An early post on Concrete Collar, which is a blog about “the cross-pollination between fashion and architecture”, used the Grand Canal Docks sign as a backdrop in a way that stuck in my mind. The sign faces out towards the Liffey, sitting at the end of the sliver of land between the mouths of the Grand Canal and the River Dodder. It’s visually strong – big white letters weathering around the edges, the outline of the frame behind, the silhouette effect against the sky when read from either side – and it’s easy to imagine how it might come to mind as a location. When you get up close, though, it’s also a slightly unnervingly quiet and secluded spot, a small path of grubby grass and the sign in behind, and the wind from the port and the river is pretty strong. For me, it was a solitary experience spent mostly trying to keep my hair out of my lipgloss and my camera lens. Not exactly glamorous, but more than that, I realise looking at the photographs that my interaction with the built environment is an effort to represent it as if I’m not there.
Concrete Collar did something else with the place, though. I’m a big fan of the blog, and I really enjoy seeing how the two women behind it – Ciana March and Becky Wallace, both architecture students – use the built environment. There’s an interplay between the styling and the buildings, and there’s also the aspect of interacting physically with the space in photographs, like each shot is interpreting the setting instead of it just being in the background, and their big and small choices demonstrate their architectural interest throughout the project. The locations so far have been extremely varied, too, and I got very curious about how they’re picking them and using them.
Ciana and Becky were kind enough to let me use some flimsy excuse about the Docks sign to ask them a few questions…
How did Concrete Collar come about? Any particular influences, and have these changed as the blog has developed?
Since we met in first year we’ve shared a mutual interest in fashion and of course, given the course we’d chosen, architecture. For us, a blog seemed like the perfect medium to help satisfy our desire to work with fashion and other areas of design that wasn’t being met by our course.
Becky and I spent a few months in Australia together and one of our most leisurely past times was spent visiting the many quirky cafes that Sydney has to offer. The idea came to us over a flat white one day. We’d both spend a lot of time trawling through the thousands of personal style blogs that are out there and I suppose we felt we wanted to do something different. Combining our two favourite design disciplines seemed the best way to do this.
Our list of influences is endless. At the moment, there a lot of exciting things happening in the Irish fashion scene… names like Simone Rocha and Angela Scanlon come to mind. We’re always on the lookout for fashion editorials that have been shot in spaces of architectural interest. COS shot their A/W 2012 lookbook on top of Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation which was very up our alley! We are particularly inspired by some of our fellow students who have been successful in applying their architectural skills to other areas of design, most notably Aisling Ahern who is currently juggling running her own millinery company with her thesis.
(Photo: Concrete Collar)
I really enjoy the blog’s aesthetic, especially the points where there’s an interplay between the fashion and architecture. Does that happen in the moment, or do the choices of fashion and architecture for a post inform one another?
Ciana: We always do a post with a particular location in mind and we then dress (to the best of our ability and within the restraints of a wardrobe on a student budget) accordingly. Perhaps when we’re working full-time our locations will be chosen to suit our new wardrobe but that day seems a while away yet!
What do you look out for in a location? Are there styles or elements that particularly appeal to you?
Ciana: Access is a big issue. We’ve been lucky on some occasions where we’ve known someone who lived in a building we were interested in. We are simply interested in spaces or buildings that have an interesting or unusual story to tell. Having spent so many years designing in various parts of Dublin, I guess you could say we have a library of locations stored in our minds… it’s about finding enough time to get around to them.
(Photo: Concrete Collar)
You’re both obviously well-travelled: are there any areas where Dublin and Ireland come up short for you?
I think the first thing that comes to mind is the weather. Often our shoots are cut short as our fingers have become too numb to operate the camera! But on a more meaningful note, I feel it has a huge effect on our public outdoor spaces and how they’ve been designed. Apart from the obvious examples of urban landscape design such as Grand Canal Dock and Smithfield Square, there is a huge lack of designed outdoor space in Dublin. I’m currently working on a housing project in the docklands and it’s shockingly evident that the provision of green and public space was an afterthought, the execution of which the residents are still waiting for.
Sort of relatedly, but the Grand Canal Dock sign and some of your other locations that were particularly graphically strong got me thinking about Dublin’s visual identity, and your wry “Dublin’s Hollywood sign” was a reminder about the city’s limitations… Do you think there’s another visual story for the city in these elements, or would that be pushing it a bit?
Interestingly the Amsterdam based bloggers of The Pop-Up City are in Dublin at the moment for an event called ‘Bloggers in Residence’ hosted by Pivot Dublin. Dublin’s City Architect Ali Grehan interviewed The Pop-Up City at the OFFSET Creative Festival last Sunday about the role of design in branding a city, particularly the city of Dublin. One of their conclusions is that our capital is looking for an answer to the question: What is the identity of our city, and how should this be expressed?
We don’t have the answer yet but Pop-Up City commented that, “Dublin design seems to be not that much engaged with urban, societal and economic issues as it is in some other cities, that seem to understand that design could be used as a tool to address and improve societal conditions and provoke change.” By engaging with these unique, overlooked spaces around Dublin, concrete collar is attempting to reframe the city as we know it and to strengthen its visual identity. Fashion is an obvious way to forge a connection between people and place and to express Dublin’s unique style.
(Photo: Concrete Collar)
Have you tried anywhere that hasn’t worked? (I loved the note in your Point Village District Centre post about the lack of security guards, it’s a familiar concern!)
Some locations work better than others but we’ve never completely discounted anywhere after shooting. We found the Military Road challenging as we were at the mercy of the icy weather and the cloud conditions were constantly changing and affecting lighting. Every location has been testing but when you find the right angle or composition, it’s almost like you’ve unlocked the space and it’s a rewarding feeling.
Any changes in how you think about architecture and your college work since starting the blog? Do you manage to incorporate your interest in fashion, or is the blog your major outlet for that?
I think it’s fair to say that Irish schools of architecture can be quite conservative and forging links between the disciplines of fashion and architecture can be met with skepticism. However we think encouraging a discourse between them can be mutually beneficial.
At the moment Ciana is writing an essay on street photography, looking at how streetscape becomes a mere backdrop to the shot, allowing the clothes to create the composition. For my dissertation, I am examining ways in which the function of dress has been extended beyond clothing to shelter and architecture.
(Photo: Concrete Collar)
What’s next for Concrete Collar, and what are you both enjoying in architecture and fashion?
Becky: Surviving the next 6 weeks and completing this M.Arch is top of the priorities list at the moment! I find myself easily distracted by the demands of the blog and future posts and I’m really excited to give it my full attention come summer. We have big plans! Ultimately I’d love to gain experience in both disciplines of architecture and fashion with dreams of making a career out of it down the road.
Ciana: I’m a year behind Becky so for now, I just need to concentrate on getting myself through the rest of the semester! Things have really picked up pace with concrete collar so I’m really looking forward to getting around to doing everything we’ve got planned. Further down the line, I can’t see myself feeling satisfied doing strictly one over the other. I don’t think there are any companies working strictly with architecture and fashion so I’ll have to figure out a way to get around that… all in good time!
Thanks to Ciana March and Becky Wallace for the thoughtful answers and for allowing me to reproduce some of their photographs. To see them in action, head over to Concrete Collar.