Art, Math and Orange Peels: Geometry Meets Fashion Runway

William Thurston, a member of the charter class at New College of Florida, won a Fields Medal – math’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize – for his work in the fields of geometry and topology.

He also had an impact in a less esoteric field, one literally in the spotlight: high fashion.

Dr. Donal O’Shea, a mathematician and president of New College of Florida, and Anne-Marie Russell, executive director of the Sarasota Museum of Art, will look at that influence, and more, in a talk titled “Art, Math and Orange Peels: The Legacy of Dr. William Thurston on Math and Fashion.”

The talk, part of New College’s “New Topics” lecture series, is on Thursday, March 1, at 5:30 p.m. in the College’s Sainer Pavilion, 5313 Bay Shore Road.

Thurston, a 1967 graduate of New College, was a world-renowned expert in the mathematical field of topology. He went on to teach at universities including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California – Berkeley, Princeton University, University of California – Davis and Cornell University. He died in 2012.

“Thurston revolutionized twentieth century geometry and topology by thinking fearlessly and deeply about the simplest questions,” President O’Shea said.  “There was the world before Thurston and the one after, which we now inhabit.  We think differently as a result of him, and there is no going back.”

One of Thurston’s gifts was the ability to explain complex topology in simple terms. A favorite demonstration involved peeling an orange or tangerine. If you peel it very carefully, in a single strip, and flatten it out, the peel always takes an S-shape, and the degree of the spiral is always the same, no matter how many times you go around the fruit.

That example came to the attention of Dai Fujiwara, creative director of the fashion house Issey Miyake. Fujiwara used Thurston’s ideas in designing pieces for Miyake’s spring 2010 show in Paris. Thurston attended the show and afterward spoke about the collaboration with Fujiwara. “Mathematics and design are both expressions of human creative spirit, and he made the connection,” Thurston said.

O’Shea and Russell will use Dr. Thurston’s collaboration with Miyake as a starting point for their discussion of the beauty and complexity of math and fashion, examine interdisciplinary thinking and show how peeling an orange can lead to revelations about the shape of the universe.

Admission to all New Topics programs is free; for reservations, call 487-4888 or visit


Dr. Donal O’Shea, president, New College of Florida, and

Anne-Marie Russell, executive director, Sarasota Museum of Art

“Art, Math and Orange Peels: The Legacy of Dr. William Thurston on Math and Fashion”

Thursday, March 1, at 5:30 p.m.

Sainer Pavilion, 5313 Bay Shore Road

Admission is free; for reservations, call 487-4888 or visit


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