How Le Corbusier shaped the fashion world

Fashion’s favourite architect

Le Corbusier’s profound influence on architecture is well known. With his declaration in 1923 that ‘a house is a machine for living in’, he swept away the conventions of design and decoration that had been the order of the day, and presented minimalism and function as the new ideals.

Nearly a century on, his influence is still palpable – and not just in the work of architects.

Fashion designers repeatedly cite Le Corbusier as an inspiration, as we discovered while exploring their favourite buildings last month. Over the years, the architect has influenced the likes of Rei Kawakubo, Karl Lagerfeld, Ann Demeulemeester and Clare Waight Keller who have created clothes framed by his theories, or presented collections within recreations of his buildings. Demeulemeester even lives in one of his houses. Here, we delve into his effect on the fashion landscape throughout the decades.

Karl lagerfeld channels a Paris apartment designed by Le Corbusier in 1929

The rooftop garden of Paris apartment Le Corbusier designed for Charles de Beistegui. Photography: via Sock Studio
The rooftop garden of the apartment Le Corbusier designed for Charles de Beistegui. Photography: via Sock Studio

Karl Lagerfeld paid homage to Le Corbusier by basing his 2014 couture show set on a long-demolished Champs-Élysées apartment he designed in 1929 for millionaire art collector Charles de Beistegui.

Lagerfeld transformed the Palais Royale into a dazzling white, geometric landscape, with a floor made from tiles of concrete – Le Corbusier’s favourite material – fireplaces at each end, overhung with gold baroque mirrors.

Karl Lagerfeld's Haute Couture Autumn Winter 2014 show, inspired by Le Corbusier
Karl Lagerfeld’s Haute Couture Autumn Winter 2014 show, inspired by Le Corbusier

The look, the designer said, was ‘Le Corbusier goes to Versailles’, with the architect’s utilitarian side getting a nod with the first looks in black and white, before the monochrome was edged out by a more vibrant and regal palette.

Le Corbusier’s presence was felt in the shapes – the sharp silhouette, the clean curves, the elegant flats, the concrete buttons. ‘The clothes are light, they float,’ Lagerfeld told Adweek. ‘I think that makes it more modern.’

Despite being couture, with their form and function, these were indeed garments for living in.

Ann Demeulemeester buys a Le Corbusier classic

Maison Guiette in Antwerp, designed by Le Corbusier
Maison Guiette in Antwerp, designed by Le Corbusier. Photography: P De Prins (c) VIOE

Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester has long harboured an admiration for Le Corbusier, even buying her own slice of his work in 1983. She purchased Belgium’s only surviving house by the architect – Maison Guiette in Antwerp, built in 1927 for the artist René Guiette – which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July this year.

Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2013
Ann Demeulemeester A/W 2013. Photography: Courtesy of Imaxtree and Alessandro Lucioni, via Elle

While Demeulemeester is not overtly literal in her homage to the architect, the parallels between her work and Le Corbusier’s lie in her monochrome palette and pared back designs, their evocation of the modern through delicate touches rather than excessive detail.

Rei Kawakubo echoes Le Corbusier’s textures, forms and colours

Rei Kawakubo
Rei Kawakubo. Photography: Lukedt1, via Wikipedia

In terms of enigmatic designers, they don’t come more impenetrable than Rei Kawakubo, founder and designer of Comme des Garçons. In a 1995 interview, in which she was questioned by designer Paul Smith for Dazed Magazine, she stated: ‘I like the simplicity and spaciousness of Le Corbusier.’

The connection resonates. As Deyan Sudjic wrote in his 1990 monograph on the designer: ‘Kawakubo talks of her admiration of Le Corbusier, and it is not too farfetched to see the influence of his purist Modernism in her own abstraction of fashion into the fundamentals of texture, form and colour.’ Through her examination of clothing as a cerebral and emotional construct, there is a direct line back to the works of the architect. In the strangeness that imbues her pieces, we find her highly personal take on how to live.

Comme des Garcons’ The Ceremony of Separation FW15, photo by PAOLO ROVERSI, head lace and make up by Julien D’ys

A photo posted by Comme des Garcons OFFICIAL (@commedesgarcons) on

Designers from Alexander McQueen to Clare Waight Keller take cues from the master

The chapel of Notre Dame by Le Corbusier
Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, Ronchamp. Photography: A. Bourgeois P

There are many others for whom the architect was, and is, an inspiration. Alexander McQueen, cited Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp as his favourite building, while Hussein Chalayan shares with Le Corbusier a passion for the technical as a means to the beautiful.

Villa Savoye designed by Le Corbusier
Villa Savoye in Poissy, on the outskirts of Paris. Photography: LStrike

Tomas Maier and Clare Waight Keller both reference Villa Savoye as an influence. Indeed Waight Keller framed her 2015 Cruise collection for Chloé around Le Corbusier’s 1931 construction, echoing the building’s minimalist grandeur in the graphic simplicity of her shapes.

Chloé Cruise 2015
Chloé Cruise 2015

Fashion and architecture both strive to represent the future in pieces of work that will inevitably become representative of the past. But, as Le Corbusier said, ‘To be modern is not a fashion, it is a state. It is necessary to understand history, and he who understands history knows how to find continuity between that which was, that which is, and that which will be.’

His buildings are timeless because he worked according to his own instincts for living, using an understanding of the past and the present. His most successful fans in the fashion world are those who have applied the same instincts to their clothes.

Read next: Fashion designers’ favourite buildings



Share Tweet