Today, we speak with Flowen designers Flavia Lowenstein and Juan Azulay, whose designs are featured in the exhibition store for Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, The Costume Institute’s newest show. Using a unique “intensive computing” design platform to create contemporary jewelry and accessory designs, Lowenstein and Azulay embody the spirit of the exhibition. Their beautiful pieces are inspired by a study of form in relation to time, change, mutation, and adaptation. Here, they give us a peek into their world.
Can you tell me a bit about your background in design?
Flavia Lowenstein comes from the fashion world, while Juan Azulay has a background in architecture and media arts culture. Flavia attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City for a major in accessories design and subsequently Istituto Marangoni in Milan for a Master’s degree in brand development. Juan studied architecture at the Frank Gehry-founded SCI-Arc school in Los Angeles, and then attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York City.
Flavia’s professional training is the product of having worked in high-end shoe and accessory factories and showrooms in Italy while Juan was immersed in the innovative design and media arts culture of Los Angeles, where he also taught advanced architectural design.
What interests you about fashion?
Fashion is a very interesting indicator of culture, one that dramatically oscillates between its fringe conditions and its history and tradition. As such, fashion can be a thought provoking and transformative force, where the opportunity to drive change and evolution in culture is constant.
Fashion also has the ability to invoke a dream state where it becomes possible to redefine and embody the imaginary: our body, our idea of self, our core beliefs can become something else. By reimagining our world, we understand the world that surrounds us deeply.
Accessories (especially jewelry) function as relics: artifacts that contain meaning. They can also serve as totems: quasi-religious objects made with noble materials and intangible myths. It is not a coincidence that gold is a universal measure of stability and permanence and functions as currency, yet is also a symbol of unattainable desire.
What interests you about technology?
In our case with Flowen, technology is its defining ethos, its DNA. It exists at the heart of its concept. It would not be possible to conceptualize what we do without its technological basis.
We use “intensive computing” as our design platform. The processing power of the computer has brought along the possibility of designing objects comparable in complexity with organisms found in nature, created over millions of years of evolution. We study and iterate form in terms of time, change, mutation, adaptation: computing speeds up evolution.
Therefore, instead of mimicking natural forms by molding prototypes with hands or tools, we use surface modeling software to create a digital environment that, with our guidance, computes extraordinarily complex (sculptural) geometry that becomes our own version of nature, our own mythology.
Only then we can then translate directly (without the use of “originals” or molds) into solid objects, using proprietary technology and processes: we call this process of fabrication “digitally grown.” Solid objects rise from precious metal powder. It is a zero-waste process as every ounce of material is either used or recycled.
It looks like your designs are largely focused on metal—is there something specific about the material that interests you?
Metal has an intrinsic nobility, plasticity, weight, and varying degrees of preciousness. It also has incredible combinatory properties, which can be accomplished chemically through plating as well as mechanically through assembly. Precious and semiprecious metals also have a cultural history of meaning: their myths can be understood by the history of relics and sacred objects across civilizations and time. We like to think of Flowen as a concept brand that strives to create its own myths in its own particular continuation with history.
How do you feel that your work fits with the exhibition theme, Manus x Machina? Do you feel that your process relies or is informed more by man or machine?
In the case of Flowen, we find that the human is more of a steering or shaping force—one that works as a feedback system within the technological, which is the original pulse.
As such, Flowen is the first accessories brand to integrate pure digital design and fabrication with traditional Italian craftsman finishing. It is not a do-it-yourself, one-stop-shop 3D print. It is truly the marriage of both cultures that is at the heart of Flowen’s concept, which allows the efficiency, intricacy, wearability, and functionality as well as the luxury market standard.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
In contrast to our technology-based craftsmanship, our design aesthetic is based on nature and the organic world. The design can come from different sources: sometimes it starts with studying the detail of a leaf’s structure; sometimes we invent our own patterns or forms, and we describe them in our own way. Geology, botany, biology, natural history, and science fiction are disciplines that contribute to our visual research and documentation. We love disciplines that examine, decode, organize, and re-create their object of study and have the ability to make their own consistent world where science meets art to reach for the religious.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Concept-driven naturalism, it is cerebral, intuitive, and romantic, strong yet fluid. Flowen also thinks on a gender curve.
Can you walk me through the design and production process for the Goda Earrings?
The Goda Earring started with a study of cell structure. It was developed to the point where we had a complete integral form, with the required intricacies in variation, density, and three-dimensionality—which are constants in all of Flowen’s work. Then, an organic detachment of the shape was used to create the hoop, which is still continuous with the curvature of the object’s boundary.
Once the geometry is defined, we submit it to fabrication for prototyping, as we have tolerances for the thicknesses in the web (which is far more delicate than anything a mold can offer). We perfect the prototype until it holds, then we digitally grow the forms in small batches. Then we route them to the several plating finishes that we offer. Lastly, they can be embellished with diamonds or semiprecious stones.
How does it feel to have your pieces for sale at The Met?
The Met is the perfect match for Flowen, especially in conjunction with the current exhibition on view at The Costume Institute! Our love of fashion culture and art meets our fascination with the curation of natural history, speaking directly and seamlessly to our vision. We cannot imagine a better place for us.