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Clare Melhuish reviews Versace's parallels between fashion and architecture

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After the disappointment of Australian architect Gabriel Poole's non-appearance for a scheduled lecture at the V&A, the museum's Versace retrospective offered a diverting alternative.Architecture is always flirting with fashion - both are driven by the human body as their central concern - but the work of Gianni and Donatella Versace might be thought unlikely to attract the interest of architects.

Projects such as Gabriel Poole's Poole House in Queensland suggest that denial of colour and formal exuberance is not necessarily a part of the architect's repertoire. Described as embodying a 'freedom of spirit', this series of three pavilions with exaggerated monopitch roofs might strangely appeal to the Versace aesthetic, despite its embedded relationship with the uncultivated bush. The Versace oeuvre demonstrates a profound attachment to the whole concept of 'cultivation' - of the triumph of human invention and artifice over the natural.

The collection, exhibited for the first time on such a scale, celebrates the notion of personal decoration as an expression of the unnatural - veering wildly between the tasteless and the magnificent.Viewed as an essay in the impact of culture and craft on the elaboration of basic human needs, it holds considerable interest for the architect.

Indeed, there are immediate parallels to be drawn between Versace's fascination with the texture and pattern of the skin, or 'cladding', of the clothed human being and current architectural investigations into the potential of the building envelope or surface for elaboration beyond the limits of the conventional glass and metal curtain wall.

Versace's gaudy prints, such as the Marilyn Munroe/ James Dean evening gown, stand alongside intensively-worked fabrics transformed into contoured landscapes with rich embroidery, applique, and encrustations of sequins and beads. In these designs, line becomes secondary to surface; similarly, the use of the metal-mesh fabric Oroton shows surface texture and materiality taking the lead in shaping form.

By contrast, a design such as Liz Hurley's safety-pin dress explores more regular architectural preoccupations with the refinement of structural joint and junction details - a concern that runs through much of the collection, particularly in the prolific use of belts and buckles. But, as surface pattern and texture come to the fore in the work of younger fashion designers such as Eley Kishimoto, and as the emergence of new materials expands the scope of such investigations, it is this which seems to suggest the relevance of Versace to architectural concerns.

The Gianni Versace retrospective runs at the V&A, London, until 12 January

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