Building Fashion: Architects Turned Fashion Designers Are Taking Over

Bringing an architect’s eye to fashion design seems counterintuitive. Architecture is static and huge, fashion is transient and created to be in motion. It wouldn’t make sense to design a new building every season, nor would it make sense to design a dress that could only be worn sitting down. Clio Sage and Metalepsis are trained architects that found their true calling in the fashion world.

Clio Sage studied architecture at Barnard and moved from there into model-making for Robert A.M. Stern Architects. Her clothing design is highly structural and more haute couture than prêt-à-porter. You can see the architectural influence in her defined lines and the emphasis on the fabrication process.

Necklace fashion

“Constant encouragement to search for what would be unexpected or non-traditional led me to approach my clothing line similarly,” Sage says. “I found it really exciting that the materials that were considered basic for architectural model making: wood, plexi glass, plastic, could be exciting to see in the format of apparel pieces.”

Victoria Cho and Astrid Chastka couldn’t stop thinking of ideas. Their brand, Metalepsis, is metallic, angular, and utterly distinct. You won’t find pillow cut diamonds or costume-style gaudiness. Rather, their pieces are built on sharp lines, aggressive profile, and an industrial feel that will appeal to those that see themselves on the cutting-edge of fashion.

The pair met while working for Smith-Miller Hawkinson in New York’s chic SoHo neighborhood. They both left the firm in the midst of the financial crisis into a job market that was unfriendly at best. In some ways, the sudden evaporation of architecture jobs inspired them to move into a creative field that wasn’t dependent on the housing market.

“All the people getting laid off, you have to think about work and creativity in different terms,” Cho said. “In many ways, I think that time, that economic crisis added some fuel to a way to find outlets to make jewelry.”

Chastka went into landscape architecture, she likes plants, but found herself dissatisfied with the pace and scale of her projects.

“I really like to make things that are smaller scale in a faster timeline,” she says. “The landscape is actually bigger, so that was harder.”

Sage agrees that scale was a new challenge when approaching fashion.

Body fashion

“I often call my work body-scale architectures because they feel that way,” she says. “Both fields are so closely linked in that they want to push the limits of construction, material, and inhabitability. They influence your daily experiences as well as your life’s most significant moments.”

Chastka and Cho started making jewelry as Metalepsis in 2012 but didn’t incorporate until 2013. Though they had to learn through a lot of trial and error, they feel that their lack of formal training can help set them apart.

“There have been times when we have made a piece without understanding the certain specifics of just how jewelry production is different from architecture,” Chastka said.

Their auto-didacticism lends a holy fool quality to their pieces. They’re undeniably stylish, but also vaguely strange. It’s like wearing part of a very elegant bridge around your neck.

Fashion for jewelry

“I think that’s it also something that I know I specifically learned at architecture school, is that the pride and never regurgitating ideas,” Chastka said. “You can learn from the greats, but then you take their work and you make something completely different, and completely your own… I think, for me, that’s very different than me experience in the fashion industry, where there’s a lot of looks.”

Cho agrees that they want to escape the fast fashion movement of re-releasing the same pieces with very slight alterations on a similar basis.

“Yeah, the idea of being, in some degree, timeless [is important], and not have to be seasonal,” she said. “That is something important for us to communicate to also the people that are looking at our products because we’re not trying to become part of the fast-fashion, where we grind out new styles every season.”

Sage sees linkage between fashion and architecture in terms of how they interact with the body.

“The body becomes the base unit for design, it informs the difference between a space whose scale feels claustrophobic vs. one that feels monumental,” she says. “When designing, one must always be aware of the importance of the occupying body, and I believe the same can be said for fashion.”

Both Clio Sage and Metalepsis argue for an intellectual kind of fashion. If architecture is about moving a body through space, their fashion is about moving space around a body.

Metalepsis Photography Credits from top: Social Trust and Lauren Duque. Clio Sage photography courtesy of Clio Sage.