BY MICHAEL GHOSSAINY
PHOTOGRAPHY ED JANSEN
While the sphere of scientific innovation and wearable technology gains momentum, it’s rather easy to question where the industry that prides itself on being au courant has lagged. A look closer, however, reveals otherwise.
As the technological revolution took off in the past decade, industries that span the gamut from the medical field to food production have found themselves in the midst of this game changer with the capabilities of printing food, organs, and all the in-betweens. That being said, it’s without speculation that the influence of scientific invention has permeated fashion territory.
Slowly journeying its way through the raw stage of experimentation, fashion has receptively acknowledged its engagement to science—integrating LED applications, reinventing fabrics that respond to our environment, and exploring the boundaries of 3-dimensional technology. But despite the handful of pioneering designers at the frontier, there’s one designer that mustn’t be ignored, that is, Iris Van Herpen.
The 30-year old, Dutch designer is one of few people that immediately come to mind when talking about the future of fashion and for good reason. She first integrated 3-D technology back in 2010 at Amsterdam Fashion Week, won the Golden Eye prize at the 2013 Dutch Design Awards for her collection “Voltage”, and co-created a completely symmetrical, 3-D printed dress that was named one of the 50 Best Inventions of the Year 2011 by TIME Magazine. “The huge advantage of 3-D printing is that there are no complications in terms of 3-dimensionality or complexity, everything imaginable is possible,” Van Herpen proclaims. “Normally a garment is built up from a fabric, so all shape, all 3-dimensionality that you want to add has to be manipulated by seams. So you start 2-dimensional (with the fabric) and…end up 3-dimensional (so that a body fits well into it). This transition from 2-D to 3-D gives a lot of difficulties. With 3-D printing you start 3-dimensional; it’s total freedom. I can go as complex, detailed, in all 3-dimensions as I want, without any seams.” But like anything with nearly endless possibilities, limitations closely follow. In the case of 3-D printing, the number of viable materials for apparel production are few, and as one can imagine, operational logistics aren’t exactly easy. Van Herpen explains, “I always work together with an architect because I am not good with the 3-D programs.” However, despite today’s kinks, she’s rather optimistic, seeing the potential in bridging the gap between prêt-à-porter and haute couture. What we may not realize is that with 3-D technology, production costs are exponentially lowered and garments are made-to-order, as well as ‘printed’ to fit the buyer’s exact body measurements. In an interview with Dezeen Magazine, Van Herpen adds “People have been wearing the wrong sizes of clothes for far too long. Everybody could have their own body scanned and just order clothes that fit perfectly”. Unsurprisingly, she’s not the only one that feels this way.
New York-based architect and fashion designer, Francis Bitonti has been working with 3-D printing since 2007 and was famed last year for creating, in collaboration with Michael Schmidt Studios and Shapeways, the world’s first fully articulated 3-D printed gown custom made for burlesque star, Dita Von Teese. The gothic-inspired gown closely resembles chain-mail and is made up of nearly 3,000 unique links with over 12,000 hand-placed Swarovski crystals. Designer Michael Schmidt states, “[I created] fluidity of joints [in the dress using] layer upon layer of fine powdered nylon.” And though nylon may not be the most ideal fabric for a gown, Bitonti says, “The materials are getting better every day”. With the biggest obstacle being the absence of lighter, more flexible materials, 3D printing will continue to be exclusively enjoyed on a smaller, more limited scale.
Now while 3-D technology receives most of the industry’s attention, self-proclaimed material alchemist Lauren Bowker of The Unseen has spent the last decade exploring the effects of biological and chemical matter on wearable materials, and her findings—absolutely magical. The Lancashire-native discovered inks and dyes reactive to seven stimuli sense—heat, UV rays, friction, pollution, sound, moisture, and various chemicals. “I’m interested in everything you can’t see”, Bowker states. “The whole point is you won’t know the technology is in there”. For her latest collection “Air”, Bowker’s studio team developed line of garments composed of hand-stitched leather that form the appearance of feather-like armor. The black leather is infused with wind-reactive ink that changes color in response to the air—“intended to reveal the otherwise ‘unseen’ turbulence surrounding the human as it goes about its environment”. So sure, Lauren Bowker may be a chemist in her own right, but it shouldn’t take a scientist to recognize her brilliance.
Welcoming the technological change with open arms, these designers are redefining the paradigm of manufacturing and more largely, the industry as we have known for the last century. 3-D printing, environment-reactive fabric, LED applications, or perhaps, the invention of tomorrow, science is clearly here to stay, and for better or worse, what this union of fashion and technology has birthed is extraordinary. So whether the fashion-science revolution be big or small, one thing is clear to us. The future of fashion is now.