A meeting of minds

For Albert Kriemler, the technologically pioneering designer of Akris, meeting the architect Sou Fujimoto was more than an inspiration – it became the beginning of a unique collaboration

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Photograph by Sohrab Golsorkhi-Ainslie

“Architectural” is an adjective frequently deployed in fashion writing, yet it is rare that an architect serves as the centripetal force for a runway collection. For its spring/summer 2016 collection, the Swiss fashion house Akris – under the creative directorship of Albert Kriemler – collaborated with the acclaimed Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto: T-shirts with laser-cut holes replicated the distinctive roofing of Fujimoto’s iconic House of Hungarian Music; one shirt dress was printed with a sketch of his 2013 Serpentine Pavilion. Fujimoto was the youngest ever architect to design a Pavilion and it was considered, like much of his work, visionary for its opacity, openness and interaction with nature. The Akris collection reflects Fujimoto’s use of transparency and his interest in the way the body is enclosed and revealed through movement, while Kriemler’s architectural eye and interest in technology carries through in every texture, line and fabric – fabrics which Fujimoto signed-off and collaborated on. Tank talked to Kriemler and Fujimoto on a visit to the Bartlett School of Architecture in London about their unique collaboration and the symbiosis of their practices. 

How did this collaboration come about?
Albert Kriemler My first experience of Sou’s work was the Serpentine Pavilion. I had this incredible sensation when I saw it, a feeling that this was a really fabulous piece of architecture – and I just wanted to meet the person who had made it. Then we got in touch with each other, we met on Skype, but it took some time before we actually met in person. You visit and see so many important buildings in life, but there I just felt something much more important – I was inspired. 

Sou, what was your reaction to hearing from a fashion designer?
Sou Fujimoto At the beginning I wasn’t sure how I could collaborate with a fashion designer because I am not a fashion guy. My architecture is architecture and I have no experience of designing furniture or products. I have only ever done architecture. So my first thought was, I can’t do fashion. But once we’d met – it was in Paris, I think – and I talked with Albert, I felt really relaxed. Maybe because of the way that Albert talked, I felt really comfortable with him. 
AK Sou is obviously an artist in his field. If I had not been a fashion designer, I would probably have been an architect, but in my case, fashion was my destiny. I love it, but I have my side interests, which are architecture and contemporary art.

What attracted you to Sou’s work?
AK First of all, it was fascinating to see how an architect can develop such an exquisitely delicate building with two or three elements, with a stick of white metal, with a square of glass. But beyond its appearance, I was most intrigued by the fact that the pavilion worked. You could sit in it; you could lie in it; you could eat in it; you could walk in it. It wasn’t just architecture for the sake of architecture, which you often see today; everybody is engaged with the appearance of architecture. In this case I felt that all the sensuality was also meeting human needs. I think that this is the principle aim of good architecture, but one that many contemporary architects miss because they are so engaged with the visual. And there is a common link here, because the way I see fashion is not only in its visual appearance on the runway, but also in the way we wear clothes on the skin and the way we feel what we wear. It was amazing to see how Sou develops architecture while keeping in mind the people who will inhabit it. 

You both seem to explore the boundaries of humanity and nature. Is that something that came up in your conversations?
AK I definitely think that was something I had already recognised at the Serpentine Pavilion. I saw it further by getting into Sou’s work and reading about his ideas: houses with no doors; the mixing of open, transparent areas; the sensual and sensitive effects that Sou thinks architecture should have on a human being’s feelings. This was highly inspiring because we see a lot of buildings today that are built out of concrete, steel and glass. We need wood, we need trees – we need this natural approach. At the same time, Sou’s commitment to function, to human function within his architecture was important to me. I was intrigued by his ability to formulate a small and interesting space in which you feel brilliant. The other architect who has been a very important inspiration for me and my work is Albert Loos, who was creating a modern style after Art Nouveau. You see this first in his Raumplan and his simple approach, his love of material and proportion, but most importantly in his commitment and talent for creating human spaces in which you can live.

He believed any kind of function was beautiful; there was no need for symmetry when the function is asymmetrical. It is beautiful, because of course, a human being is never symmetrical.

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Left, the Serpentine Pavilion designed by Sou Fujimoto, 2013. Photograph by Iwan Baan. Right, a dress from the Akris spring/summer 2016 collection, inspired by the Serpentine Pavilion

Your ideas kind of permeate each other. 
SF Yes. So in the process of creating this collection Albert showed me many fabrics that were inspired by my architecture and for me that was really inspiring. It was a new understanding of my project, in different scales and different textures. It was like a new nature, all the fabrics are structured. So a structured nature was being created in front of me and inspired by my architecture. I responded to that and Albert saw that. I didn’t say straightforwardly, “this is good” or “this is bad”; it was more like a loop of feedback or interaction. So in that sense I re-realised the relationship between nature and artifice through Albert’s fabrics and fashions. 

So, Albert, you got Sou to censor your fabric?
AK Absolutely.
SF But I didn’t say no.
AK No, I was mostly reading his body language. It was very clear what he liked. And that’s what you want. When you do fabrics or knitwear or embroideries, you don’t yet know what you have until the fabric is produced. I went away after my wonderful experience in his studio in Tokyo with quite a clear statement in my mind. It was a real work in progress and it was definitely a stellar collaboration in all my time doing shows. 

And has the collaboration affected your long-term work? 
SF I don’t know yet. But it was impressive and inspiring to see how the human body’s behaviour is so delicately structured by fashion. It’s a different dimension from architecture, but it relates to the human body. 
AK I’m always interested in new working processes. Working in fashion you have access to incredible craftsmanship, all the way up to haute couture workmanship – the skill on every level is admirably accomplished. But there is a point when craft can become too traditional and it becomes important to break the rules. I like to mix tradition and innovation. I used laser cutting when no one was laser cutting. We were very early in using digital printing; I was probably the first to use that method. In this collection the technological approach reached a new level. An example would be the red-velvet Taiwan Tower dress. I had done the fitting in a soft, draping chiffon and it just didn’t have the same modern drape of a skirt. My modelist did it, classically organza-lined as you would line a chiffon velvet. It just wasn’t right. So we lined it with techno-mesh, which has this wonderful movement and a similarity to silk, although it is much more contemporary because of the softness of the nylon fabric. You saw that when the dress was walking, it was just something different – and we are just speaking about a technological lining. That’s what happens in fittings. I like to do simple-looking clothes – even if they’re anything but simple. This is what I think clothes should be like. §