How to Literally and Figuratively Take Up Space With Your Style

Natasha Nyanin dresses with an eye for three dimensionality and bold silhouettes.

Perhaps you, like me, are still reeling from the most recent Valentino couture show in which Pierpaolo Piccioli’s bulbous sleeves and floral diadems seemed too three-dimensional to be true: a fairytale colored by the theatricality of proportion but never marred by caricature. But what does three-dimensionality even mean when it comes to clothes? After all, every item of clothing is, technically speaking, three-(if-not-more)-dimensional. I suspect it means clothes that seem to penetrate space in a unconventional manner; clothes that look more like a Zaha Hadid building than a covering for the body; clothes that are, whether amoebic or angular, perspectival in their rendering.

A very unscientific poll of my friends (a sample size of three because I am apparently not so popular) revealed that the name that first sprang to mind when I texted them the term “3D fashion” was Iris Van Herpen, the Dutch designer whose 3D-printed and sculptural clothes are industrial feats that appear to be more art than clothes. Other names floated to the surface as well: Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garcons, of course (who also sometimes played with the illusion of two-dimensionality); Margiela, quite obviously; Stéphane Roland’s glorious gowns; that master of volume and structure that was Cristóbal Balenciaga; and even Christopher Kane, very specifically for his book dresses of AW14.

But theory aside, what does it mean to dress with dimensionality, I wonder? Certainly it involves wearing things that pierce through space (and through time) in an unusual manner. And I dig it when people dress in this way because it feels like an unabashed fuck you to the conventional wisdom that we ought be small and not take up too much space. I say, for as long as manspreading is a phenomenon in the underworld of the subway, wear a box or a balloon if it suits you. But, another way to dress three-dimensionally is to build depth and nuance into a look — not just with structure, but in the other aspects: textural balance, proportion play and concatenations of color, for example.

No matter how one defines 3D dressing, it may not strike most of us as the most accessible of endeavours. Guo Pei’s garments may not be the most practical choice for a run to Trader Joe’s for plantain chips. (Or, perhaps, the Chinese designer’s carved creations are your choice for picking up your weekly supply of tangerine juice. Hey, life’s your circus and you’re the ringmaster!) So, here are three looks that intersect the concept of dimensionality with that vulgar word — perish the thought — wearability.

I can’t tell you the precise moment I became besotted by the accordion pleat. It was some time between seeing a photo, by Henry Clarke, of model Dovima in pleated Jacques Fath capelet and seeing an image of Maria Callas delicately cloaked in a pleated veil. Ah, these musical lines and the multidirectionality they espouse: the accordion pleat is an approximation of infinity. This dress by Rosie Assoulin I’m wearing, which became stuck as I pulled it over my neck and led me to decide I liked it just fine as a single-sleeved tent, is a paragon of how such pleats create malleable volume, a sort of “fluid geometricity” (something I wax prosaic about in this short post and video about a neon Issey Miyake dress). The fiery metallic panel of ombre color adds the sort of depth to a dress that punctuation does a sentence, and so suddenly, you are looking at this defined structure that also has the superpower of spreading like a linnet’s wings.

The shoes are an obvious choice. For me, Alessandro Dell Acqua successfully reinvented the wheel when he dreamt up with these origami-esque shoes for his No. 21 label. So fond am I of this gift-wrapping-for-the-feet that a saintly Instagram follower of mine once messaged me to alert me when they were on sale. I own them in three colors. Or rather, owned, for the canine child of a certain friend of mine chewed my black flat pair into such oblivion that I had no choice but to throw them away, but I digress (as usual). The hexagonal Danse Lente bag’s place in this symphony is obvious and the varying interpolated rays of Begum Khan’s earrings create their own sense of visual complexity, all while making an optical tool of the auricle.

Anita Ward sang “You can ring my bell,” but my mantra has always been (where “always” is “since a week ago when I discovered this fuchsia dress by Saudi brand Ashi Studio”) “Why ring a bell when you can be a bell?” Sometimes creating dimensionality is as simple as embracing exaggerated volume and a rigid frame.This dress I am wearing is one of Ashi Studio’s more streamlined silhouettes, given the brand’s penchant for molding fabric into filigreed multiplanar waves. The black PatBo blouse beneath the shiny satin dress, though its sleeves terminate in a razor-thin pleated bell cuff, flattens out the top half of the look in contrast to the domed skirt. As for Sophia Webster’s black suede shoes, the mountain of white floral appliqué is such a sinuous pattern of interacting soft curves and hard angles, the inflorescence might as well be real.

You’ve caught me! I am a fan of wearable tents. these velvet Cecilie Bahnsen dresses I layered over each other, without the slight absurdity of their proportion, would be little more than baby doll dresses. Yet, copious netting under the black dress transforms it into into a moving trapezium, literally taking “trapeze line” — a style Yves Saint Laurent is credited as having birthed in his first collection for the house of Dior in 1958 — to new heights. I usually shudder at the thought of wearing black and yellow together, lest I be mistaken for a bumble bee, but, as costume designer of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, Antonella Cannarozzi, once told me when I asked her opinion on a certain black and white ASOS dress, the proportion of color matters as much as, if not more than, the combination. Somehow, this much yellow and this much black just seem to work for my eye, and this much sleeve and light-handed ruching just make me heart sing.

Adding the Benedetta Bruzziches animal-print bag to the hive was a choice to play with its box shape and also its mottled appearance in opposition to the flat solid color of the frocks. (tangentially, some of Bruzziches minaudieres are pure odes to the poetry of shape). The bag’s handle, a sensual yet rigid knot itself, creates a sense of unusual dimensionality. And then there are the simple, sharp Nicholas Kirkwood shoes and their paradoxical heels, an intoxicating physical manifestation of, pardon the indulgence, fitting a round peg into a triangular hole. An angled, reflective heel pitted against an obsidian, suede upper? The differences in light interaction result in a feast of dimensionality.

At the end of the day, there really is no science to dressing. To steal a turn of phrase from poet Mary Oliver, one should simply let “the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Mine happens to love an obnoxious sleeve and longs to be Alberta Turbiza in Cristóbal Balenciaga’s envelope dress. In my mind, as Edgar Allan Poe put it, “there is no exquisite beauty…without some strangeness in the proportion.”

Photos by Colby Blount. Follow Natasha on Instagram @natashanyanin

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