Continuing on from my previous article, a major theme of WIRED 2016 was humanitarianism and the refugee crisis.
Roya Mahboob is an Afghani tech entrepreneur who had her eyes opened on a trip to an internet cafe in Herat. She talked passionately about how the internet offered her a life outside of domesticity via a tech career. She became the first tech CEO in Afghanistan, hiring female employees (many of whom worked from home) and spoke of the challenges in firstly obtaining clients (due to a lack of confidence in the abilities of women in her country, who are largely deemed fit only for domestic life), and once she did obtain clients, a battle to be paid because her work was not valued as she is a woman. Tension arose and she and her family received death threats from the Taliban due to her breakout career and creation of local centres to teach girls computing. She was then forced to leave Kabul, where she had moved to from Herat. She found an Italian/American investor (via LinkedIn) and is now based in the US and declares herself a “global digital citizen”, sharing a door to the world to women and girls in Afghanistan. For more information about Roya’s work follow her on Twitter and see the Digital Citizen Fund.
Regina Catrambone, along with her family, founded the first search and rescue boat for those fleeing danger and persecution to make the journey to southern Italy from neighbouring countries. So devastated was she that hundreds of children and adults were being left to die on this treacherous passage that she co-founded MOAS – Migrant Offshore Aid Station. Since 2014 MOAS has saved more than 30,000 people, the youngest being four days old. Regina says “you cannot stop the might and the will of those looking for a chance to live. It is impossible. You can’t stop them. You have to help them”. Her speech was incredibly moving and showed how harnessing compassion and empathy can create powerful solutions and implore governments and other agencies to help solve the refugee crisis.
Brooklyn-based Jessica O. Matthews presented an ingenious creation – a football that stores energy from kinetic movement which then provides electricity for devices and appliances. A game changing (I couldn’t help the pun) and simple piece of technology, it allows kids in off-grid areas to kick around a football during the day and then read books at night, continuing their studies and affording them a better chance in life. Jessica is extending her invention to other objects such as suitcases with wheels, into which you can plug your mobile phone to charge whilst on the go. See Uncharted Play for more information.
Jessica O. Matthews
Psychiatrist and Aviator, Bertrand Piccard, piloted the Solar Impulse aircraft and declared that the “old world and new world are a state of mind”. Elaborating on this, he gave a thought provoking talk that explained how a boat building company, Alinghi, created an aircraft and how the coming together of teams from diverse disciplines allowed them solve problems never before tackled. “If you want to innovate you have to get out of the system. What you know is a handicap”, says Bertrand. He and his team completed an around the world journey, travelling 40,000 km without fuel, proving that the capabilities of solar power are beyond our current usage. He provided inspiration, and a challenge, to those dismissing renewable energies and highlighted the current work of Elon Musk in bringing solar power into the transportation industry on a commercial level.
Wired has come to a close, leaving an echo that says I can’t keep doing things the same way. Knowing what I now know, and looking at how I have done things in the past, it’s time to adjust and apply new ways of thinking and creating. The talks catalyse new trains of thought and ignite the will to try new technologies, or apply existing ones in new ways.
Wired joins some of the biggest global moving dots with speakers from all over the world giving us a picture of where we are right now in terms of advancing new medical technologies, solving environmental issues, achieving universally acceptable levels of education, battling the refugee crisis, reaching space commercially, using AI to diagnose diseases, fighting hate, racial discrimination and sexism, and connecting people using VR to solve social issues – and it provides the inspiration to contribute to solving these problems.
I’m going to stop talking and start doing. The effects of the above paragraph will be revealed over the coming weeks and months on these pages, my Huffington Post blog and in a soon to be launched new venture.
What will you do today?
Watch snippets and read summaries of all the speakers at Wired here
Despite an absence of fashion tech at Wired 2016, the annual conference (too dull a word for the excitement served up) demonstrates fashions in tech, of a sort.
It’s that time of the year pre-christmas when many a head is full of ideas, swarming with information from dozens of conferences, meet-ups, launches, talks and exhibitions when it’s time to cut through the noise and find out what to focus on – some of which you may have heard of and some you definitely won’t have. Welcome to Wired 2016.
Those with true passion for innovation know that the most exciting ideas and creations arise from special situations involving special people. Whether they be from tech, medicine, art, music, engineering or social sciences. Ideally, they’ll be a mix of these fields. I look forward to seeing fashion added to this mix as the fashion tech sector grows on the back of the launch of Plexal and other cross-disciplinary hubs.
Before the talks kicked-off I browsed the demo area and was struck by the COLLAPSE SCULPTURES (above) by ScanLAB Projects, who gave a fascinating talk at Wired 2015, and are a team specialising in large-scale 3D scanning in architecture and the creative industries. COLLAPSE is a collaboration between ScanLAB projects, dance company New Movement Collective and composer/cellist Oliver Coates. This series of sculptures features digitally fabricated fragments of dancer’ limbs which are suspended, lingering where their performer once created them. Traces of movement are solidified and stand as physical echoes.
From art to tech, standout talks at Wired 2016 included Hike, the Indian messaging app that works offline (useful in a country where connectivity is patchy and data is bought in packages) and transcends the dozens of languages and avoids complex keyboards by using digital stickers as tools of communication. 50% of households in India share smart phones, so the privacy app allowing hiding of selected conversations is a hit with young family members.
