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Weaving the Threads of Design

The connections between the worlds of interiors and fashion make it an exciting time to be a design professional.

By Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC

The connections between the worlds of interiors and fashion make it an exciting time to be a design professional.

Celebrated fashion designer Coco Chanel once said, “An interior is the natural projection of one’s soul and Balzac was right in giving it the same importance as to dress.” This statement speaks not to aesthetics, as one might think, but implies a deeper kinship between interior design and fashion through fundamental concerns related to the human body.

Considering visual culture in the elements of materiality, and concepts of form, shape and space, it makes sense that there is an increased interest in the world of fashion by interior designers (and vice versa). The human-centric point of view that is so critical in the interior design field leads to a deep understanding of people relative to time and place; psychological affect; and the importance of connecting experientially with an environment in an authentic way. That just so happens to align with fashion’s own unique vantage point.

Powered by the occupants of a space, fashion exists within our interior environments to contribute to and uniquely enhance the experience. And who doesn’t want pleasurable and memorable experiences? Based on recent events such as the DIFFA Gala, IIDA Cool and ASID Celebration, it’s clear that the interior design profession is interested in fashion and understands it well!

The threads that connect interior design and fashion are like the warp and weft of a textile. The common language of functionality, aesthetics and meaning frames a conversation of practice in which there is a focus on individual users in terms of identity and purposeful space. The book, Fashion, Interior Design and the Contours of Modern Identity (ed. Alla Myzelev and John Potvin, 2010), presents a collection of essays that suggests a visual and cultural connection in terms of one’s dress, interiors and personal identity, making a strong case for a relationship between the two.

Of course, this connection isn’t exactly a new discovery. Throughout the course of time, there have been those who have made the transition to fashion from interior design. From the legendary and iconic interior decorator, “clothes-horse” and theater designer Elsie de Wolfe (1865) to Philippe Starck, Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel today, the concept of interdisciplinary practice is alive and well.

Indeed, the development of the design professions over time has reflected an interdisciplinary approach in terms of synchronicity and process. Ateliers of the Arts and Crafts period, for example, were not only interior designers, but furniture, lighting and textile designers, as well. Functionality and aesthetics stimulated the artistic senses and became sources of creativity and innovation. Dominant design themes were impacted by cultural, social and political ideologies of the times, and drove collaborations as well. This served to propel a language and creative process that is recognized as fundamental to the understanding of design. Considering comfort, aesthetics and functionality is intrinsic among design disciplines; making connections between them comes down to a matter of scale.

There are many professions that fall under the umbrella of “design,” based on the process that is applied in the scope of work. We understand that design is based on relationships between people and the environment and has relevance at multiple levels, yet the “language” of design is seemingly understood among design professionals in all fields.

The scale of this understanding runs the gamut from textile, fashion and product design on a micro level, to industrial, urban and transportation design on the macro level. Interior design, architecture and graphic design represent an area of overlap that bridges the gap between the three, as they each represent a human-focused approach to design that focuses on a particular user group or need.

It is invigorating as a design professional to see the approach, philosophy and imperative that drives interdisciplinary design solutions in a creative environment. Designers like Laurinda Spear have a propensity for this kind of work, which serves multiple professions at unique and creative levels.

Furthermore, the development and use of products for both fashion and interior design continues to provide inspiration, and stirs an interest in materials and their components. As an example, I previously had an opportunity to acquire a sample of retro-inspired textiles from Designtex, and having an appreciation for the 1960s, used it to design a dress that turned heads at the 2012 NeoCon show. I recall the fabric designer saying that she had never considered that application before, but seeing my dress in person gave her some new ideas.

And while I certainly don’t proclaim to be a fashion designer, I will confess to a great love of fashion, innovative design and focus on appropriateness of the product to the design solution. Through this process, new ideas germinate and inspire us into new areas of discovery.

The current business environment seems perfect for interdisciplinary practice as young, energetic designers enter the market. Sarah Strader Design in Los Angeles is an example of a firm whose practice includes product and interior design; Strader recently launched her own line of textiles and a fashion line, as well. As a full-service design company, she blends design thinking with no boundaries and demonstrates a passion for design.

On the other end of the scale, companies like Cadillac and Ford are now hiring interior designers to create car interiors that are comfortable, user-friendly and home-like. A focus on women in terms of car design represents a shift towards a growing workforce that requires special consideration as a consumer base. Transportation companies such as luxury buses, yachts and even some airlines have turned to interior designers for assistance because an understanding of human need and behavior is required for the design of such spaces.

These examples reflect an interest and need to approach design not as a single view or profession, but one that crosses into many areas. The ability to connect the dots between design professions is an imperative, but the good news is that we are already linked together through a shared design language. We contribute to a better society through design, through interdisciplinary work and by communicating value—whether it’s on a micro or macro scale. The relevance of design is a thread that connects us all.


Barbara Marini, FASID, IDEC is the national president of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and owner/principal of Marini Interiors, Inc. a commercial interior design and consulting firm in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the web at