On the second skin


On the second skin (excerpt)


Man has three skins: he is born with the first; the second is his clothing; and the third is the façade of his house.

I am against conformism, against fashion, which changes every year. That was not so in former times. Fashion has only existed for about a hundred years; until then there was just clothing. Clothing is like a house, there is no reason for the interior to be less beautiful, less pleasant than the exterior. It is like with pyjamas. Pyjamas are very pleasant. You can sleep in them. You can in my suit, too. You don’t feel dressed, you feel enveloped. One feels so much more comfortable in a suit which is too big. The sleeves are too long and not taken in. They cover the hands, but one feels secure. They have no seams, but end in a kind of natural fringing. The buttons are all different, too, in their forms as well as colours. They are a result of a long search. It is much more fun this way, much more interesting. The places where they are sewn on are symbolic (heart, stomach, sexual organs, neck). My socks are also different. The right and left ones are never alike. The trick is to make them harmonise.

I love stripes, and as cloth always throws folds – waves – the visual impression is never that of a stiff straight line, especially if the garment has not been ironed. It is morbid to always want to iron everything. Wash them, yes; iron them, no. A wrinkled garment seems broader, much warmer. Ironing is a superfluous luxury. A necktie? Why do people always want to put a cord around their neck? Their clothing, at the office, for example, consists of true instruments of torture. Everything is tight. And then they don’t wear any hats at all anymore. What a disgrace! It is such a wonderful thing, the hat, for a man. It heightens his stature. It gives him importance. The taller he is, the better.

One aspect is that clothing was always geared to status. The clothing of the king, the ruler, the Pope, as well as that of artists, be they composers, Beethoven, Schubert, say, or a painter such as Makart, Michelangelo, Raphael and also, of course, of princes, knights etc. was always different from tradesmen, farmers, soldiers and the rest of the people. Each was proud of his clothing, which was special and different. The people had less say, after all, just like today, be it intellectually or artistically, be it in regard to power or in regard to religion. The exponents of society were always distinguishable by their different, more meticulous, precious clothing, the emperor with the double crown, the king with the single crown, and even princes had crowns and purple robes. Right down to the slightest detail.

Now things are such that we live in very pathetic times. Those who bear responsibility, i. e., presidents, cardinals, even kings, the business magnates, leading politicians, all those who stand up front, including the artists, those in the movie industry as well as painting, all those who are in the limelight, so to speak, are conspicuous for wanting to be as anonymous as possible, for not being distinguishable from everyday people at all.

It is as if they were looking for the exit, wanting to shed all responsibility along with the special clothing. For example, a bank director will do anything not to be different from the lowliest employee at his bank. The bank director is even mistaken for the employee. It looks almost as if precautions had been taken so that the bank director, the king, the president can immediately run off and vanish in the crowd. He has a disguise, one might say, which he always has on.

All of them make a point of wearing anonymous clothing, call it average clothing. And at that the very people who are vested with important positions should also be distinguishable by their clothing. I don’t know if this takes courage; it should rather be a matter of course, just as the sun shines brighter and differently than, say, the moon or a street lamp.

And now I come to a further point: clothing, as we all know, is man’s Second Skin, just as architecture is his Third Skin. If the Second Skin is taken ill or is made uniform or is not in keeping with man, doesn’t befit man, then man, i. e., the organism situated beneath it, will also get sick. And that is one of the main reasons why our civilisation today is sick. The urge to imitate the worthless is particularly pronounced in the contemporaries of present-day civilisation. Finished-part production and factory-made garments are removing us farther and farther from the creative design of our own clothing, which is not just something which one wears on the outside. For clothes make the man. That is not just a proverb, that’s a fact, the truth.

If, for example, you put an emperor’s robe on just anybody and put a crown on his head, and place him in the midst of other people, he will from that moment on become an emperor, because people will suddenly look up to him. If he then does not run away and throw everything away out of sheer fear and fright, which is usually the case, if he keeps the insignia on, he will from that moment forward become an outsider of society, a marked man. He will be ridiculed, reviled and scorned, criticised. From that moment on he will already be situated outside society. If he is strong he will counter this with something which is just as strong as the masses who scorn him. And in this way he will arrive at a position which is similar to that of a king. He will become a king.