Mustafa Suleyman co-founded DeepMind, now owned by Google, and is forging ahead with the application of AI to solve some of the worlds biggest problems. The use of AI diagnosis in medical imaging can speed up treatment times for cancer and improve patient prognosis. DeepMind are attempting to solve the problem of most NHS data currently being written on paper, and therefore largely inaccessible. Mustafa says “In life, data is pushed to us. In the NHS it’s passive”.
Syrian human-rights activist Abdulaziz Alhamza is the co-founder of RBSS – Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently – a defiant broadcasting platform that exposes the devastation and brutality caused by ISIS in his home town. RBSS covertly captures images and videos, sharing them on social media and acting as a news source for news organisations.
Philip Rosedale is CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity – a shared VR experience that has global users sharing experiences by meeting in VR “locations” around the virtual world. It’s like creating your own avatar, hanging out with other avatars and socialising with them, like you might do in real life.
Adding to the Indian flavour running through the two days of Wired, Gingger Shankar told a beautiful story of her experience in the musical family made famous by Ravi Shankar and the plight of her mother who broke out of domesticity to sing on a global stage. The gems of Wired are in the unexpected, and I captured her playing the ten-string double violin and sharing with us her five octave voice. Enjoy, and stand by for part two of my coverage of Wired 2016.
News to lift the Brexit blues. Plexal, Entiq’s new venture at Here East is a shining beacon of not just the future of tech businesses in London, but a coming together of arts, design, culture, education and technology. Uniquely positioned in what was the media centre for the London Olympics, Plexal, benefits from an expansive river-side space with access to world-class facilities including the data centre that powered the global broadcasting of the Olympics.
It’s a bold vision delivered passionately by Claire Cockerton, CEO and Chairwoman of Entiq and serial entrepreneur, a title oft overused, but in Claire’s case describing her immense experience and ability to establish and grow businesses. She founded Aesthetic Earthworks, a sustainable architecture firm, whilst at University in Toronto, Canada, and grew it into a multimillion dollar company before selling it to a competitor in the industry. Following a subsequent MBA in Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design (with a strong focus on accelerators, technology transfer institutions and business incubation) she helped establish Richard Branson’s ‘Centre for Entrepreneurship’ in Johannesburg before co-leading the launch of Level39, Europe’s largest technology accelerator for the fintech and smart cities industries in Canary Wharf. She also founded Pivotal Innovations, a firm specialising in corporate innovation and accelerator programmes in the fintech sector.
The purity of the vision for Plexal arises from the stunning blank canvas and expansive space occupying the 68000 square feet ground floor of Here East, nestled into a corner of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park overlooking Hackney Wick and bordering the canal, with impressive terraces looking out across London city. The philosophy at Plexal, and more broadly Here East, is one of work/life. The Here East plans extend beyond business and education (it will be home to Loughborough University, UCL and London College of Fashion Universities and faculties) to cultural experiences at the soon-to-be-established V&A at E20 and Sadler’s Wells, just across the park. Artist pods will be housed in the Here East facade, facing the canal. Boutique bars and restaurants (not a chain in sight) are setting up alongside shopping and civic spaces which conjures up the notion of a dynamic city within a city. All of this will contribute to a creative and tech-driven Plexal.
At the heart of Plexal is the aim to bring small business and corporates together for mutual exploration and benefit, on equal terms. Flexible, adaptable spaces – all with facilitation and dynamic business development in mind. Plexal presents a striking opportunity to build, found and establish businesses seeking to work across disciplines to truly innovate. It will provide a wide range of services including practical ‘intrapreneurship’ and entrepreneurship education courses, a state-of-the-art testing and prototyping lab, acceleration and incubation programmes, events, networking opportunities and a range of funding alternatives. With an initial focus on technology innovation applied to sports, wellbeing, fashion and mobility, the centre will have capacity for 800 members, becoming the home for corporates and startups that are designing and creating the connected products that will improve our lives.
I have been based in neighbouring Bethnal Green for well over a decade and the project at Here East feels like both a solidification of a scene that’s been steadily growing throughout that time, and the recognition that the vibrant art and design community, which I belong to, has a wealth of insight and inspiration to help propel Plexal into a multi-disciplinary, dynamic and exciting future. Having been on a personal tour of the site with Claire, I can see the potential for a flexible layout incorporating a number of different business sizes and types, at various stages of development.
The choice of the Olympic site, of such ground breaking achievement beyond our imaginations, is a fitting and poetic home for this ambitious space. Where better to set about tackling some of our trickiest problems in the sectors of health, sports, fashion, IoT, all under one roof? Tech dreams by way of Olympic ones. It’s all to strive for.
At the Innovation Forum, compered by Oli Barrett, Claire Cockerton delivered Plexal’s vision as discussed above, and Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK, explained that tech business represents 10% of GDP in the UK versus 8% in the US and is the largest single sector, growing at a rate 32% faster than the next fastest growing sector. With GBP 45 billion in exports from the tech sector, we are best positioned to grow our tech and digital economy compared to other industries. Other speakers, including Liam Maxwell, the self-proclaimed ‘CTO of the UK Government’, were also there to share their belief that this sector really is the economic future of the UK for the coming decades, and panel discussions including industry leaders from Team Sky, Centrica, Autodesk and the Open Data Institute added their voices to this rallying cry. By the end of the presentation, I was buzzing with the belief that Plexal will be at the heart of this burgeoning growth driving the sector forward, with its vision of co-creation across the creative and technical sectors.
