In 1998, friends and creators Gabriel Asfour, Adi Gil, Angela Donhauser, and Kai Khune made their collaborations known with the use of one name: AsFOUR. “I think the beginning was very innocent,” said Gil. “We were just four friends, creating together—and we still do. But back then we didn’t think much about a long term. It was very spontaneous.” Asfour had his own collection, Donhauser was a photographer, and the foursome began by styling and collaborating as a team.
Officially a corporation in 2000, the group’s first order came from Colette in Paris, and the second from Barneys in New York. “And then it trickled down to international boutiques, so by 2003, we were much more available in Japan and Russia and the Middle East and Canada,” said Asfour when Whitewall visited the team’s New York studio. “It just started spreading in terms of orders and sales, and every season we’d have a new account, or more than one.” By 2004 they were beginning to present fashion shows regularly, and in 2005 the quartet of creators dropped to three members with Khune’s departure from the brand, and AsFOUR then became “threeASFOUR.”
“We’ve always used technologies and have always been interested in high-tech fabrics and more advanced surface textiles,” said Asfour, explaining their first experience with using 3-D printed designs in 2013. Designers, such as previous collaborator Mada Design, are sourced to translate their vision with the help of computer programs.
“We’ve been integrating three dimensions with the virtual fourth dimension, which is what would be taking pieces that we’ve done in 3-D real world, and putting them into computer world. And vice versa. But in order for us to understand that, we need to understand a lot of mathematics and physics,” said Asfour. If you’re looking at a threeASFOUR piece, you can understand the complexity that he’s referring to—a complicated puzzle of wonderful pieces, fit together in three to six months by ways that challenge your imagination.
It’s worth noting that each piece of varying material must be assembled for wearing by hand after the printer is finished with its process, and the parts are shipped back to the studio. “It doesn’t always come out the way as you imagined. Not yet exact,” said Donhauser.
So it’s understandable when threeASFOUR pieces are seen as both fashion and art. Last year, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum awarded threeASFOUR with the National Design Award, and the group’s garments were included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s exhibition “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” this summer. threeASFOUR also has pieces apart of permanent collections around the world, including six pieces in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, one in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and one at the Cooper Hewitt, among others. “All of these things validate what we do,” said Asfour. “It also goes on the record for history, so that’s important to us. We’re doing something historically important.”
Both Björk and Performa’s leading lady, Roselee Goldberg, are longtime supporters and personal customers of the brand. In 2010, threeASFOUR collaborated with Yoko Ono, after being invited over to her home to see what she calls “her doodles.”
“We’re friends with John, her son,” said Gil. “He saw the similarity of what we do and some of her artwork, especially those dark drawings that she’s been doing over the years.” Two years ago, they also officially put their clothing on a few male models during their shows to show that their clothing is unisex.
When using a variety of hard and soft materials like wax cotton, latex, neoprene, and different minerals, there are a lot of considerations to take in. “There is something about the material that works better on the body, or works better for the geometry. Stiff or not stiff, flexible or hard, it all depends on what you want to achieve,” said Asfour. Because the image is not a material you’re able to hold and manipulate in your head, and you have to figuratively visualize the garment draping, some are more difficult than others to work with. Those, Asfour said, are always the “softest materials, like the silks and cotton.”
For Fall/Winter 2016, threeASFOUR collaborated with Fitchwork to create special pieces like the Voronoi dress, with simple patterns intricately 3-D printed and laser-cut. “The flat pattern is a full circle and it’s cut into three spirals going in Fibonacci sequence. The inspiration was mainly cauliflower or pinecones. It was this kind of geometry that we were interested in because the whole collection was about biomimicry, so we were biomimicking animals, cells, plants…,” said Asfour. The collection, full of sturdy pieces that are flexible to the touch and easy on the eyes, is full of patterns that pop, and an array of looks that look like modern art armor.
Another upcoming project is a line of flexible smart watchbands for the China-based company AmazFit. “It seems like a lot of bigger corporations are interested in fashion. We just found out Cadillac has a lot of interest, and they’re working with the CFDA. So I think these kinds of companies, like Sony or Google or Intel, to merge with a small company like us, is very interesting for us,” said Asfour, before adding that the balance between technology and the environment is also something they are keenly aware of.
Wrapping up on conversation within their workspace, the Silver Cage (named for the shining, semireflective silver ceiling, walls, and floors), I ask what the favorite piece has been so far. “The next one,” said Donhauser. Smiling, they all nodded. Asfour added, “We think like this,” before I realized that the others weren’t speaking for themselves—they’re all in agreement as one, as threeASFOUR.
This article is published in Whitewall‘s fall 2016 Fashion Issue.