Fashion Fianchettos

Fashion Fianchettos - draped maneuvers and fashion functions
Fashion Fianchettos was a workshop mixing live draping, algebraic topology and hypermodern chess to experiment with new way to disseminate fashion. The workshop explored how fashion could be a set of mathematical functions, minimal codes of new drapings, which could even be sent between fashionistas as secret codes? Participants explored the contemporary draping tactics of moves like Nf3 or Qh5, the Réti Opening or the Nimzo-Indian Defense, an Elie Saab dress or a Balenciaga cape. With only a handful of bandage clips and an oversized t-shirt the workshop provided an experimental platform for new dissemination forms for algebraic notated fashion.

coordinated tshirt

A fianchetto (it. "little flanking") is a tactical move in chess, especially popular in "hypermodern" chess, which aims at using the flanks to control the centre of the board. This type of move can be a fruitful metaphor for rethinking the way fashion is disseminated throughout fashion ecologies.
If we take Barthes by the word in his book The Fashion System and approach fashion as a set of almost mathematical rules or codes we could also "reprogram" the operations of clothes with simple changes in the execution of code. Using an oversized t-shirt as the basic "hardware" of fashion the workshop participants experimented with creating draping codes, or "software", with which to easily update clothes through simple instructions. By connecting various parts of the garment with bandage clips new draping could be made and its coordinates written as a set of code instructions.
What would these codes look like and how can a simple t-shirt, or any everyday garment, be reprogrammed so new looks can easily be reproduced and distributed among users and co-creators?


The format of fashion is a wide range of symbolic agents consisting of difference, roughly creating a distinction between “in” and “out”. These agents are various codes, collections and ideas of assemblages. Codes of expressions are usually presented in a package, an outfit or a collection. They take some form of conceivable shape. Fashion codes are usually incarnated in fabric or iconized through fashion photography. This is the customary format of fashion code.
Code is the basis for the transubstantiation processes of turning clothes to fashion. In this sense the code can also be seen as a magical formula, like the “hocus-pucus” of the wizard. Indeed, the “hocus-pocus” expression of magicians derives from the catholic liturgical formula “hoc est corpus meum” – this is my body (Cramer 2005). The hocus-pucus can be interpreted as a magical formula of turning word to flesh (as the opening of the Gospel of John – “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was made flesh”). An incarnation where word becomes flesh, but also the reversed act, where flesh becomes word again, a passage philosopher Michel Serres call “carnation” (Serres quoted in Connor 2002). Matter can “carnate” back into code, flesh become word. These transformations between code and matter, or word and flesh are supernatural operations. The ritual is a magical act, like creating a rabbit out of thin air. Or as in the case of fashion, turning code to matter. We come to meet fashion codes every day through the magical process where we come to believe that a piece of clothing is fashion. That code is our social body.


combo fianchettos1

Media ecologist Alexander Galloway means code is more than simple words or signifiers of meaning. For Galloway code is a stronger text: “code is the only language that is excutable” (Galloway 2004: 165). It is not only a messenger, but also a container of activity. Its basic function is to facilitate but also control operations. “Code has a semantic meaning, but it also has an enactment of meaning.” (Galloway 2004: 166)
We can thus say that fashion code is a set of situated instructions - how we should look. Or as the situated instruction ("action script") would say; "how-to-act-to-look".
So let's look at the basic commands of fianchetto programming (an initial suggestion, should be elaborated further on):
"garment" - describes what kind of garment the program runs on
"grid" - describes how the grid is set up on shirt, Front and Back - one could also make one grid covering both front and back - ex. a-e on front, (with a & e being side seams) and e-i (a) on back.
"wear" - command describing the initial wear of garment (normal, upSideDown, diagonal, sideways, etc)
"connect" - command describing how to connect coordinates on shirt
(each command is separated by semicolon and double slash leaves room for comments to clarify commands)
* example 1
garment = (t-shirt);                                    // this is a t-shirt program
gridFront = (1,9/a,h);                                  // 9 rows and 7 columns of front
gridBack = (1,9/a,h);                                   // 9 rows and 7 columns on back
wear (normal);                                          // wear the shirt as you would normally
connect gridFront (g3,h3); (d5,b5); (g9,e9); (d3,a3);   // connect these coordinates on front
connect gridBack (d5,c5); (b3,a5); (b8,a5);             // connect these coordinates on back
(this is a formalization of the sketch below, in the book at the right)