In the wake of Brexit, and the election result in the United States, Here East and Plexal provide a positive focal point for how our creative and tech-driven future can grow and propel us forward towards a brave new connected world and I am looking forward to following the journey.
A recent visit to Ravensbourne has catalysed a shift in my opinion of ‘fashion tech’ as a discipline and led to an animated discussion around the reasons for the aesthetic gulf between fashion design and technology. The reason for my visit was the European Space Agency initiative, ‘Couture in Orbit’ – a fashion show at the Science Museum in May, featuring the work of five fashion colleges in Europe: ESMOD Paris, ESMOD Berlin, Fashion Design Akademiet Copenhagen, Politecnico di Milano and Ravensbourne London, which set about planting creative seeds for what will become a necessity – fashion in space. The colleges worked to a brief set by the ESA to present ideas and prototypes for fashion and accessories in the coming age of space travel. In response to a number of nasty and aggressive comments on their YouTube page in response to a video of this initiative, the ESA wrote this:
Couture in Orbit is a student outreach project. The students are using materials and technology in their designs that are a spin-off from the space industry. Each school had a theme linked to an astronaut’s mission, such as environment, health, sustainability, and their final designs had to have practical benefits for life on Earth. No funds were exchanged and material and technical support was provided by Tech startups.
Yes, the designs could be seen as somewhat ‘amateurish’ and ‘costumey’ in their concept and presentation and describing them as ‘couture’ and ‘fashion’ is not strictly accurate, however the idea here is key. Fashion’s robust approach to design and creation of cohesive, refined collections does not allow for this kind of playful theatrics, but if fashion and tech are to advance there has to be some latitude where the end result is concerned. It makes no sense to judge this by the same standards as a show at London Fashion Week, for example, which exists for an entirely different purpose and is part of a totally different creative and commercial conversation. The YouTube comments demonstrate an attitude that demeans the validity and power of fashion that I have seen previously hinder cooperation between fashion, science and tech sectors, but we will forge forward regardless.
‘Couture in Orbit’ designs
‘It is inevitable’, said Ravensbourne students Farid Bin Karim and Sam Martin-Harper of the fusion of fashion and technology in clothing to come. Their view was the same of space travel – we know for certain there will be inhabitation of other planets and commercial journeys to space, so we need to design clothing fit for space life. The brief provided to the students by the ESA included an array of materials for them to use in their garments and accessories, including Sympatex, woven fabrics by Bionic Yarn and 37.5. Being presented with a fixed set of materials is challenging from a design perspective, as fashion design often begins with selection of a fabrics to complement an aesthetic or theme held by the designer. Removing this from the designer’s creative point of view throws up further challenges and provides experimental opportunities. Karim leads me into a discussion about Design Fiction, a framework based on critical design which is the foundation of his speculative design approach on the Wearables MA course at Ravensbourne. The modelling of future scenarios using design fiction provides a robust outline for predicting what fashion design could be in an age of commercial space travel, for example. Karim selects three modes of technology – one that exists but he can’t access, one that exists that he can access and one that we can reasonably deduce will exist in the future – with which to begin to form a fashion tech product design scenario. This Design Fiction framework and critical design, attributed to Julian Bleecker and Dunne and Raby respectively, and adopted widely in London as a modelling tool, begins to give me insight into how design for a future that we can’t yet imagine is conceivable and believable.
Farid explains that his self-closing helmet and kilt are inspired by sojourners travelling to space and creating their own exoplanet. His concept hinged on the sojourners creating protective barriers around themselves that responded to atmospheric changes to give visual notifications allowing them to react and adapt. His self-closing helmet is powered by muscle wires and his kilt, printed in collaboration with print designer and MA fashion student Laura Perry, has heat responsive ink which disappears at certain temperatures – a useful visual notification when things are hotting up. Farid also used a UV responsive pigment – another useful visual alert. Karim’s work is inspired by an array of creatives including artist Lucy McRae, writer HG Wells and movement artist and coder Nicola Plant.
Heat applied by the palm of the hand causes the ink to temporarily disappear
UV source applied to printed fabric
Visual alert to excessive UV rays
Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and reactive ink kilt, in collaboration with Laura Perry
Sam Martin-Harper presented an altogether more nostalgic proposition in which she expressed her belief (and hope) that we will always remain rooted to earth. Her love of biology and particular interest in the techniques for growing plants on the International Space Station, including the work of astronaut Tim Peake, drove her to create a 3D printed neck piece containing plant life. Admitting this is a conceptual piece, Sam explained how she used inspiration from the ingenious folding joint sections of space suits to inform the shapes and details of her design. Sam is completing her BA and is still exploring career options. One thing is for sure, she cannot see a future of fashion without the integration of tech.
