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Barbara I Gongini


An unorthodox and radical current, Avant-Garde is synonymous with pushing the boundaries of culture for well over a century. Since its first inception, this movement generated major progress in fields like art, music, architecture, literature, theatre and film and most importantly, fashion. In fashion terms, avant-garde spanned generations of notable designers who reshaped the way people perceive and wear clothes. Characterized as progressive and forward thinking, the once eyebrow-raising style is now a worldwide phenomenon. One of these avant garde designers is Barbara í Gongini, an active participant in the Nordic art discourse, in close collaboration with film, music and photography artists, which all added to her creative process. Keep reading and take a journey through her views on what is avant garde fashion today and how it all started!

What is Avant-Garde: a modern definition

Avant-garde (pronounced a’vant-garde) is an intellectual, artistic and cultural movement characterized by the experimental, the radical and the unorthodox approaches. Derived from french and meaning vanguard or advance guard, the term describes the few who dare to go in front and defy conventions. The current also defines an attitude of freedom from the conventions of society. This is why avant-garde is not the same as modernism. Modernism, as a term, defines a period that integrates all aspects of society while avant-garde rejects the mainstream in favor of the unique.


What makes something avant-garde is its capacity to transcend the boundaries of convention through experimentation and propose a different way of doing things, whether in art, dance, fashion, or any other of the creative arts. The term 'avant-garde' is typically used to describe innovative movements or the people creating them, who are considered to be ahead of their time.


Why is Avant-Garde important

Avant-garde is important because it’s based on constant innovation, taking risks and thinking forward. Real progress can only be made through failure and who wishes to advance must be prepared to fail. Some of the most important artistic and cultural achievements have been made through avant-garde. Rejecting the common mentality and nurturing originality has allowed those who are free in mind to shape the future. Innovation is the key to success.


In what way is Avant-Garde experimental & innovating

To fully grasp the concept and its importance, Barbara Í Gongini, our avant-garde fashion designer explains: “Avant-garde can be viewed as experimental because it has something to do with constantly being on the edge, thinking forward and exploring new possibilities. Mirroring the times in which we are living provides a relevance to the form of expression of the artist.” By relying on social context, the artists explores and creates blindly, in an experimental approach to discovering where the artistic inspiration will take him. With trying different ways of doing something comes innovation and thus, progress.

Avant-Garde’s History & Artistic Roots

The avant-garde movement primarily consists of artists, designers, musicians, writers and even thinkers who are opposed to cultural values of the mainstream. The vanguard notion means traveling beyond the social norms to think and create beyond established social norms.

At a global level, the movement has seen noticeable progress ever since its inception in the late 1850’s. The cultural impact has since been defined, categorized and made iconic by personalities who, for their contribution, have become notable names for avant-garde.

Famous Avant-Garde artists

Art and Culture

Amongst the most prominent avant-garde visual artists, there is Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Constantin Brâncuși, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. Another hugely influential field was the ever changing landscape of architecture. Names such as Le Corbusier, Norman Foster, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn are synonymous with architectural boldness.


Barbaraigongini Avantgarde Le Corbusier

House by Le Corbusier


Furthering the visual arts are those artists who have made a name for themselves in avant-garde filmmaking. Jonas Mekas is one the utmost authority in American avant-garde cinema - others, such as experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and the famous David Lynch have also brought an amazing contribution to this field.

Across the Pacific, Ryūtarō Nakamura and Shūji Terayama distinguished themselves both in film and in other fields.


Barbaraigongini Constantin Brâncuși

Portrait: Constantin Brâncuși


Music & Literature

A fundamental aspect of musical avant-gardism is the rise of electronic music. The techno scene in particular is often associated with avant-gardism. Artists such as german group Kraftwerk or the iconical Daft Punk duo have contributed to the popularization and widespread acceptance of the phenomenon.

The techno and alternative music scenes can still be regarded as authentical avant-garde. DJ and producers around the world are crafting their own unique sound aimed at improving current aesthetic conventions. The writers of the avant-garde movement are known for their experimental literature and their innovation of writing techniques. Notable experimental writers include James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, Tristan Tzara (picture below) and Raymond Queneau.


