30 May 2022 ///

Weaving the Tapestry of Architecture, Fashion and Photography with Danielle Smith

There are seven principles inherent to the architectural practice; balance, rhythm, emphasis, contrast, visual, proportion and scale. Each of these features provide the boundaries within which architects illustrate their vision for the structures and buildings around us; and while architecture is concerned with pragmatism, the awareness of spaces are inextricably rooted in the pursuit of beauty. In the book The Poetics of Space, French philosopher Gerard Bachelard uses the environment of the home as a literal and figurative metaphor for establishing the philosophy of aesthetics; that it is our first home and its beauty (or lack thereof) that form our initial experiences, inspire the sights we set our eyes on; our hopes and dreams.  Bachelard says, “And always, in our daydreams, the house is a large cradle. Concrete metaphysics cannot neglect this fact, this simple fact, all the more, since this fact is a value, an important value, to which we return in our daydreaming. Being is already a value. Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house.” – and I was reminded of this quote as being totally transient in my conversation with creative polymath Danielle Smith. Having trained as an architect in her initial degree out of matric – Danielle’s work makes an incisive case for learning, of every kind, as critical for bettering one’s artistic expression – and like Bacherlard’s philosophical sentiments, her inner-home of creative development is an ongoing investigation. With a creative like Danielle, we see the impact of the late, greats Zaha Hadid and Virgil Abloh; the boundary between design of architecture and the design of fashion as unrestrained; wide open for infinite and endless interpretation.

Danielle’s visual work began with architecture, and was later emphasised by fashion – and through her photographic practice, running parallel throughout her career, Danielle’s works depicts a rich balance founded on symmetry, and the distillation of the form required for exceptional buildings, garments and the human beings who animate it all, inbetween. Later this year, Danielle is moving to Florence for a masters degree at the prestigious school Polimoda, and feels this moment is the beginning of her visions unifying towards her life’s work; I studied interior architecture at the University of Pretoria. I think I have always had a love for fashion though, and started making clothes as a hobby when I was younger. It was a big dream for me to go into fashion, but I chose a different route – specifically because it’s on a more ephemeral scale; designing inside of a space. I love the challenge of problem solving, and interior architecture is a practice that really demonstrates the science of art. I used this as a foundation to set my course in the design industry, and I always knew I would eventually move over into the fashion industry. I wasn’t sold on any of the fashion schools in South Africa, and my dad being a conservative Afrikaans man – urged me to ‘get a real degree’. In hindsight, I am so grateful for that.” Danielle reflects, and I wholeheartedly maintain that fashion tends to be one of those practices that benefit less from traditional degrees, than they do from a vivid plethora of experiences, dynamic skill sets and methodologies born out of sheer curiosity. After her degree, Danielle says ‘’I worked in the industry for a while, and freelanced as an interior designer, before finally making the call to step into the fashion space. I studied at The Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan, an intensive tailoring course. I was self-taught until that point, but knew I wanted to refine my skills. Coming home, I joined Viviers Studio – interning at first, and then working my way to studio coordinator. It was such a hands-on space, and a small brand, so everyone is able to do a little bit of everything. Along the line of my life, photography has been the running pulse. It’s been the medium I have relied on the most. I fell in love with film photography, it’s so mechanical – digital is not very interesting to me, because with film there is such a strong capacity to convey mood and emotion. It’s a small science experiment with film.”

At the moment, Danielle’s photography is part of Shutterland – an exhibition curated by Marnus Strydom, reflecting poignant images of South Africa, as a driver to convey the fine art photographic genius of the country, “It’s at the Art and About Gallery in Johannesburg, and I’m co-exhibited alongside around 30 photographers. It’s such a privilege to be alongside people like Roger Ballen, Justice Mukheli, Nadia Raaths – Andile Bhala – this list goes on. It’s surreal that my work can stand alongside this level.” she says. Working freelance as a product developer right now, Danielle muses; “All I have done, and am doing now, is preparation for Italy later this year. The creative direction degree at Polimoda is what I feel is going to tie these various knots together; I am really interested in continuing to weave all my various curiosities into one picture. I want to see the boundaries of categorised practices be able to translate into each other, and I think that is the future for so many creatives; being multi-disciplinary, and constantly evoking circumstances to challenge ourselves.” 

Concurrently, Danielle is developing her own prints and fabrics – amazingly, among all she already does, is this deep sense of creative multi-tasking in speaking to her; it is clear that Danielle can hold many projects in her mind, and sees them through. “I wanted to develop a symbiosis between architecture, fashion and photography. Using my own photographs, I am creating prints – I started with picture images, and being an architect I pay a lot of attention to detail, so naturally I gathered so many images of buildings and spaces. Suddenly I realised that I could morph them; reflect them in patterns and play with the images within a new dimension of fabric. It was so interesting to see these patterns arise, the geometry gives itself quite referentially to a contemporary, African print style. In figuring out how the print could be used, I wanted to emulate something that could portray the quality of film photography – so I am looking at synthetics and raw hemp or silk. With synthetics, it will be more vibrant and clear, and with organic fabrics it will be more faded, more true to the film image itself. I’m excited to have the contrast of both to experiment with.” Having both the practical and aesthetic motivations, Danielle is also creating a silk scarf range – and in doing so, seeks to challenge the way photographs can be showcased. While the traditional exhibition environment will always be a catalyst, Danielle’s intention for her photographs is to exist with someone; whether framed on their wall, or worn on their body, ‘’I think the most exciting part of doing this, of creating these scarfs and print archive, is that I can invite people to step into the moment in time, or place – potentially wearing it, or framing it – it becomes a more dynamic object; it’s livable and wearable. A lot of fashion is seen is as frivolous, but really clothing is an innately practical pursuit – why shouldn’t it be beautiful, too?”

Danielle’s work is so intriguing; her images from her travels are as true to her own vision as her professional, creative work – and her curiosity is so palpable. This is a creative whose joy is to venture Springs, Johannesburg to capture an amazing fact – this town has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world outside of Miami in Florida; right here, in our own country this stark edifical feat exists. For Danielle, this is the strongest reason she creates; to archive and experiment with the materials and memories of the world. With a future enriched by her prospects in Europe, and her deep commitment to South African art and design; what comes next will be nothing short of incredible.

Written by: Holly Bell Beaton

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