Louis Sullivan, also known as the “father of modernism,” coined the phrase, “Form follows function.” It’s getting rid of the grand designs of ancient Greek and Roman architecture and adopting a more pragmatic design, one suited the purpose of the structure. A factory should look like a factory, a train should look like a train, a car should look like a car.
Of course, that whole idea has gotten jumbled as computers entered the world. What’s a mobile supposed to look like? Is it a phone? Is it a computer? Is it a typewriter or a camera? These questions led Steve Jobs to realize that it should just be a physically beautiful thing, almost like a sculpture. And so, while Jobs ran Apple, that’s what their products looked like, like fine art pieces.
But I digress.
“Form follows function” is about utility, getting the most of out a thing. It is the essence of the ascetic vows of the monastic desert fathers, or the religious seekers who ended up founding just about every religion. It’s the stripping away of everything that’s not useful to the direction one is heading.
For a while this idea lead architecture into a period called Brutalism, where most of the buildings used harsh right angles and were made of concrete, because why use anything softer when using softer forms were more work than needed? Brutalism is the kind of architecture usually associated with totalitarian states. It gives a sense of permanence, of strength, of immutable force. It’s harsh and cold.
Fortunately, Brutalism gave way to Minimalism, which is “form follows function,” but with an organic feel.
In studying philosophy, in studying art, in studying the various vocations I could choose for my life, I started by stripping down my life to the absolute minimum. I gave away all my possessions and slowly started to accumulate only what I need. I left my bed and started sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag, which I actually really enjoyed and found to be remarkably invigorating. I sleep in beds now, mostly because my wife won’t sleep on the floor.
I paired my stuff down to where I could carry everything I own in a large hiking backpack. This taught, or rather, reinforced something I’d learned from one of my favorite philosophers, Diogenes. He said, “If you want nothing, you lack nothing.” By teaching myself that I didn’t need nearly as much as culture often tells us we do, I learned that there’s a tranquility in not hungering after more and more stuff.
What I also learned, and this is why I bring it up now, is that not having unnecessary weight burdening down my life allows me to do things others may not be able to do. And, I’m not alone in this. Many of the world’s geniuses often solve a lot of the common repeating problems like clothing by having a personal uniform. This is mine, and I show it here not to say, “Hey, look what I wear” but as an example of a way of looking at life and simplifying for a purpose.
I spent 2 years trying to figure out this ensemble because it needed to do a bunch of things all at once:
1. It needed to be useful, rugged yet stylish.
2. It needed to be inexpensive because I’m not rich. The subdued natural earth tones needed to allow me to blend in or stand out, based on the need of the time.
3. It needed to not having any visible logos or designs because artist could sue me if I appear on shows, with their logo, without their permission.
4. It needed to allow me to appear natural in either a rugged construction site, like a film set, or at a red carpet event. I’ve used this wardrobe in both occasions and it worked perfectly.
The jeans are Levi’s 511. They’d be tight or skinny jeans on most people, but I’m skinny, so they fit me with some room to move. The trend right now is to have worn down jeans, but by buying the new looking ones, I get something really useful that will eventually wear down and so with time they’ll look even better. I bought 4 pairs of these jeans at $40 a pair. I don’t wear anything else.
The gray v-neck shirts are from an Asian company called Uniqlo. I like this gray because it’s not a flashy color. It perfectly reflects the calm demeanor I want to portray. It’s not a harsh black or a blazing white. I may look slightly better in blue, but gray fits the above criteria of working in a variety of scenarios. Also, gray hides dirt, so I don’t have to be quite as cautious as I might in a $500 Theory shirt. I bought 14 of these shirts at $9 a shirt.
The coat is made by Wilson Leather and was given to me, but I like it. It’s only major flaw is that it’s pretty thick, which means I don’t get to use it when it’s too hot out. But, for Fall/Winter/Spring it works just great. It’s also got a removable liner, so if it’s colder I can add the liner and still be comfortable. This leather coat is more for the red carpets. I don’t know how much it costs since I didn’t buy it. I can’t imagine it was more than $200 and I’m sure it’s going to last for years.
This is a sweater coat is made by American Apparel. I have no idea how much it costs. I keep it because I like the color and sometimes it's too hot for the leather jacket and too cold to just wear the V-neck. I've had other sweater jackets but I got rid of them because they were too busy or didn't match the rest of the wardrobe.
The boots are from Nike. They’re called SFB Field Leather, but they’re also known as “First Responder Boots” designed for paramedics, military special forces, the fire department, etc. They are the most comfortable and light shoes I’ve ever worn. They look great on the construction site, at artist networking events, and at red carpet events. They also don’t wear out as fast and they have traction on nearly every surface. The only time I’ve slipped in them was when pushing a heavy cart up a wet sanded piece of wood.
I love these boots!
Nike doesn’t sell them in their stores, which makes no sense to me because it’s the best thing they make. Unless it’s too hot, then I wear sandals. I have only one pair of these, but I want more. They’re $150 a pair, not cheap, but worth it. Because they're leather with kevlar soles, they’ve already outlasted other shoes I’ve owned. They’re actually less expensive from Nike than similar boots at the army surplus store, and they’re a radical improvement!
There are two brands of sandals worth considering. Birkenstocks, and Rainbows. Birkenstocks last a long time. They’re often associated with monks and hipsters. And while I used to want to be a traveling monk, my wife hates Birks. So, Rainbows it is. I like the hemp because the leather doesn’t react as well to sweat. They’re about $30-40/pair, depending on when and where you buy them.
The beanie is from a company called Krochet Kids. They're pretty much like Tom’s used to be before Tom's sold out and closed their non-China/Indonesia factories. I needed a beanie because I’m losing my hair and I like to keep what I’ve got cut short. That means no insolation on my head. So, when it’s cold, I wear the beanie. I had to take the logo off (see: above). I own three of these (two gray, one black) and they’re about $20 each.
The other hat is a special forces hat from the local army surplus store. I like to go for long hikes and when it’s hot, the beanie just won’t work. I had a choice between skin cancer or a hat. So, I went with this. It was black, but it’s since faded. It’s got vents on the sides to allow airflow, but no light in. It came with a chin strap, but I cut it off. I own one of these, but I’ll probably buy another one, just in case... It was $17.
The socks are from Costco. They don’t work for lower shoes, but once I found the Nike boots, that issue went away. They’re cheap and they work. They’re starting to wear out a little (in case you missed the dangling string on the left heel) so I might go with something else, but I own eighteen or twenty-four pairs, so I’m going to stick with them for a while. They were about $15 for a pack of nine or twelve (sorry, I don’t remember).
Now that I have this wardrobe, it’s all I’ll ever wear, until one of them wears out and then I’ll replace it with something identical.
Again, I didn’t share this so you’ll say, “My, what a fashion plate that Jon Schiefer is,” but to show that simplifying for utility doesn’t have to be ugly like Brutalism.
Intelligent Design is an enormous, ambitious project. It’s 18 movies, made all at same time. It’s going to take the next 7 years of my life. And, because I’ve simplified my wardrobe, and other aspects of my life, I can focus more on what I want to do, on making it. I don’t have to worry about how I look, wherever I am.
People say I’m ambitious in what I try to do. It’s not that. It’s focus. What I’m doing, anyone else can do. It’s just about figuring out what you want, getting rid of everything that doesn’t go in that direction, and focusing. I want to change the world. It’s my singular mission.
And even if I fail, I feel it’s a life well-spent.