By Daisy Alioto
Borrowing from architecture is common practice in defining clothing. There’s the structured blazer, the rough-hewn cuff, and the deconstructed trouser. We ‘clad’ ourselves in clothing just as an architect wraps a building in steel or glass.
Mid-century architect Mies van der Rohe popularized the phrase ‘less is more’ while he broke hearts in a double-breasted suit. (Van der Rohe was married from age 27 to 32, but spent the rest of his life as a bachelor with a series of mistresses.) Van der Rohe (along with fellow starchitect Philip Johnson) designed the original interior of Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant, as well as the building that housed it. It’s no coincidence that these fine buildings would draw a parade of well-dressed men and women for business lunches, deal-making dinners, and mischievous nightcaps.
Luis Barragán, icon of Mexican architecture, wore a workman’s shirt and polka-dot cravat. The colorful planes of his Mexico City home and studio achieved a perfect shade of pink, long before millennials. You could do worse than build your wardrobe around Barragán’s favorite yellows and rusts.
The modernist period of architecture and industrial design, which began in the 1920s, sprung from the notion that form should follow function. An architect would never buy a trendy shoe meant to last only one season because buildings are meant to last forever. So what are today’s architects wearing?
“I favor timeless, minimal designs, as opposed to ones derived from the latest trends,” says Brandon Komoda, a senior project architect at Rockwell Group. “I'm typically wearing chinos, a solid oxford shirt, and a subtly patterned or striped tie. In the winter, I layer [with] a cashmere v-neck sweater for that extra level of warmth. I typically pair these with a pair of cap-toe monk straps or cap-toe boots in winter.”
Functionally-minded architects gravitated toward ‘minimalism’ before it was cool, but not everyone likes that label. “I don’t use the word minimal, neither in personal style nor architecture,” says Leonidas Trampoukis, who co-founded the LOT architecture and design firm, and the design studio objects of common interest. But he understands that, to those that embrace the label, he probably falls under that umbrella.
For Trampoukis, his wardrobe is more about curating colors and textures – just like carefully selected materials are part of his design process. “For many years – even through high school – my colors were grey, brown, black, and dark blue.”
Stephen Chu, who is at the top of his field as a Design Principal at Ennead Architects, also tends towards certain colors. “Black is definitely used a lot. Accented with maybe a colorful shirt or a blue shirt.” Chu is a fan of vests, and would always prefer to wear a vest instead of a tie. “Architecture can be a very serious business as well, but at the same time I want to portray the more artistic side and less the business side because it is still an art form,” Chu says.
Going back to the adage of function dictating form, the tie is an item that falls into the camp of ornamentation. Both Chu and Trampoukis favor the band collar: no tie necessary.
“Our whole material culture has been moving towards the organic and streamlined,” says Justin Donnelly, who launched his eponymous design firm five years ago. Donnelly trained as an architect, and those principles still inform his approach to design. “Most of the time I wear an oxford shirt and trainers, but when I’m meeting with a client I’ll pair the shirt with a cardigan or a sportcoat and I’ll switch out the trainers for leather oxfords,” he says.
Looking at the progress of cellphones from bulky blocks to slim wafers, and the eventual simplification of all industrial design — from cars to clocks — it makes sense that those closest to this process would embrace a similar trajectory in their personal wardrobe.
“In architecture, you strive to create a composition of experiences, spaces, and details by carefully choreographing and articulating what one sees and feels,” says Komoda, “What one wears is also a composition of parts.”
Daisy Alioto is a writer and very rich man living in New York City.