Sam Martin-Harper’s 3D printed plant-filled neckpiece at ‘Couture in Orbit”
A discussion on the future work of Farid centres on his passion for data as a tool for creating responsive and adaptive design. He has been learning coding and electronics as part of his Wearables MA and sees future fashion as an extension of the individual – as ‘body centric’. On graduation, Karim is hoping to work with a multi-disciplinary research facility to conduct collaborative research and design. When I ask if he would consider a traditional design job (he is a fashion graduate, after all) he reflects on how he has had to unlearn and relearn aspects of his design approach through his Wearable MA training in order to realise his part industrial, part fashion creations. It’s clear he’s happier in unchartered territory.
The discussion turned to couture and obsolescence. Karim is curious about the possible inclusion of technology in couture techniques in order to aid their survival, but this is completely at odds with the fact that couture means made by hand. This meaning of couture would therefore need to change for this to happen. I ponder a possible alternative in the form of technologies so specialised, rare and unique that they create a techno-couture instead. Here we begin to think about fashion and design being driven by technology, rather than the other way around.
In these discussions, as Alexa Pollmann, Course Leader of the MA Wearable Futures course, points out, it is important to consider the designs of Sam, Farid and the other students from Ravensbourne as proposals and prototypes – not final ‘fashion products’ per se. Ask any fashion designer working in the industry today their opinion of fashion tech and they will overwhelmingly tell you that it is gimmicky, ugly and not desirable. Herein lies the chasm between tech and fashion. Looks really count, and so does magic. Fashion designers bring an ephemeral quality to their creations, says Alexa. Fashion designers dream up and articulate experiences better than any other design discipline. They create magic in a way that is often so difficult to define it just feels ‘right’. Fashion is entirely subjective and indisputably powerful. For these reasons, Clive Van Heerden, co-founder of vHM Design Futures studio in London, which develops materials and technologies for a host of Wearable Electronic business propositions in the areas of electronic apparel, conductive textiles, physical gaming, medical monitoring and entertainment, insists on having a fashion designer in his creative team on all projects.
Designs by students from Politecnico di Milano
Designs by students from Ravensbourne
But why are fashion designers resistant to incorporating tech into their designs and what is slowing down the advancement of the fashion tech fusion? One factor is that the development of tech-enabled/collaborative products takes considerable research and development, and therefore time. It requires dedication to solving specific problems related to firstly a single concept or product, which is at odds with designing, sampling and creating whole fashion collections which are visually cohesive within a strict time frame (weeks or months at most), which then have a finite sales period before the next collection is created (making the current one obsolete, for want of a better word) and the cycle continues. The traditional cycle of two main collections per year for high end fashion labels has switched to four in recent years, meaning there is even less time for research and development. Knowing this, it is easy to see why the work of fashion designers is at odds with the research and development required to incorporate tech, and vice versa. In a previous interview with designers Fyodor Golan, they pointed out that fashion tech collaborations often have a required fixed outcome within a tight time frame, limiting the amount of integration possible. This goes some way to explaining why sometimes fashion tech looks more ‘stuck on’ than cohesively and meaningfully designed and produced.
Read more about the technologies involved in the Couture in Orbit project here
Header image: Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and adaptable ink kilt at ‘Couture in Orbit’
A sister exhibition to Fashion Hacked at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Fashion Data is a stark reality check about the consumption of clothing and its societal meaning both in the West and East, along with the environmental implications for the planet.
Fashion Data incorporates Fashion Machine: an installation by Conny Groenewegen in which she slashes and re-works a typical leftover product of the fast fashion/clothing industry, the fleece sweater. Conny and her team of students cut up and ‘re-spun’ the fleeces onto giant spools and looped them onto huge looms’ to demonstrate the scale of waste and the banality of the fleece jumper, which is largely undesired as a second-hand product and regularly finds its way into mattresses at the end of its lifecycle, or worse still, landfill. Conny makes thought-provoking statements about the role of designers in mass manufacturing for fast fashion, summed up in the set of stills below, followed by a film documenting the creation of the Fashion Machine installation.
To view Conny Groenewegen’s fashion and knitwear design process in depth, watch this video.
In the film, note the polyethylene (PET) water bottles in the background, from which fleece jumpers have historically been made. The recycling of PET bottles into polyester fabric to create fleeces is fascinating. See the full process here.
Balancing Conny’s visual representation of physical waste is Fashion Data – a series of black and white (visually and metaphorically) statistics that give a context to the current European habits of purchasing, wearing and disposing of clothing. I’ll let the numbers do the talking.
The exhibition was curated by fashion historian José Teunissen. Her publication Fashion Data is available to read online and fleshes out the numbers stated above. It’s essential reading and explains the historic foundation of Fast Fashion, its environmental impact and the emerging slow fashion movement. It is also a useful visual summary of the Fashion Data exhibition that’s as good as viewing it first hand. To paraphrase Teunissen, 30% of today’s clothing is sold at the recommended retail price, another 30% disappears in the sales and 40% remains unsold or doesn’t even reach the shops. This is the deadstock I spoke of in my previous post Fashion Hacked. Today’s overproduction of Fast Fashion produces an enormous amount of waste with negative social and environmental impacts. There are solutions being developed to make materials production cleaner and more sustainable, but the business of, and appetite for, Fast Fashion remain strong.
Fashion Data also alerted me to the work of Dutch fashion brand Youasme (womens) Measyou (mens), which launched in 2010 as the world’s first crowdfunded fashion brand creating slow fashion collections of high quality made-to-last knitwear and accessories.
