Photography: Elisabet Davids
Text: Alec Coiro
What I already knew about threeASFOUR was that they were a trio of daring designers who had been subtly influencing the shape of international fashion since Gabi, Adi, and Angela along with Kai Kühne began As Four in 1998. What I didn’t realize about the three-person collective is that there is a unified theory governing every collection they produce and every work of art they create, one that can be found manifest at every step of their evolution.
They refer to their guiding philosophy as Sacred Geometry. Gabi explains, “It’s the golden proportions, the golden mean, it all comes from the circle and the radius of the circle.” You’re probably aware of their iconic circle bag, and the arc of the circle is seen somewhere in almost all of their pieces, but sacred geometry is not limited to the circle alone. It is the Fibonacci number; the foundation of fractals; it is that mathematical essence that we see repeating everywhere in the universe. Adi elaborates: “It’s something that’s everywhere and unites all of us. It’s in the snowball and finger prints and plants. There is a certain proportion that nature follows. This is sacred geometry.”
Related to their foundation in sacred geometry is threeASFOUR’s relentless assault on artificial binaries. Dichotomies like serious/playful, Jewish/Muslim, male/female, better/worse are revealed to be arbitrary. The future, for example, is not better or worse than the past in the eyes of threeASFOUR, but rather part of a natural evolution. Likewise, they believe that in the future the male/female distinction will unravel. Gabi: “We feel that male and female in the future are the same. Gender will go away. We will not have to have sexual intercourse. We’ll have intercourse telepathically and our bodies will look the same.”
If there is one geometry that all things share then all differences between us, even gender difference, must be false or at the very least highly superficial.
The history of threeASFOUR begins when Kai left and an era of As Four came to a close. It was an unfortunately public breakup and if you’re reading this, you probably remember when it happened in 2006. Adi describes it as “going through a divorce.” However, like many divorces that are rough when they’re happening, the two parties today get along amicably. Gabi and Adi tell me about Kai’s new auction house, which they sound impressed by. I was surprised to see Kai in upstate new york a few summers ago where he seems to have transformed himself into quite the country gentleman.
Kai’s leaving marked the beginning of threeASFOUR, but it did not mark the end of the project the group had begun. Gabi and Adi describe this moment not as the end of As Four but as its evolution into the next phase. Immediately after the As Four split up, people began calling the group “As Three,” which made no sense because Asfour is the Arabic word for “Bird,” while Asthree doesn’t mean anything. Or ss Gabi puts it, “As Three sounds terrible.” threeASFOUR because they are like three birds.
THE 2008 CRASH
Soon after threeASFOUR was formed, the bond market crashed and the fashion industry was transformed. Gabi: “The market crash made the whole fashion market more conservative. There was no room for creativity.” As a result, they decided to divest themselves from the market. “We didn’t want to come back to distribution. We were not happy in terms of how the operation was working. We didn’t have the team to make it grow and have enough time to be creative as well. To do it the way we want, we would require a bigger operation, a bigger preparation.”
Unlike many of their peers who went under when the market crashed, threeASFOUR redirected their energies. Adi: “We focused more on art shows and on the conceptual part of the collection.”
THE CONCEPTUAL PERIOD
Their focus on the conceptual yielded a proliferation of art that revealed a socially conscious, spiritual side of the group that might not have surfaced otherwise. The first of these shows was the Spring/Summer 2012 collection inSALAAm inSHALOm. Adi: “In 2011 we did a collection that was inspired by the geometry in both the Jewish and Arab world. We took geometries from both of these worlds and put them together in one. The year after we were invited to Israel to do a museum show on that concept. We found out about Israeli artists and Palestinian artists and brought them all together. Suddenly we were not just doing another collection but an entire museum show involving both sides.”
The concept for inSALAAm inSHALOm derives from threeASFOUR’s core understanding that all things, all genders all creeds, and all cultures share the same underlying geometry. The ease with which the symbols from Jewish and Arab worlds combine reveals that they share the common germ of sacred geometry. Adi: “These patterns don’t come from the religions. The religions took them from sacred geometry that’s what we wanted to show that all these different religions if you lay them over each other they all work together because the root of all these patterns is sacred geometry. That’s why we always play with sacred geometry because it’s everywhere and it doesn’t matter where you’re born who you are. A year after we did the show with the Jewish Museum uptown involving the three religions Jewish, Muslim and Christian.”
The sabbatical from creating fashion for the marketplace also gave the trio the space to expand their interest in technology, which has found its latest apex in the threeASFOUR 3D-printed dress. When I arrived at their studio, the interns were in the process of carefully packing a strikingly regal 3D-print dress into an enormous box to be sent to the MET for the May 2016 gala “Manus X Machina.”
The concept for the 3D dress originated when threeASFOUR was approached by the 3D-printing company Materialise to sponsor a 3D-printed piece. “They saw that we were into technology from our previous work with laser cutting and geometry. We worked with an architect and did 2 dresses and 6 pairs of shoes.”
threeAFOUR uses technology, not as a gimmick or design quirk, but rather because they are future-oriented and philosophically driven. This sets them apart in a contemporary fashion design atmosphere where many other designer seems to take inspiration from the past and serve no higher mission. theeASFOUR, on the other hand, is intentional and measured about their use of technology. They are aware of their generation’s unique straddling of the world of craft and the world of the machine, and, as Adi is quick to point out, “We still love to play and work with craft. The idea is to use technology but also use old-fashioned handcraft and bring them together because it’s the balance of past and future where we are. Our generation came before we had cellphones and email. We are in the in-between generation. That’s why we celebrate the two.”
THE NEXT CHAPTER
With the great recession no longer a drag on the fashion industry, threeASFOUR feels there’s once again space for them to start selling worldwide again. Gabi: “It’s coming back. The audience is much more accepting of creativity. A sign is the CFDA just gave the award to Gypsy Sport, and that’s encouraging. Now we feel that products could work again.” Not coincidentally, their decision to go to product coincides with their decision to begin designing Men’s Wear. “Men’s wear is more difficult. It needs to have more base, more substance, more essence, more history. We couldn’t have launched men’s unless we did women’s for this long. We see men’s as pieces to sell; not so much showpieces. For that to happen you need some time of trial and error to know what your DNA is, what your essence is.”
I couldn’t help asking if they had a new bag in the works to follow up on the famous circle and kidney bags. Adi says, “Yes, but in a different way. I don’t want to say right now.” Do they have a secret plan? “We do have a secret plan, which is coming soon.”