Barbaraigongini Tristan Tzara

Portraid: Tristan Tzara


Avant-garde in Fashion

In fashion, avant-garde manifested in a similar way to other fields. It presumed forward thinking, artistry, unconventional designs, new forms, structures and an extraordinary touch that separates the ideas from the mainstream. Avant garde fashions distinguishes itself through the fact that it embodies a way of living. To explain how avant garde influenced fashion, Barbara Í Gongini explains: “Avant-garde fashion emanates deeply in some sort of holistic sense of being. The whole Japanese aesthetic philosophies emanate very much with what I am. What I stand for.“ The continuous experimental approach has defined a fashion style that has a very specific tone of voice. Those who are familiar avant-garde fashion have developed a unique way of understanding it. Thus, a connection is made through very personal way of expressing yourself - “It tells stories which go deep under the skin and perception of the wearer.”



Barbaragongini Avantgarde

Barbara I Gongini backstage Copenhagen Fashion Week. Photo by Adam Katz Sinding


Avant-Garde Contributions to Fashion

The movement has impacted the way designers think and create their work. Certain tendencies caught on and are now widespread. Barbara Í Gongini explains: “The lack of color is one of the biggest fashion contributions of the avant-garde movement. Our brand mainly works with monochrome shades. Keeping only a single tone gives the opportunity to work on clothing like on a canvas”. The form, shape, and volume of outfits have also been changed by the avant-garde influence. Details now consist of unexpected cuts and oversized tailoring which offer a different perspective to what the wearer is presenting.


Famous Avant-Garde Fashion Designers

Through its long evolution, prominent avant-garde fashion designers have established their own particular style to an iconic level. Avant-garde fashion roots are hard to trace but it was the Japanese designers, in particular, have had a major influence in the field, kickstarting the whole concept and setting off a global revolution. According to avant-garde fashion designer Barbara I Gongini, “the most inspirational figures at the moment are old school Avant-gardists like Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo and Junja Watanabe.” 


Barbara I Gongini Yohji Yamamoto

Portraid: Yohji Yamamoto


Yohji is one of the few avant-garde designers that have managed to successfully entwine a non-conformist approach to fashion with mainstream brands. His collaboration with adidas for the famous Y-3 brand has broken new ground in fashion wear. It’s hard to lay down a top 10 iconic avant-garde designers but other remarkable ones besides those mentioned are Thierry Mugler, Courrèges, Boris Bidjan Saberi, Carol Christian Poell, Julius and Rick Owens.


Barbaraigongini Julius7

Image Credit: Julius


Other contemporary designers such as Rick Owens are held in high regards amongst top avant-garde fashion designers. His influential style has been translated into runway collections as well as other fields such as design.


Barbaraigongini Rick Owens

Image Credit: Rick Owens


Contemporary Avant-Garde Fashion

Today’s contemporary style is very different, quite opposite to what was being made in the old days. While the roots and pioneering designs are still respected, there is an extreme clash/paradox between the extreme overdrive of colours/styling and mainly basic items.” Barbara Í Gongini explains that the current style can be viewed as confrontational in a specific manner, not in form but in how the ordinary clothing is perceived and how it is styled.”


Barbaraigongini Avantgarde

Photo by Lea Nielsen. Avant-Garde Designs by Barbara I Gongini. See more here.


Avant-garde fashion started around the 1960’s and it was quite a controversial topic at the time. The style can also be controversial if it needs to - drawing up on contemporary social context as a source of inspiration, it can result in a forward pushing manifestations that define our times.


“The garments should have a provocative grip whilst still being sensitive to the times we’re living in. Grasping topics of the current society means understanding the idea of layers - what lies beneath the surface. There is always a layer that hides something to explore and something to surprise us.”


This is actually what the BARBARA I GONGINI avant garde clothing brand wants to do: set the bar for contemporary avant-garde fashion while also being relevant in a contemporary context. Its pieces are more than simple items, they are stories that allow you to speak without saying a word. We present a different take on Nordic garments, derived from a conceptual approach towards fashion design.


Barbara I Gonginin Avantgarde

Image credit: Adam Katz Sinding. Make-up: MAC Cosmetics


Experimental & Gender fluid

The specific construction process is aimed at crafting garments eloquently suitable for both men and women. Structural forms are challenged and experimental pattern-making shape a solemn backdrop for contemporary tailoring. However, the downside of this contemporary age is that “a large number of young brands flood the market with designs where expressiveness is boiled down into something very sellable and wearable - commercial, so to speak”. Pushing this very independent trend into the mainstream only spells lack of taste and commercialization for all those involved.


Types of Avant-Garde fashion

The avant-garde dress code can take many shapes and proportions depending on the designer and also what the wearer wants to communicate.


