WHERE FORM MEETS FUNCTION
BY JOSEPHINE AMAKYE
Truthfully, “Chemistry in Fashion” is an alarming statement. Though an unlikely pairing, the similarities between the two are more abundant than any of us who have suffered through a Chem class would want to concede. Balancing equations and manipulating elements to achieve a specific product is the same approach designers take in their creative processes. If Oxygen and Hydrogen are two of the most significant elements in Chemistry, then Form and Function are undoubtedly their equivalents in fashion. Form is the sum of textures, shapes, and colors that result in the look of a garment. Functionality defines how wearable or practical an item of clothing is. These two elements in the chemistry of fashion are central to brands in every aspect, from design and production to marketing and advertising.
Considering every brand, they’ve all committed to a ratio of art and wearability. How they balance that equation during the design process directly correlates with their exclusivity, price point, and marketing strategies. The general trend is that pieces with an emphasis on form and less regard for wearability are more exclusive. These garments represent an appreciation for the art and creative expression offered through fashion rather than meeting the functional needs of the everyday wearer. Brands like these include Viktor&Rolf, most recently with their unworn gowns, Schiaparelli’s red moment on Doja Cat, their use of gold or the animal heads on dresses, Loewe heels, and Rick Owens period. Their purpose is to celebrate the radicality of a designer’s imagination and the impressive craft required to bring these ideas to life. As a result, the average consumer considers these pieces to be wearable art that they can use to compliment their day-to-day items, and thrifting has increasingly become a strategic way to gain such pieces.
The relationship between form and function also parallels the evolution and stability of a brand. Nike, for example, has been an enduring industry giant because it relentlessly strives to, and consistently succeeds, at maximizing both without compromising either element. Nike dominates both the streetwear scene and the sportswear industry. Accordingly, their fans expect pieces that operate at the highest levels of functionality, innovation, and comfort while maintaining exceptional levels of style.
Their solution to the equation is their philosophy as a brand. Nike’s former CEO, Mark Parker, said, “if you have a body, you are an athlete.” This quote clearly governs their product design and marketing strategy. Annually, they spend 3 to 4 billion on advertising, targeting everyone “with a body” in addition to high-performing athletes. As a result, Nike has one of the largest consumer demographics of any brand, spanning an incredible range of ages, genders, and abilities. In the past few years, no single identity group accounted for more than 10% of total sales, which further confirms how diverse their consumer base is. They believe that simply having a body requires intentionally made clothes to support your unique physiology but not at the expense of your sense of style and character. Their obsession with finding the optimal intersection between form and function earned Nike the top spot of any apparel brand in 2022. Nike, by a margin of 10 million dollars in sales, led luxury brands Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Channel, Adidas, and Hermés, as well as fast fashion brands ZARA and H&M.
Regardless of Nike’s success at finding an optimal balance between form and function, maintaining the extremes of the spectrum is just as vital to an innovative future in fashion. We obviously will always need functional day-to-day garments, but we also need brands like Fredrik Tjærandsen, Iris van Herpen, or Alexander McQueen to push the boundaries of form indifferent to function so that we can appreciate fashion as an art and medium of self-expression. With brands continuing to push the confines of form and function, they create more space for us to define for ourselves a balance between wearability and self-expression.