A few weeks ago in my history of graphic design class, my teacher was sharing the japanese concept of “wabi-sabi”. Wabi-sabi as a concept used in design, seems to be an opposite aesthetic from modernism. While modernism tended towards clean, symmetrical, fluid and smooth design, wabi-sabi finds beauty in imperfection, irregularity, asymmetry, and roughness.
Which then reminded me of Adolf Loos’ rant against ornament being a waste of labor, resources, time and money. Loos is someone who would prefer to buy objects devoid of detailing and decoration and would also prefer to pay more money for something lacking ornamentation.
Loos says “The evolution of culture is the is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects.”
I stumbled upon fashion designer Jeremy’s Scott’s sneaker collaborations with Adidas while browsing the web. His designs are the opposite of Loos’ argument. Devoted sneakerhead fans currently pay specifcally MORE for an ornament of a stuffed animal attached to their sneakers, rather than less, for an unadorned shoe, plain Adidas shoe. “Form follows function” is often quoted as a mantra for good design, but there is really no “function” that enables a sneaker to improve its performance by “sticking a bear on it”. But the whole point of this particular shoe, is the ornament.
I’m not saying that his shoes are for everyone: viewers of his designs tend to fall into two camps – you either love it or absolutely hate it. And at least it’s interesting to look at, if not super wearable. BUT, we exist in the time where ornamentation is not scorned.
Scott has been compared to Andy Warhol in his appropriation of pop culture within his designs. So the prints and patterns on his apparel and footwear are examples of ornamentation that exudes a deeper meaning, akin to Geoff McFetridge’s wallpaper prints. The ornamentation isn’t just there to “look pretty”. Which goes along with Alice Twemlow’s essay that our contemporary time has allowed ornamentation to thrive, to hold meaning, to explore. Ornamentation today holds more possibilities for experimentation that perhaps modernism’s tenets is unable to provide.
Jeremy Scott’s designs are often very referential and pop culture inspired. In his references, I feel that the ornamentation provides a narrative within the clothing design. The sneaker is not just a sneaker, the jacket not just any jacket, but helps the wearer to embody a certain attitude and conveys a visual message to the viewer. The way his clothing communicates is different from non-descript, utilitarian pants bought from the Gap. His style embraces ornamentation and to me is very “wabi-sabi”: it’s imperfect, awkward, and over the top – and that’s exactly the beauty and brilliance of it.
Jeremy Scott’s Jukebox graphic on his dress for Adidas
Lil’ Wayne rocking the Teddy Bear shoes.
Jeremy Scott’s gorilla shoes for Adidas 2012