Monochrome black avant garde fashion

Black is without a doubt the defining color of avant-garde fashion. Dark fashion, how it is sometimes called, implies wearing heavy toned colors that serve to emphasize the uncovered skin. All black garments or bicolor ones may lack in chromatic but make up in style and simplicity. Especially asymmetric hemlines which are cut to surprising shapes. This esthetic characterizes BARBARA I GONGINI collections. 

“It is broken down in monochromatic version to center the attention onto silhouettes. The design has to serve some kind of purpose to eventually cater the intellect of the wearer and to have some kind of value to tell the wearer.” Barbara Í Gongini explains.


Structured and volumized avant garde clothing

More colorful garments are another part of avant-garde fashion. Prominent in the works of designers such as Comme des Garçons for example, these alternative fashion outfits feature volume. Daring ruffles, patterns, and colors are also a part of the avant-garde fashion current. Forward thinking designers such as Rei Kawakubo always surprise the runways with their designs.


Barbaraigongini Aavantgarde

Image Credit: Comme des Garcons 


Street Avant Garde

Some types of avant-garde fashion may also include specific avant-garde street style - designers create predominantly for street wear. Avant-garde street style is often regarded as extravagant and head turning, a way of making your presence known.


BARBARA I GONGINI’s Approach to Avant-Garde Fashion

The BARBARA I GONGINI fashion approach is based on what we like most about the avant-garde fashion. It’s about the pure essence of avant-garde, BIB differentiates through the idea of concept and messaging. “As opposed to those who merely imitate the trend, we try to craft pieces with a particular message. In my eyes, the very non-compromised fashion is the most relevant nowadays.”



Also kept in high regard is the multifunctional aspect of the garment. There should always be another angle of usage for a particular piece. When you are able to style something in a second or third way it means that the piece is not only stylish but versatile.


What Inspires the Style of BARBARA I GONGINI

For Barbara Í Gongini, avant-garde fashion is a way to express yourself, a never ending quest for individuality and an unapologetic approach to your own style. While Japanese designers have their contribution, the brand mainly draws its stimulus from the Faroe Islands from where the founder, Barbara is from. The wide, open spaces of the Faroes are what instill the creative drive behind BARBARA I GONGINI: “Being somehow able to merge these two traditions to a beautiful and whole a composition is like drawing on a canvas. Drawing the essence from my origins from my heritage has enabled me to be original in my creations.”  Another incentive that sparks the creative process is based in absorbing the contemporary socio-political landscape. Taking inspiration from and being aware of surroundings is especially important in remaining a relevant brand. Creating designs in a fast, ever-changing society requires experimentalism and the courage to try fresh and ambitious things.



 Image credit: Adam Katz Sinding


Avant-Garde means Progress & Responsibility

The BARBARA I GONGINI approach to the avant-garde concepts is tightly connected with sustainability practices that make the brand almost unique in the industry. We strive to work only with suppliers which respect the EU legislation standards, and source a range of materials approved by Oeko-Tex®. These are tested for harmful substances, for both health and environmental reasons.


Also, multi-ways designs is a must of BIG designs, which give the wearer the possibility to wear them for a longer period of time. The brand represents a Wardrobing Concept that entails longevity & a more conscious approach to consumer consumption.


What are the current Avant-Garde fashion trends & where are they heading?

Fashion is time sensitive and a society concentrated style such as avant-garde is always morphing into different forms. What will shape the way garments are crafted is based on each designer’s individual approach and also how willing the industry is to push things forward. BARBARA I GONGINI is not a trend based brand so by definition it ignores the mainstream culture. But, as Barbara puts it : “The avant-gardists have their own expression and that comes in their own terms. For us, it’s a question of continuing an exciting collection and developing existing ones. But always bring a contribution, have an “Under Construction” Mentality.”

In terms of what contributions will be added soon, Barbara says that: “We need to put the focus on the average consumer, to offer the incentive that a piece will always serve a purpose. So, the essence of offering multilayered, multifunctional pieces of clothing is still and will be strong at BARBARA I GONGINI.

Closing thoughts

Avant-garde fashion is here to stay and fashion designers show no signs of slowing down the progress that the current has brought. In other fields, the directions are the same - extraordinary breads extraordinary so exploring boundaries will not stop. Now that you are more familiar with what avant-garde stands, we can’t wait for you to start discovering a world where freedom of expression means progress.