On a stylistic level I was also struck by the natural ease of Youasme/Measyou’s androgyny – it feels tangible and forever. This is in stark contrast with the overt androgyny expressed by some current fashion designers, including JW Anderson, whose work feels firmly ‘of the moment’ and deliberately provocative – more a scream of gender bending than a quiet dissolving of the aesthetic gender divide. No doubt both have merit and power for different reasons but it strikes me that Youasme’s expression feels more real; more authentic. Herein lies the ever fascinating aspect of fashion’s aesthetic debate – its subjectivity.
In addition to Youasme, a host of Dutch designers are utilising sustainable materials and practices, highlighted in conjunction with Fashion Data at Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Temporary Fashion Exhibition. Here’s a roundup.
The parting insight delivered by Fashion Data comes in the form of award winning film Unravel by Meghna Gupta. Shot in India, the film illustrates the end point of clothing from the West that is sent for recycling and reveals the gaping divide between East and West and the perceived value of clothing.
The film runs deep into value judgements about society as a whole. It is shocking and revelatory. Some Indian factory workers assume that clothes being bought from stores like Primark are very expensive, meaning that Western consumers are very wealthy and can afford to simply give away their clothes for recycling and buy new ones. They also draw the conclusion that Western women are more worthy and beautiful compared to Eastern women because of this excessive consumption. One female factory worker ponders, while removing decorative crystals from underwear, what the wearer must have done to deserve such a fate – stones on her underwear?! She concluded the woman must have been forced to wear it as some form of punishment for bad behaviour. Her comment is a stark reminder of a practical and functional attitude towards clothing, and of patriarchal dominance.
The full length film can be viewed here. It is a profound and perspective-inducing film that is equally compelling and educational. Further clothing recycling information is available here. For information about the sustainable fashion effort in the UK, click here.
Looking back to look forward, here’s the first instalment in a round-up of inspiring and enlightening talks from Wired Next Generation at London’s Tobacco Docks. 2015 offered up a hint of what’s to come in 2016. Brace yourselves. It’s techtastic!
Start early, said Jordan Casey, the teen from Waterford in Ireland. He taught himself to code aged 9 after convincing his grandma to buy him a book about building websites. He was playing a game called Club Penguin at the time and wanted to make his own video games. He learnt HTML code then decided he wanted to make apps – but he’d need a mac for that. Jordan asked his parents for one, but they didn’t understand why he needed a Mac – he already had a perfectly decent computer. Jordan’s entrepreneurial spirit extended to writing a fake letter from an ‘Apple executive’ to his parents explaining he needed a Mac to progress with coding and create apps. They promptly bought said Mac. Jordan then went on to create his first app, the game Alien Ball VS Humans, which shot to the top of the iTunes chart, with Minecraft slotted in below at number three. Not bad.
I watched the film Prometheus last night (better late than never) and it strikes me that humans messing with the aliens is a recurring theme and point of interest as we hurtle into our tech-driven future. More on that later.
Jordan is currently growing his business, Casey Games, travelling around the world and encouraging teens to follow their dreams. “If you know what you want to do, don’t wait!” he says. Now 15, he admits his age means he’s not always taken seriously, particularly when trying to gain investment, but he is firmly focussed on the end goal and that motivates him to continue. I was lucky enough to grab a snap with Jordan after his inspiring talk.
Jordan and I
Hyeonseo Lee offers a personal and moving insight into life under the oppressive North Korean regime. Following a life well into her teens of seeing people tortured and publicly executed for speaking out about injustice, she secretly watched TV broadcasts from neighbouring China on her television while shielding herself from the outside world in her bedroom, sealing the windows with thick curtains so that the flickering light couldn’t be seen. By viewing Chinese TV broadcasts she realised that she had been brain-washed by her government and that oppression, human suffering and murder were wrong – until then they were a ‘normal’ part of daily life. Looking around the audience at Wired Next Generation I see hundreds of bright eyes apparently trying to process the difficulty and horror Hyeonseo has experienced. I also sense a collective understanding of how important her story is and that opportunity and freedom are the most important privilege and right that we have. Hyeonseo’s talk can inspire us to appreciate, aim high and share our stories. Given that she had to unlearn 17 years of false propaganda-driven education in order to begin her tertiary education in South Korea and eventually share her experiences further abroad, her story is an extraordinary one.
The propulsion of rockets in space hasn’t innovated much since the 1920’s and our current rockets are propelled chemically and electrically. Ryan Weed’s company Positron Dynamics proposes a new type of fuel – energy generated by combining antimatter (positrons) and matter, which results in huge amounts of energy that if harnessed, could reduce the duration of a flight to Mars from months to minutes. Currently it takes 10 years to get to Pluto. Antimatter-generated energy would make this journey 1000 times faster. By my calculation, that means the journey to Pluto would be reduced from 3642.5 days (87,420 hours) to 3.64 days (87.5 hours). Voyager One currently takes 45 minutes to travel around the world but using this new energy source it would take 3 seconds.
