The Genteel
August 11, 2020


A jacket from Rachel Sin's latest S/S 2012 Collection.

Designer Coco Chanel had it right when she made the claim that "fashion is architecture, it is only a matter of proportions." As a fashion genius, she understood the creative process and the labour and passion that go into artistic and functional design. Although each field has its own set of rules and materials, both architecture and fashion share inherent similarities. Much like fashion, architecture is an intimate art form, which relies on functionality as much as it depends on shape, outward appearance and delicate detailing. Architecture writer Witold Rybczynski stated that architecture and fashion design may be distinct fields in their own right, "yet we experience them with the same eye. Whether we look at dress or décor, we bring the same visual bias, the same sensibility, the same taste."[1] This connection is abundantly evident in the designs of Toronto-based architect and fashion designer, Rachel Sin.

I do not think I would have been as good of a fashion designer if I did not study architecture.

Although a relatively recent addition to the Canadian fashion landscape, Rachel Sin, the creative director and designer behind her self-titled line, has been in the architecture field for six years. When asked about her choice to study architecture, Rachel doesn't hesitate and remarks that she places the "blame" on her Chinese parents who, like many immigrant parents, always wanted a doctor in the family. As a result, she was strongly advised against studying any arts that were not financially secure.  Architecture seemed like a good compromise.

Designing buildings was not enough for Sin; instead, after establishing herself in the architectural field, she soon began to experiment with fashion design. "I'm one of those people who wants to do it all," proclaims Sin. "Fashion design is another channel for creative release. It's something that I always wanted to do, but did not think I had to go to school to study." Interestingly, this is where architecture and fashion diverge. Although a few designers pursue careers in fashion without a formal education, a formal education is essential for architects. Sin converged both skills, and shortly after her first show in 2009 at Fashion Cures à la Mode, an Ottawa charity fashion event established to showcase local up-and-coming designers, she became a household name in the city. Models, friends and eager customers alike were seen at local Ottawa events sporting the "Sophie" jumper or the "Maia" dress (Sin names all of her garments after close friends and models).

Like Chanel, Sin also believes that architecture and fashion design are analogous, but expressed on a different scale. The difference being that "the smaller the scale, the more design control you have." Sin admits to her expectations within both fields. "Demanding perfection is no easy task in architecture; you must be meticulous and always demand quality. With a clothing line, I enjoy the expression of creativity where I have full design control." Furthermore, according to Sin, architecture is the basis of design. She cites her background in the field to her success in fashion and claims, "I do not think I would have been as good of a fashion designer, if I did not study architecture." 

"Katarina" Dress at F.A.T.

Sin recognizes that studying architecture helped her develop a keen eye for good design: "You study balance, proportion, symmetry, choosing the right materials - all of which can be applied to fashion design." This is evident in her work in fashion, not only in the shape and style of her clothes but also in terms of the quality of materials that Sin chooses to use. In her Fall 2011 collection, one dress, for example (the "Katarina" Dress), is made from 100% Japanese wool, a material that is both comfortable and decadent at the same time. Sin's signature structured dresses and blazers, caged backs and exposed zippers parallel her work on buildings, particularly the new convention centre in Ottawa, for which she was one of the leading architects. The building's exposed beams, glass dome and modern yet simple façade evokes Sin's timeless yet edgy garments, particularly her latest Spring/Summer collection, complete with crotchet tops, high-waisted white linen trousers and a trench coat-inspired dress.

Iconoclastic architect Philip Johnson famously said "a style is a climate in which to operate, a springboard to leap further into the air." Although with fashion, fads tend to be more ephemeral, constantly changing and hard to pin down, in architecture design trends can also be momentary. As in fashion, the popularity of materials, shapes and forms change with time, however despite this, both also have elements of timeless beauty and design. 

Sin giving direction during photoshoot
Sin giving direction to models on F/W 2011 shoot.

When thinking about the design process, for example, Sin always thinks "of a woman attending an event in a modern space, what would she wear that would complement modernist design and become as eternal as the building itself?" In this way, style seems to be the enduring aspect in both architecture and fashion. 

This notion of style is particularly important to Sin because to her being an architect means being a designer first and foremost; combining both fashion and architecture comes naturally because "whether you are designing a building or a garment, the thought process is the same. Inspiration is never one thing or a light bulb you can turn off and on. As an architect you are continuously inspired, you learn to open your eyes to the everyday." As a fashion designer, Sin hopes to extend this feeling to her garments so that they both catch the eye and become must-have items in any woman's closet.  

Rachel Sin's collection can be seen and purchased online at:

[1] Rybczynski, W. The Look of Architecture. NYPL Oxford: New York, 2001. PP 22-24.



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