Wabi-sabi, Jeremy Scott for Adidas, and ornament.

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.Image Continue reading


More ornamental Eye candy from Twemlow’s essay: Prada wallpaper, stoner wallpaper, and the Holland Festival

More eye candy referenced in Alice Twemlow’s essay, The Decriminalization of Ornament

An important theme echoed in Twemlow’s essay is that ornament IS contemporary and relevant to our time. While Adolf Loos’ diatribe on ornament claimed ornament was backwards, degenerate, and useless and that the lack thereof represented progress and truth, Twemlow argues for intention and and meaning contained within ornamentation used today.

She ruminates that, “The decoration we’re seeing today is particular to the time we live in. In many way it is dystopian. There’s the inclusion of urban, dark, and ironic themes, as evident in Geoff McFetridge’s attitude laden takes on patterning in three designs titled ‘Red Dawn’, ‘Stoner Forest’ (see eye no. 47) and ‘All Yesteday’s Parties’. ”

An article in the Stranger, a Seattle weekly, aptly subtitled this work as “The Patterns of Stoner Surburbia”.

The article’s author, Eric Frederickson keenly observes the juxtapositions within McFetridge’s work: “…general pattern with specific incident, abstraction with representation, decoration with social content.” (italics are mine)

Within these 3 patterned works, expect to see images of sasquatches roaming, long-haired surburban kids biking or gettin’ it on, and beer cans and cigarettes interspersed between the prints, amongst other things.  There are social narratives & themes delving underneath the surface of contemporary ornament, as opposed to the strict “beautifying” of object role  that ornament played during the Arts & Crafts period.

Stoner Forest” wallpaper by Geoff McFetridge, his studio, and his wallpaper

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The “Greatest Hits” of Adolf Loos’ “Ornament and Crime”

Pioneering Austro-Hungarian modernist architect, Adolf Loos, published his influential essay Ornament and Crime in 1908, basically railing against all objects possessing ornamentation. Here’s a pdf of it you can read – thanks to George Washington University.

I found this essay to be a fascinating read on a couple levels – design-wise and digesting this over 100 year old essay from a contemporary perspective. Loos most definitely considers himself to be a “modern” man and the people in his society favoring ornamentation he considers to be NOT. I have to admit, as culturally insensitive as this essay is, (definitely reflecting the eurocentric, colonialist worldview at the time), in his championing of modernism, he was ahead of his time in his vision of design. Modernism & neo-modernism presence is still alive and kickin’ in the current culture.

Loos views he elimination of ornament is a sign of progress and is the “style” of  the modern man. Superfluous ornamentation is considered to be a waste of money, time and labor spent on creating on object, when a plain one would do. He felt that simpler design, with less ornamentation (or no ornamentation) would be able to withstand time better than ornamented objects, which fell out of style quickly.

He starts the essay out by comparing the actions of an indigenous Papuan person to a Viennese person of his time: a Papuan can tattoo himself and tattoo “…everything he can lay hands on”,  “The modern man who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate”. He then compares the Papuan’s urge to tattoo to a child’s urge to naturally scribble on the wall. While this is permissible for the Papuan and child, this is not acceptable for the modern man. “Modern Man” in Loos’ view meaning himself, and others who adhere to the unadorned modernist tastes and perspective. Anyone subscribing to ornamentation is less enlightened, primitive and perhaps child-like. (Ironically, Loos’ perspective of the modern man is sort of horrifyingly “unmodern” and offensive in our current culture).

Here are some “Best Ofs” from his essay:

“I have made the following discovery and I pass it on to the world: The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects.Continue reading