In a nutshell, this means that with our existing understanding of physics we could use this antimatter-generated energy to travel to outer-space within our lifetime – you, me, our friends and family. It’s exciting stuff and brings us another leap closer to outer space and life beyond Earth. It also makes me think about sci-fi film portrayals of outer space. As mentioned, I watched Prometheus last night. Set in 2089-2093 and with a 2.5 year fictional journey back to Earth from an unnamed planet (suggested to be in outer space) I wonder whether this ‘futuristic’ estimation is already vastly outdated. In 2093 it will almost certainly take only days or weeks to reach outer space, based on antimatter energy calculations. The overriding suggestion of impending doom and desolation brought by isolation and distance between planets will no longer hold up as outer space becomes accessible – It will be an extension of our lives on earth.
Ryan Weed explains the phenomenon of antimatter annihilation in his Jaguar sponsored video with Wired, filmed at the European Space Station. This is quite literally rocket science and we are going Interstellar! I’m inclined to start designing a collection of space flight-ready jumpsuits right now (I am a huge fan of pilot, boiler and jump suits, as documented on my Instagram feed and that of my fashion label).
Ryan Weed of Positron Dynamics – Wired 2015
Janty Yates’ space suits for Prometheus: pics-about-space.com
Bradley L. Garrett is a social geographer and urban adventurer with a penchant for exploring the derelict and condemned. He scours the underbelly of our great city, revealing forgotten spaces and initiating dialogues about how those spaces could be used in the future. The spaces he has explored (without permission, he says adding to the thrill and excitement of the adventure) include 14 abandoned tube stations, see Aldwych (below) and Battersea Power Station. The underground cavities of London tell us about the infrastructure of our city and how things function above ground. He encourages all of us to go and explore (cue horrified faces on parents of eager teens in the audience).
Bradley’s images of power cables and an intact section of Aldwych station
National Grid Excavation, East London: bradleygarrett.com
Finsbury Park Reservoir, North London: bradleygarrett.com
Aldwych disused Tube station, London : bradleygarrett.com
See more incredible images from Bradley’s European-wide adventures on his website.
Stand by for the second instalment. And Happy New Year!
I have read many an interview with the world’s most credible and era-defining fashion designers and often they’re unrevealing. Not so with Hussein Chalayan.
Against the backdrop of high-profile industry exits by Alber Elbaz (Lanvin) and Raf Simons (Dior) there is widespread recognition that all is not well in the top tier of the fashion industry. Who knew? There were shockwaves throughout the press. Cathy Horyn’s interview with Raf Simons weeks before his exit (but published afterwards on Business Of Fashion) in which he confesses there is no time to explore and develop his designs (meaning that creating product quickly was his mandate) was a hint he was strained. Alber Elbaz’ lamenting that we are not looking and listening with eyes and ears but rather consuming via technology, was also poignant. Hussein and I discuss these exits briefly and he admits he was so swamped working on his contemporary dance piece “Gravity Fatigue” that he had not had a chance to read the press response to the news. Hussein says he believes Raf will be much happier, that he’ll have a life. Hussein explains there is a point at which you have to ask yourself how much money do I need and what is it all for?
Hussein’s myriad of professional responsibilities include designing eight collections per year for Chalayan and seasonal collections for Vionnet, and in addition he is Head of Fashion at the University of Applied Arts, Austria. This year he presented his aforementioned contemporary dance piece (almost two years in the making), opened his flagship store and gave a TED talk. He is full of energy, by his own admission. I realise he speaks with definite authority on the notion of overworking and keeping a balance between earning and living. He said he sometimes thinks it’s a stupid thing to be busy – although it’s a choice – and the quality of his life has been terrible this year because of his workload.
Hussein Chalayan’s flagship is primarily a store, but will also host events, dinners and shows on a yearly calendar
The reason for my interview with Hussein is to discuss “Gravity Fatigue” and the use of technology in his work. What unravels is an unexpected discourse on the fashion industry, why there are too many designers, how the fashion and technology landscape has changed over the past 21 years, celebrity “designers” and why fashion has such a problem giving credit to collaborators.
Hussein Chalayan’s latest incredibly ambitious piece is “Gravity Fatigue”. A feat in movement, sound and costume, it was borne of dormant ideas Hussein has kept in files from the past decade and beyond. This makes complete sense given that the piece plays out as a series of scenes, each with it’s own style and narrative. Hussein explains that the ideas are a combination of notes, sketches and subjects sparked by his interests. Citation of specific sources is impossible because the organic, evolutionary nature of his work, coupled with his broad interests, leading to an intersection somewhere between sociology, architecture, art and the world’s sciences. Hussein sums up the collection of proposals for “Gravity Fatigue” as originating from a “World View” collated from his 21 years working in the creative industries.
The “Gravity Fatigue” running order, from the Sadler’s Wells show program
What’s so ambitious about Gravity Fatigue, beyond the fusion of contemporary dance, costume and fashion design, is that Hussein directed the piece – a completely unorthodox approach in which most choreographers would refuse to partake. “Usually the choreographer is King” states Hussein. However choreographer Damien Jalet accepted this role reversal. The creation of the piece began with four workshops (the exploratory phase) followed by two months of intense rehearsals giving rise to many a creative and technical challenge and many tears.
The fact that Hussein’s initial ideas and premises are those expressed in the final piece is testament to the dedication of his collective team, including Jalet and the thirteen dancers, to realise what he had envisaged for up to a decade or more in his thoughts, notes and sketches. Hussein explains the challenge ran so deep and so intense that he and the team are experiencing a severe anticlimax now that it has ended. I ask if the process was filmed and suggest that it would have made an interesting documentary. The rehearsals were filmed, says Hussein, so a documentary is still possible.