It is of the utmost importance that the Second Skin recovers. I have been doing this for a long time. My painting, my thinking, my outward appearance and the architecture around me, too, are intended to be a unified whole. From 1949 on I designed my own clothes. Shoes and socks, too. For example I was the one who wore two different socks, for twenty years, at that, first without realising it, then intentionally. People always ask me, “Why do you wear two differnt socks?” My stereotypical answer is, “Why do wear two matching socks?”

That clothing is supposed to be symmetrical is one of those misconceptions of our typified society. In former times clothing was never completely symmetrical. The clothing of the Three Musketeers, i. e., the clothing up to the Middle Ages and into the 16th and 17th centuries, was still asymmetrical. In the Middle Ages this was particularly evident. Then one wore a red pantleg on the right, for example in Paolo Uccello’s painting, The Battle of San Romano. Trousers were asymmetrical, like the rest of the clothing. The hats were asymmetrical, as were the feathers which are still worn that way now. Hats are still asymmetrical today. The gamsbart (the traditional Austrian hat featuring a tuft of chamois hair) is slanted at the back and not of equal length or width in front and back or on the right and left sides. Symmetry has been very detrimental to fashion. (. . .) The fashion mafia is actually just as bad, if not worse, than the mafia of modern art. (. . .) They are real exploiters, and they count on and reckon with the stupidity of people and in particular with the stupidity of the female sex. Men did not fall into the trap of the fashion mafia, but they did into that of uncreative, mindless uniformity, which is just as bad. (. . .)

So there are two kinds of dependence: women are dependent on the fashion mafia, and men on the terrible reduction to a common denominator which has been going on for 100 to 150 years. (. . .)

Again and again I have been trying since 1949 to break out, as an artist and a man, from the uniform which is forced on us by reshaping my Second Skin individually, i. e., with what has later come to be called “creative clothing”. I sewed trousers and shirts for myself, designed sweaters, made shoes and sandals. At first this only brought on derision, as if I were a harmless lunatic. Then they called it a provocation of the middle class, then calculation, a gag, a gimmick and publicity stunt. Never what it really was. Amid these irate reproaches and distortions of the truth it is hard to remain true to oneself and to continue, open, positive and vulnerable, on the right way, which at times amounts to running the gauntlet. Then self-created clothing serves as a target for the uncreative forces.

Just how much our fashion, our clothing is wrong and insipid and only geared to superficiality is easily proven by turning this very clothing around, i. e., inside out. Just take trousers, shirt, jacket, topcoat, regardless if they are for men or women, take them off, turn them all inside out, put them back on, with the inside on the outside. And then, dressed like this, go out on the street amongst the people. You will be ashamed, for the inside of our clothing is horrible. Poorly sewn seams and stitches become visible, and linings and threads in shameful colours hang in all directions. And at that the inside should be just as perfect as the outside. (. . .)

Clothing is forever, just like art. Clothing must become art again and stop being just fashion.

Written on the occasion of a design for a suit for the Vogue magazine, November 1982, Paris. The text quoted assembles parts of an interview for the Vogue magazine and an interview for the Stern magazine (No. 10, March 10, 1983, Hamburg) as well as thoughts (main part), which Hundertwasser recorded on audiotape for these occasions in New Zealand. Revised for the publication „Schöne Wege, Gedanken über Kunst und Leben (Beautiful Paths – Thoughts on Art and Life)“

published in:

Schurian, Walter (ed.): Hundertwasser – Schöne Wege, Gedanken über Kunst und Leben. (Beautiful Paths – Thoughts on Art and Life) Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag (dtv): Munich, 1983, pp. 113-120 and ed. 2004 (Langen Müller Verlag, Munich), pp. 133-139 (German)

Schmied, Wieland (ed.): Hundertwasser 1928–2000, Catalogue Raisonné.

Vol. II: Fürst, Andrea Christa: Catalogue Raisonné. Taschen: Cologne, 2002, pp. 955-958 (excerpt, translation by Hundertwasser)