architectural building can only be explained through very many process and items that involve sawing of timber, planning, wielding and joinery, cement, sand and ballast ratio mixing, brick making, plumbing, glass cutting, design, angles and elevations and the list is endless. As a result, therefore, architecture can be a subject of fashion system probably requiring a new name ‘architectural system’ hence to signify it.

To the emergence of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction, the fields of art, fashion and architecture have taken cues from the other and as such resulting to unique, new ways of perception of them all (Fausch, et al., 1994). However, the greatest impact of this intersection is the arrangement, display and presentation of these possibilities in magazines and other visual media all over the world. This has translated to architecture exploiting the fashion system notion by the use of signification as theorized Roland.

Accordingly, architecture and fashion may serve purposes that are meant to attract attention to them for commercial or what Roland referred to as economic perspectives. Indeed, in the history of fashion and architecture, these fields used to mark the difference in the society in that the aristocracy owned the best architecture and fashion. Those who belonged to the bourgeoisie and other lower classes could not comprehend or talk about the nature of these two fields as already there was a threshold requirement to understand them. In essence, therefore, the two fashions and architecture had developed codes that were supposed to be understood by their own class hence it meant reproduction of their and hence an endless cycle. Therefore, the economic ends put fashion and architecture as long time bedfellows with no qualms about each (Laver & Haye, 1995). This perspective tells much about the fashion system as indicated by Barthes.

Architecture, therefore, follows fashion system as this presentation of class difference only emphasized the ideas present about what is perceived the best is expected to be a trend that should be followed those in the low class structure afterwards. This trend setting architecture is expensive and is only afforded by those who have the capital. The description of such high taste furniture according to the fashion system merely exists in an abstract notion that serves only different sections of the society as per the thinking in the fashion system. At times, this notion would showcase the future architectural realizations that have not been designed yet and therefore completely fit the fashion system (Varnelis, 1998).

With regard to excess, fashion and architecture have a wealth of this in their histories. Starting with fashion, it is notable from early history that women from well to do families enjoyed the highest form of fashion. Clothing formed a role that meant to put differences between different parts of the society and as such there were the noble and the clergy clothes. These clothes were made expensive in the most deliberate manner to highlight boldly that they belonged to particular classes as compared to low non quality and non special type of clothing’s. Indeed their design, production and purpose surpassed the normal function and requirements of body clothing hence they served to underscore this state of affairs (Stevens, 1998). This meant that the nobles clothing stood at the highest and contained all the aura, quality, taste and cost that deserved such a high life and to this extent therefore excesses in capital played the role. It is true of the emergence of taste culture in pre-modern era by end of the 17th century that a noble stood above others if their taste for fashion could be demonstrated (Bourdieu, 1984).

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In Paris, women would trot in every new season to sample the newest fashion made up high design skills and practices of the time. The closeness to haute couture symbolized a high class in the society. Afterwards this fashion would spread to other classes and the general mass while the affluent and the elite would be in a post fashion style. Architecture had the same history like fashion before modernity knocked doors. Kings and noble men died to attract many visitors to watch their collections of various architectural designs and palaces in a race for the most with the highest refined taste. Architectural taste for the noble, the priests and the most holy were differentiated by the kind of places, palaces and homes they owned which were structures that announced the wealth, capital and position in the society. The commoners stayed in mere buildings that were by far shadowed by the excess expenditure commissioned to erect the divine in a mighty sea of class difference (Lipstadt, 2000).

Fashion and architecture continue today to exhibit this quality and it is clear that owners of production in capitalistic society stand at the helm of the society in stark contrast to owners of labour. The contest that defines this difference is the amount of capital and as such it is true that fashion and architecture influence, intersect and continue to provide material medium for each other. Modernity has changed the definitions of aristocracy but has not changed the structural ingredients of the same relations between the workers and the owner of production. However, the rise of the middle class society acts as a kind of a boundary layer whose opposite sides are made up of the former groups. In essence there have emerged blurred boundaries between the two traditional classes.

The interrelationship between fashion and architecture plays an important role in advancing new technologies in both fields as well as other fields. The benefits of this have reverberated all over the world and its presence is seen in the daily street walk. It also serves to create a forum where neither rules of each field curtails further innovation and strengthens the acquisition, development and refinement of new knowledge. However, in stark contrast to this, it reminds of a society built on a capitalistic system whose effects we understand from economic point of view, the developed and developing countries. These have their advantages and disadvantages.

It is a refreshing insight to think about fashion and architecture with an obvious impact for students in both fashion and architecture.


Barthes, R, 1990, The fashion System, California, University of California Press.

Barthes, R 2012. Roland Barthes, Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web.

Bourdieu, P 1984, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, New York, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Daye, R 2004, Costume designs inspired by architecture, Project for Apparel Design Course at Çukurova University Faculty of Fine Arts Textiles Department, 35×50 cm. Colored pencil and water color.

Fausch, D., Singley, P., El-Khoury, R.& Efrat, Z 1994, Architecture: In Fashion, New York, Princeton Architectural Press.

Flimflek, Z. 2004, Costume designs inspired by architecture, Project for Apparel Design Course at Çukurova University Faculty of Fine Arts Textiles Department, 35×50 cm. water color.

Horuzolu, R 2004, Costume designs inspired by architecture, Project for Apparel Design Course at colored pencil and water colour. Çukurova University Faculty of Fine Arts Textiles Department, 35×50 cm. Colored pencil and water.

Lipstadt , H 2000, “Theorizing the Competition. The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu as a Challenge to Architectural History,” Thresholds, number 21, 32-36.

Laver,J. & Haye, A 1995, Costume and Fashion: a Concise History, London, Thames & Hudson.

Miles, G 2008, Skin+Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles.

Özezen, N 2004, Costume designs inspired by architecture, Project for Apparel Design Course at, Çukurova University Faculty of Fine Arts Textiles Department, 35×50 cm. Colored pencil and water colour.

Paksoy, H & Yacon, S (n.d), Architectural Inspirations in Fashion Design, Turkey, Çukurova University.

Riegelman, N 2003, 9 Heads- A Guide to Drawing Fashion,(Third Eddition ), Pasadena, California 9 Heads Media in assosiation with Art Center College of Design.

Stevens, G 1998, The Favored Circle, Cambridge, The MIT Press.

Varnelis, K 1998, “The Education of the Innocent Eye,” The Journal of Architectural Education; volume 51 number 4 (1998), 212-223.

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