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100 years of Bauhaus: Its influence on costume design and how you can use it

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Think of the word Bauhaus and instantly images of absolute German minimalist cool spring to mind. A design school that opened its doors in 1919 and operated in three German cities ( Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin) until 1933, has had an unrivalled influence on modernist design across the Western World and beyond for the past century.

Founded with the lofty idea of being a “total work of art”, the school incorporated many disciplines – developing a recognisable modernist design style that still reverberates a century after it began operation.

2019 marks the centenary of the Bauhaus opening its doors to students – with festivals and events happening all over the world to celebrate Bauhaus’s influence on contemporary design and culture.

The school’s creative reach knows no bounds and the world of costume design has not escaped its influence.

Although the school is better known for its influence on art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography, the school pushed into the world of clothing in the 1920s when Bauhaus students threw elaborate costume parties.

This was no student ‘fancy dress’ ball, but instead an opportunity for the school’s artists to embody their design sensibilities fully. Each artist would design their own unique original costume, and despite the school’s reputation for minimalism, their designs turned out to be flamboyant and mesmerising, pushing the boundaries of human shape and form to create a look as modernist as the architectural style of the buildings created in the school’s philosophy.

Then in Stuttgart famous painter, sculpture, designer and choreographer Oskar Schlemmer premiered his theatrical work ‘Triadic Ballet’, formalising the use of Bauhaus modernist design in a costume setting. The Ballet premiered in 1922 and toured until 1929 and is known as being the most widely performed avant-garde dance performance, playing a major role in slotting the aesthetics of Bauhaus into modern European culture.

The geometric costume designs on the ballet affected the movement of the dancers, following the school’s design aesthetic to the point where performance became much more in keeping with the modern world – industrial, functional, technological, less medieval in its aesthetic.

The ballet was remade in the 70s and filmed. As the name suggests it is three acts, the first with a yellow set, then pink and then black. You can view the filmed version of the ballet below:

It’s sometimes hard to believe that this kind of ultra-modernist design lept out of post  World War I Germany. This is maybe because the design philosophy is such a part of contemporary culture that it is hard to beleive it originated 100 years ago.

It’s stretch to see how the Bauhaus movement and the Triadic Ballet influenced artists such as David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days, with one of Schlemmer’s Ballet costumes almost appearing to be lifted out of the 1920s in its entirety and repurposed in the 1970s for Ziggy Stardust’s jumpsuit by Kansai Yamamoto.

Schlemmer’s Ballet costume and Ziggy Stardust’s jumpsuit by Kansai Yamamoto

Another, more contemporary artist who has regularly and unashamedly dipped into the Bauhaus movement for her costumes is Lady Gaga, even going as far as to reference the school in the name of her personal creative team ‘The Haus of Gaga’.

Via Youtube

The Bauhaus movement continues to influence designers from all backgrounds to this day. 100 years on there is still much to take away creatively from the design movement’s philosophy. Here are the 5 design characteristics of the Bauhaus design movement to influence your future costume designs. (original points are taken from catawiki)

1. Form follows function

This is the idea that a design comes about because of the function of the object rather than its aesthetic appeal. The function comes first and excessive ornamentations are avoided.  In contemporary Bauhaus costume design this could mean the design is very ‘literal’ or follows the function of the character.

2. True materials

This is about not hiding the materials used. In architectural terms, this meant not hiding anything that revealed the construction of a building such as steel beams. In costume design, this might mean revealing stitching, folds or cuts. Bauhaus artists believed the construction is an integral part of the design.

3. Minimalist style

Bauhaus artists favoured clean lines and geometrical shapes. Superfluous designs, floral patterns or curved shapes were out. Line, Shape and colour was the main focus in the design process, everything else could either be removed completely or significantly reduced.

4. Gesamtkunstwerk

Gesamtkunstwerk – or ‘Total work of art’  is the idea of unifying art forms to create an overall concept. Is your costume design part of a unifying total work of art?

5. Uniting art and technology

Fairly self-explanatory, this is the concept of unifying design and technology. Costume designers might think about the technology used in the show they are designing for and if there is a way to unite the costume design with this technology for artistic effect eg. lights, projection, sound…the possibilities for creativity are endless.

To find out more about Bauhaus and events taking place this year for the centenary of its creation take a look at the Bauhaus100 website.

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