The 100-Year-Old German Art School That’s Still Influencing the Fashion World

The 100-Year-Old German Art School That’s Still Influencing the Fashion World

CLARA GIAMINARDI

Even if you don’t immediately recognize the name Bauhaus—the German art school known for its use of geometric shapes and graphic, clean lines—you’ve definitely seen its hallmarks.

Marcel Breuer’s famous Wassily Chair, first designed in 1925 and copied ever since, is still available for purchase. Piet Mondrian’s paintings hang in modern art museums around the world, including both The Met and MoMA.

Throughout the ‘60s until this very day, designers on runways from New York to Milan continuously return to the stark, striking, technicolor prints and geometric shapes that have been a Bauhaus trademark since the movement began 100 years ago. This is especially true of Prada.

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Piet Mondrian, Composition with red, yellow, and blue (1929); Marcel Breuer seated in his Wassily Chair.

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The Italian fashion house’s new Ouverture bag styles embody the Bauhaus spirit. Each is defined by contrasts through three covetable colorways: all-black with a shock of white trim or black and tan are the options for leather; and a tan and deep brown style is what’s available in suede.

They are structured and sleek, comfortable and capacious, and 100% made in Italy. And like many of Bauhaus’ inspired objects, both architectural and functional. Available in different sizes (“maxi”, “midi”, and “mignon”), they feature shoulder straps, double handles, tapes, and hyper-thin straps that can be worn as a hand, arm, shoulder, or cross-body bag. They work for any occasion and any outfit—take them to work or to brunch; carry one every day or bring it on vacation.

Prada Ouverture small leather bag

Clare Giaminardi

Prada has long been intertwined with the art world, often collaborating with artists and borrowing elements from different movements as inspiration for its collections. In fact, the Ouverture bags aren’t the brand’s first Bauhaus-style pieces. The 2014 spring collection referenced the same principles—and had everyone clamoring for color-blocked coats and dresses the second they were sent down the runway .

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Prada’s Spring 2014 runway show

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Other iconic examples over the years have come from all corners of the fashion world. In 1965, Yves Saint Laurent debuted a collection of six dresses paying tribute to the designs of Mondrian. 1950s and 1960s Pucci is synonymous with mod, geometric color-blocking. The Hungarian Bauhaus painter László Moholy-Nagy has directly inspired designers such as Rei Kawakubo and André Courrèges. And London designer Mary Katrantzou’s winter 2018 collection included prints that paid homage to a series of posters from the 1923 Bauhaus Exhibition in Weimar, Germany.

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László Moholy-Nagy, Yellow cross Q VII (1922); a Pucci jumpsuit.

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It was at that exhibition that Walter Gropius, founder of the school, established the Bauhaus movement’s simple yet revolutionary concept for the time: combining fine art (like painting and sculpture) with applied art (like furniture design or industrial design).

After the horrors of World War I, Germany’s artists and designers were faced with a conundrum: how to create a new aesthetic that stripped away the excesses of the past, and provided a sense of tidiness, order, and meaning in a rapidly evolving world.

Bauhaus aimed to provide a sense of tidiness, order, and meaning in a rapidly evolving world.

Throughout the 20s, the main principles emerged. The languid, organic, and decorative style of turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau was replaced with bold shapes and strong color-blocking. The aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts movement, which were rooted in nature and folk styles, were swapped for simplicity and geometric purity.

Prada Ouverture large leather bag; Oskar Schlemmer, Bauhaus Stairway (1932).

Clara Giaminardi; The Picture Art Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

In Bauhaus Stairway (above), painter Oskar Schlemmer focuses on the modular shapes of the human form; László Moholy-Nagy rejected human figures altogether in favor of striking abstractions. Even objects for the home were reduced to their most functional forms: Marianne Brandt’s tea service, created in the mid-1920s, is composed solely of its most essential shapes.

100 years down, it seems unlikely the Bauhaus influence will subside anytime soon.

When political turbulence swept through Germany in 1933, the school—then located in Berlin—closed. As its leaders fled Nazi Germany, the Bauhaus influence was scattered to cities around the world. From Chicago to Tel Aviv, the Bauhaus influence would trickle down throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century in unexpected places.

100 years down, it seems unlikely the Bauhaus influence will subside anytime soon.

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