Friday, January 6, 2012

I saw design, and it opened up my eyes...

by frédérik

Given this week’s Frivolous Friday Challenge – you ARE wearing mismatched socks as you read this, right? – it seems like a good time to share a recent discovery that’s prompted me to think about the use of asymmetry in fashion styles. While we probably don’t think about it very much, we use asymmetry all the time. This, despite the fact that most of what we wear (shirts, pants, shoes) is very much symmetrical, which in turns results in a symmetrical gestalt that satisfies our relatively inherent association of pleasurable aesthetics with order. Jewelry and accessories like watches are good example. In my case, I wear two earrings in my left ear. I also wear two identical titanium chain anklets, one on each ankle, but break up the symmetry with a toe ring on my right foot. I’ll sometime wear a solid bracelet on my right wrist to create a symmetrical counterbalance to the watch I wear on my left – when I actually do wear a watch – but most of the time it’s just the watch, hence asymmetry. I’m sure you have examples of your own aplenty.

Enter this gorgeous, gorgeous pair of shoes from Jill Sander, once available at Net-A-Porter for $835, then discounted to $334 before finally going out of stock. With 5 inch heels, a 1-inch platform, and made of leather, what distinguished these sandals was the fact that the asymmetry created between each shoe within the pair. See for yourself:

And if you want a plethora of pictures (and then some) of these shoes on a live person, feel free to take a look at Jacqueline over at Fashion Snag.

From a pure design standpoint, the sandals are conceptually brilliant in their use of different but complementary designs. They have a sculptural quality subtly infused with a bit of subversion.
When I told my wife about these, however, her first question was to what extent these would be practical to walk in, which is a concern I’ve seen elsewhere on the ‘net and naturally wondered about as well. Jacqueline is the only person I’ve found who professed to find them comfortable on account of their allegedly similar feel to flip-flops. (!) From a biomechanical standpoint, the concern seems justified, since on one sandal the toe plays a part in lifting the sandal via a toe loop while on the other the toe is left open. If I remember correctly, Jane Aldridge from Sea of Shoes sold her pair precisely because the difference between in each sandal’s individual design made walking awkward.

Perhaps these sandals deserve a place next to Aminaka-Wilmont’s soleless shoes in the gallery of impractical but sublime fashion art. Then again, they aren’t nearly as impractical as A-W’s iconoclastic heels. Whatever the pragmatic considerations, the Jill Sanders do point the way to how asymmetry can work as an organizing design and styling principle: through balance. What both halves of the Jill Sanders share is a common aesthetic and material construction. The difference lies in the particular pattern of the uppers. Similarly, when wearing earrings in one ear or a watch on one hand, it doesn’t look odd because the underlying body part is the same on both sides of the body. It’s like a science experiment in which, ideally, all variables are controlled except for the variable being studied, which is free to change. We can see the same principle in one of Becky’s colourful pair of sandals, which you can see in her Flickr photo stream, in which the upper patterns differ but the colour palette and form are the same.

By comparison, try pairing two shoes that differ in just about every respect – like, say, a Birkenstock and a traditional espadrille, or a strappy gold metallic heel with a chunky high-heeled clog.

The take-away, as I see it, is that asymmetry works best when it’s founded on symmetry, and is a function of design instead of mere happenstance. More importantly, selectively breaking with symmetry may offer a snazzy way to spruce up one’s styling options, as this week’s Frivoulous Friday Challenge has been pushing me to do (even if just with socks, but one has to start somewhere.)

So what about y’all? Do you got out of your way to mismatch? What role does asymmetry play in your personal style? I’d love to read about it in the comments below. And if you have pictures, send ‘em on in for a future follow-up post.

Note: Images of the Jill Sanders sandals from Net-A-Porter and are borrowed for illustrative purposes only.


Mica said...

I confess to being very tame in my fashion choices, so any asymmetry would be accidental rather than pre-planned.

Would no doubt find the shoes too difficult to walk in myself!

I do like to stack bracelets on one arm while the other goes bare - one of your more tame examples of mismatching, but one I don't think I could ever give up! In fact in the field of bracelets and various wrist adornments symmetry attracts my attention more - as it seems so out of place.

Frederik Sisa said...

Hi Mica! Thanks for your comment! Asymmetry is hard to pull off successfully unless a particular piece of clothing is specifically designed that way. And I agree, symmetrical wrist adornments end up being more eye-catching since they're unusual. The trick, I suppose, is to avoid looking heavy-handed.

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