fianchetto experimentation

combo fianchettos2
* example balloon dress
garment = (t-shirt);
gridFront = (1,15/a,o);
gridBack = (1,15/a,o);
wear (normal);
connect gridFront (f7,h7); (k7,i7); (d7,e7); (m7,l7);
connect gridFront (e8,e7); (f8,f7); (g8,g7); (h8,h7); (i8,i7), (j8,j7);    // create high waist
connect gridFront (c1,d1); (b1,c1); (a1,b1); (l1,k1); (m1,l1); (n1,m1);    // create arm pleats, r&l
connect gridFront (f15,c15); (j15,m15);                                    // balloon shape at bottom
The code is not only signs of material goods but also methods, or "manners" of wearing a standard outfit (which has through modernism been the fashion for men). Just like the draped codes explored in the workshop, the "manners" are methods of action, processes of assembly. Yet, we must consider their dissemnation too - the ways they are sent between the nodes of the network or the vectors of transmission. As suggested by fashion theorist Patrizia Calefato, the code becomes more complex when it travels through the vectors of mass media:
"Advertising and photography do not simply transcribe clothing signs into propagandist and iconic language, but reinterpret, reformulate and exacerbate these signs, thereby creating a special genre of translation between different sign systems (inter semiotic translation) and different text types (intertextual translation)." (Calefato 2004:20)
Calefato further uses Barthes text "Le bruissement de la langue" to see how fashion and style corresponds and stresses the contradistinction between "norm" and "deviation", where personal style is a conscious aberration from common usage. This act implies a moral vision. As an aberrant message, style “surprises the code” and breaks through it, creating a distance and difference. As such this style is many layered, not having a single content or kernel, but is instead many layered and plural, engaging in a multiplicity of dynamic sign systems.


Perhaps this could lead us to see fashion codes as constant flows, perhaps even without incarnations - but just as pure energy.
As we all know, the understanding of the world as flows is old. Already Heracleitus (c.540-c.480 BC) summed it up with "panta rei" – everything flows. Everything in nature is in a constant transformation and process change in all aspects. It is impossible to step into the same river twice and also the most solid elements in nature are in slow change. The temporal scales differ though - during a human lifetime we will not see mountains reshape, but in the "deep time" of geology a few million years is nothing as the landscape is in constant metamorphosis.
To view the world as flows of codes instead of stable matter is to see dynamic movements instead of static locations – in verbs rather than nouns.
* example bolero style (below left)
garment = (t-shirt);
gridFront = (1,10/a,i);
gridBack = (1,10/a,i);
wear (upSideDown, arms from bottom through sleeves, bottom hem around back of neck and under arms);
connect gridFront (i1,i9); (f1,c1);
connect gridBack (f4,g4); (b5,c5); (c10,b11);
In a similar manner as this code above, fashion instructions could be parsed by wearers to be constantly updated without changing the "hardware" or garment on which the scripts run. Code minimalism. What would be "good code" or "good craftsmanship" if fashion was disseminated and run like this?

combo experiments3
Codes like these could easily be compiled to shorter and more abstract action scripts, almost a draping "machine code", directly aimed at the materiality of the garments. These short scripts could be send through SMS or twitter - thus immediately disseminating the latest draping styles though digital code. They could exist as image captures, explaining complicated drapes by simple instructions. Perhaps others make interpretations of the latest haute couture drapes, elucidating the zeitgeist by adding action scripts to everyday garments.
Fashion flows could perhaps be just codes and leave matter or body behind. Immortal, yet at the same time ephemeral.
And anyone can be a broadcaster.
combo experiments4
Calefato, Patrizia (2004) The Clothed Body. Oxford: Berg
Connor, S. (2002) “Topologies: Michel Serres and the Shapes of Thought” at
Cramer, Florian (2005) Words Made Flesh: Code, Culture, Imagination. Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute
Galloway, Alexander (2004) Protocol, Cambridge: MIT Press
The Fashion Fianchettos workshop was run at gallery rm in Auckland, June 13th 2009
Thanks to the co-organizers, Xin Cheng, Nick Spratt, Evren Uzer
Thanks to Claire Cooper (photos) and Neeve Woodward (make-up)
Great thanks to the participants, Sandra Anderson, Laurent Antonczak, Patricia Burgetsmaier, Ruri Castillo, Charissa Chimba, Liyen Chong, Bianca Gardiner, Alysha Gover, Violet Howlett-Aitken, Chanel Hsu, Elizabeth Kwan, Lisa Li, Jane Mow, Kim Newall, Helena Oh, Prujanka Pereira, Glen Prentice, Juliet Stimpson.
Project Zine below (click on image to download):

Fashion Fianchettos Zine
combo experiment5