Abstraction and Idealization: The case of Futurist and Constructivist single-piece overalls
This paper explores the role of abstraction within fashion design in relation to Futurist fashion and the garments designed by Constructivist artists. Whether in art or in fashion, the designed, represented, tailored body implicitly calls into question the relationship between the individual body and its idealization, as well as traditional conceptual pairs, as subject/object, inside/outside, nature/culture, which govern our way of talking and thinking about the body. If abstraction can take place only through a process of simplification that each time selects certain common features, this process implies renouncing to the singular differences existing between ‘real’ bodies. Interesting is the case of Futurist fashion and the tuta, a ‘universal’ one-piece garment created, in 1919, by designer and artist Ernesto Michahelles, under the pseudonym Thayaht, in collaboration with his brother Ruggero Michahelles (RAM). Inspired by the concepts of simplicity, functionality and reproducibility, the tuta in its innumerable versions has deeply permeated not only fashion but more generally everyday life, as well as contemporary terminology. Originally, it was composed of straight lines forming a T-shape, and even in the variant for women was deprived of any ornamentation, reflecting the Modernist aesthetics. Being adaptable to any occasion and allowing a complete freedom of movement, the tuta followed parameters of universality and uniformity, and responded to the ‘new’ need of favoring through clothing the ‘vertiginous movement of human life’ (Umberto Boccioni, “La Pittura Futurista”, 1911). The tuta invented by Thayaht presents multiple similarities with the overall garments designed, in the early 1920s, by Constructivist artists as Alexander Mikhailovich Rodchenko and Vavara Stepanova. These overalls were instances of ‘production clothing’ and, although were never put into production, were permeated by the same ideals of universality, uniformity, simplicity and practicability that can be found at the origin of the tuta. Nevertheless, while the Constructivist single-piece overall was mainly conceived for workers, the tuta was a garment tout court, not projected as work wear, and was initially adopted even by members of the Italian aristocracy.
The paper explores the origin of the Futurist and Constructivist overall garments, contextualizing them in the cultural and artistic climate in which they were conceived. It emphasizes then their points of convergence, and reflects on the very different audiences and purposes for which they were created. It references documentation from the Thayaht Foundation, referring also to the exhibitions Per il sole e contro il sole. Thayaht e Ram. La tuta/Modelli per tessuti (Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti, Florence, 2008), Modernism: Designing a New World (V&A, 2006), Revolutionary Costume: Soviet Clothing and Textiles of the 1920s (Ministero della Cultura dell'URSS and Associazione Italia-URSS, Pesaro, 1987).