Multicultural fashion trio uses religion as catalyst for peace

Israeli, Lebanese and Tajik designers fuse geometry and mosaic formations from churches, synagogues, and mosques into clothing patterns.

Model presents threeASFOUR Spring/Summer collection piece 37 (photo credit: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
Model presents threeASFOUR Spring/Summer collection piece 37
(photo credit: REUTERS/Eric Thayer)
A Lebanese, Tajik and an Israeli walk into a studio. Sounds like the making of a bad joke, but in fact, this is the daily routine of the dynamic fashion trio threeASFOUR. Since 1998 Gabriel Asfour, Angela Donhauser, and Adi Gil have been pushing cultural and sartorial norms with avant-garde apparel, proving that two’s company and three’s a multicultural fashion crowd. Yet this season threeASFOUR is taking things a step further fusing religion, geometry, tradition and technology in a collection redefining the way we think of clothing.
With the end of traditional New York fashion week last month, a high profile audience featuring Fern Mallis, Kate Spade, Marisa Tomei, Waris Ahluwalla and Sean Lennon, seemed happy to get away from Lincoln center, the aggressive photographers and the Maybelline stands. But at the threeASFOUR runway presentation, attendees strolled through a Chagall exhibit before reaching an intimate room where models worked the runway in tradition-infused futuristic frocks.
For spring 2014, designers Asfour, Donhauser and Gil, took inspiration from a subject well known to those who call the Middle East home: religion. Rather than just one source of inspiration, this creative trio fused sacred geometry and traditional mosaic formations from churches, synagogues, and mosques across the globe into patterns on dresses, tops, pants and bathing suits using the next big thing in fashion: 3D printers.
Art imitates life for this collaboration as the geometric synergy and design harmony in the collection, reflect their own cohesive vision in everything from textiles to technology. “Naturally we’re from different places” Gil said with a thick Israeli accent. “Gabriel from Lebanon even has roots in Palestine. We’re from all over and we united to make our dreams come alive together. We chose Jewish, Muslim, and Christian tiles as we realized they’re so similar and they work so well in unison.” Just like the three bold designers themselves.
“ThreeASFOUR is outside the fashion system, more of an art world phenomenon. I don’t see them as being part of the general fashion scene“ sputtered a Vogue editor, the quirky Lynn Yaeger, who herself is beyond any system. “I love the collection, what they do—it’s brilliant!”
Nonetheless, there is one fashion trend which the unconventional threeASFOUR is giving into: the museum. Though lights were dimmed and attendees departed with their Ahava filled goodie bags, the show was just the start of a five month multimedia exhibit integrating looks from their Spring 2014 collection, with video projections and creative architecture. The threeASFOUR exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan is following in the footsteps of other fashion installations such as “Punk” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Hippie Chic" at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and "Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s," at The Victoria and Albert Museum.
On view as of September 15, threeASFOUR’s “MER KA BA” exhibition—which hails its name from the Hebrew for chariot and the school of early Jewish mysticism surrounding it, in addition to mystical practices across several antique civilizations—is, by design an ethereal sanctuary inviting contemplation. In the center of the exhibition room stands a three pointed temple, casting a reflection onto the smooth mirror tiles layered across the floor, creating an illusion of a complete six pointed Star of David. Entering the Davidic sculpture, one steps into a strikingly lit temple of mirrors and take in the 3D laser projections of five platonic solids, which look a lot like a Passover-meets-Star-Trek design. Lining the floor, reflective slates make up a “flower-of-life,” inducing your own face to float away in a psychedelic pattern.
It’s refreshing to see religion, often at the root of many conflicts, finally serving as a catalyst for peace. Fusing Muslim, Jewish and Christian symbols in one intricate pattern, threeASFOUR “inspires people to live their dream, while promoting unity and collaboration” as Gil put it. It seems political leaders can learn a thing or two from fashion week, particularly amidst new “peace talks.”
Yet despite the profound message imbued in the sartorial, threeASFOUR is careful to focus more on the powerful experience than the clothing, acknowledging that fashion does not conquer all. “We won’t settle for just making clothing that will be the hottest thing this month and rejected the next” Gil explained, expressing her aversion towards one season hit wonders.
Is threeASFOUR getting their message across? Waris Ahluwalia, the eminent jewelry designer—who also happens to be a Sikh with the turban and beard to prove it— surely thought so at the September runway show. “It’s all the same thing whether it’s visually or principally. At the core, we’re all the same so it’s nice for these designers to bring that together and show it to the world,”Ahluwalia explained with a warm smile. "Whatever religion you practice, principles are generally the same, with a lot of fluff around it. One guy wears a yarmulke, one guy wears a turban, another wears beads—these are essentially just great fashion accessories!”