The collaborative nature of “Gravity Fatigue” required integration of costume design in the Chalayan studio with prototypes built by outside specialists, followed by movement back and forth between teams until the desired aesthetic and function were achieved. It’s a dizzying thought, considering the number of people and specialisms involved.
There are scenes driven by technology, like “Secret Gliders” where the dancers recoil in response to the sharp movements of their draped dresses careering along the floor, orchestrated by invisible mechanics from below the stage. This scene makes me think of wireless puppeteering – It’s a struggle and a fight between the movement of the body and the costumes, which are being manipulated by an invisible third object or force. The piece as a whole is at its most captivating when this tension between the body, its movement and the costumes is ramped up.
I mention the whirling dervish scene, entitled “Body Split”, and Hussein explains that the dervish was not the initial trigger. They looked at the pattern of movement of a dervish but the final movement was a hybrid of other ideas. It is one of the most impressive and moving scenes and gives rise to multiple silhouettes and epic sustained spinning by the dancers.
My thoughts jump to the final scene transforming from “Hong Kong Heights” to “Anticipation of Participation” – a group fabric and clothing orgy with dancers dipping their toes into a pool before intertwining and being sucked into a turbulent centre. Grabbing at each other and failing attempts to escape, it was a tense and disturbing close to a show of many ideas and concepts executed as a number of parts on multiple journeys, rather than a narrative whole. Again, this is in bold contrast to the usual contemporary dance offering and demonstrates how Hussein Chalayan’s work innovates and pushes boundaries.
On the night, reflecting on the crowd and the lively chatter outside the theatre, it’s clear that “Gravity Fatigue” was a challenging piece. By breaking free of the usual continual narrative of contemporary dance Hussein created a piece led by diverse and broad ideas, bringing a crowd of people who are appreciators of his fashion design to Sadler’s Wells – perhaps a first for many. It’s important to reflect on how this can catalyse further cross-disciplinary work and stoke the fire for fashion designers to look beyond fashion, both in terms of inspiration and practice. Hussein was amongst the crowd outside the theatre afterwards. It didn’t occur to me to tell him during the interview, but it was on seeing him talking with audience members that I understood he is open to sharing the story of his work and realised I had to request this interview. It occurs to me at this point that Hussein’s work is so influential and important because it invites dialogue. It provokes questions and offers unexpected answers. We can consider the meaning and answer for ourselves.
We talk about the historical use of technology in Hussein’s work and he explains that it has been right for the given project at the time – not simply for technology’s sake. I ask him about the differences between the industry now and when he began using technology in his garments. In his opinion, the biggest difference is that when he began working on such collaborative projects, they made prototypes that were essentially proposals that required funding and additional R&D to become wearable clothing. He feels that now it is easier to realise the final functional product after prototyping. This explanation reminds me of Golan’s Frydman’s comment, in the Fyodor Golan blogpost, that there is a tradeoff between truly innovative Fashion/Tech product creation and the provision of investment and time by technology collaborators. It seems this is still a sticking point to some degree.
The technical underpinning of a dress from Hussein Chalayan’s SS07 collection
Hussein says he sometimes feels like a motivator in the field of technology and fashion design. He believes that he, McQueen and other contemporaries have inspired a whole generation of designers to actually become designers. When people see what he has done they realise what is possible and this is a catalyst for replication and further experimentation, which he says is a good thing. It has led him to analyse what he has created, what worked, what didn’t work and what’s redundant.
CHALAYAN AW00 PHOTOS CHRIS MOORE
We talk about collaboration and recognition in the fashion industry and how teams or collaborators are often not recognised or credited for their input. Hussein believes that the image or status of the project can take over due to the popularist energy around fashion. This means that fashion is experienced as an event in itself and that comes first. I ask if this is to fashion’s detriment. He says yes and no. Collaborators and contributors can publish their involvement on social media, meaning that their participation is recognised more now than it would have been in the past.
On the subject of digital media, Hussein points out that it has allowed us to find out about anything instantly. It’s more democratic, however it makes designers more vulnerable as their work is visible more quickly. I ask Hussein if he thinks the democratisation of fashion through digital media is a good thing. He says it’s good and bad. It’s good in the sense that anyone can access a breadth of information. It’s bad in the sense that information becomes disposable, having a cheapening effect. It also doesn’t allow exploration, says Hussein, “you can just Google anything and you’ll find it, so you don’t research and appreciate it”. We discuss the process of library-based research taught traditionally in fashion degrees where exploration is done through books in a broad sense before later developing, curating, fusing and refining ideas to bring a unique perspective – the hallmark of individuality sought by designers aiming to express a personal point of view and grow throughout the design process.
Sketch by Hussein Chalayan
Images from Hussein Chalayan’s first print campaigns
I listened to Hussein’s recent interview with Dezeen. He said there are too many designers, not that he is against the emergence of new designers, he simply states that to launch a brand you should have a point of view. He feels there are too many designers creating similar fashion. He also says that designers are entering fashion because of a perception of it being a cool thing to do and that they sometimes the lack dedication and work ethic to meet the demands of the industry. As a teacher, I believe he has seen this first hand – I know I have.
In continuation, he asks “Why do we need so much product?” I suggest it’s to meet growing consumer appetites. He points out that the appetite has been stoked by brands to create more and more product to boost sales and therefore fill coffers. In summary, it’s because of financial greed. I agree that this cheapens the process of design and muddies the industry.
I ask Hussein “Why fashion?” – It’s his love of movement, of clothes and how they can alter and re-appropriate the body. “I think the body is the ultimate cultural symbol in the world” he says. It is Hussein’s belief that you can work like an artist when making clothes. He sees it as a study and although he participates in the fashion discourse, he views fashion as a broader activity. He does not see fashion as a frivolous thing sometimes brought about by celebrity “nonsense”, by which he means celebrities claiming to be designers overnight and cheapening the industry. Why doesn’t that happen with other disciplines like architecture, he asks? You can’t become an architect overnight, so why a fashion designer? Fashion is a hub with many sides, but most people know the tabloid or popularist side and for that reason it’s thought of as frivolous. He cites fashion academics Caroline Evans and Judith Clark as spokespeople for the credibility of fashion and feels that if more people like Caroline and Judith were involved in the fashion discourse, the collective opinion of fashion may change and it’s view would be held alongside disciplines like architecture. He believes fashion is as valid as any other discipline in which the discourse is more serious, it’s just that those who cheapen the fashion industry have a loud voice.
Interviewing Hussein Chalayan is like fashion nourishment. It’s stimulating, illuminating and enlightening. Off the record we chatted about my recent marriage, work, fusing medical imaging and knitwear, our families and long overdue holidays. Of course I thought of a dozen more questions I’d like to ask Hussein after I left the Chalayan studio, but will patiently add them to a filed list, neatly in keeping with Hussein’s penchant for filing ideas, notes and sketches for a later date. But let it not be a decade or more before I have the chance to ask them.
It’s an insightful and warm conversation that plays out in the depths of Somerset House where Fyodor Podgorny and Golan Frydman, the designers behind fashion label Fyodor Golan, invite me into their temporary studio while their usual one is undergoes renovation. Golan tells me they’re arranging pre-collection production now, then beginning their main line production before moving onto designing the AW16 collection, which launches at London Fashion Week in February. Phew! The fashion wheel keeps on turning…
Production at the Fyodor Golan studio
Fyodor points out very early in the conversation that the fashion industry has changed dramatically since their Fashion Fringe launch seven seasons ago. Their evolution as designers and as business owners has been just as dramatic. They began by making restrictive, complex couture and changed direction when they gained global attention and realised that one Fyodor Golan woman did not exist – there are many. She comes in all shapes, sizes and ages and she doesn’t want to wear a corset. The philosophy of making their clothing lighter and easier sits well alongside two designers who are natural, pragmatic and thoughtful. Their customers speak, they listen.
Fyodor explains that the internet explosion and uptake of social media means that the old system of designers dictating whole customer ‘looks’ died with Instagram’s birth and has fertilised the Fyodor Golan brand’s growth. It’s safe to say they are happy with fashion’s democratisation and credit fashion bloggers and clients styling their own looks on social media as sources of inspiration, revealing their fashion personalities and breaking down the ‘whole designer look’ phenomenon.
They gain new clients across the globe who contact them directly for special one-off pieces or to purchase garments directly on the strength of an Instagram image. This is a powerful tool and leads us to contemplate whether the relentless pre-prescribed fashion industry collection schedule makes sense. Do they need it? As a small label they are still responsive and in touch with their clients and that is a strength and competitive advantage. Fyodor explains that he would love to make mini collections every three months, freeing them from the restrictive shackles of fashion’s seasonal calendar. I notice from images and seeing first-hand the constructed textiles of their pre-collection that they are no less ambitious in terms of materials and concepts when creating their pre-collections, in contrast to some designers who approach these as “mainline lite” collections in terms of design and realisation. It’s clear Fyodor Golan don’t take short cuts and invest their energy into realising ideas, not churning out product. I admire them and I admire their ease and resolve. They know exactly why they are creating their collections, and it’s not just for the sake of it or because the fashion calendar says it’s time to churn another one out. They have recently launched resort S/S16, deciding to create one pre-collection per year instead of the standard two, in addition to their two mainline collections (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) so that they can maintain some balance and not stretch themselves too thinly.
Fyodor Golan Resort S/S16 postcards
This leads us to a discussion about the recent exit of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz from their fashion design and creative directorships of Dior and Lanvin respectively. As admirers of both designers, Fyodor and Golan discuss the unrealistic expectations on such designers to conceive and oversee the execution of upwards of eight collections a year, plus accessories, fragrances and in some cases retail spaces. Being spread too thinly kills creativity. We know it and have experienced it. Golan wrestles with it when having to abandon concepts for collections part way through the development phase because he does not have the time and means to see them through. He talks of being forced to wade through admin work and arrange business transactions in order to meet responsibilities to staff and suppliers – people have to be paid on time – leaving his unrealised ideas lingering. It’s a tough and bitter pill that leaves doubt in the mind of a designer as to whether they have accomplished what they set out to and whether their vision has evolved into full bloom. The idea of the creative exploration being curbed too soon is a brutal one, especially considering a collection takes up to six months to create and is presented in around 6 minutes on the runway. If you don’t get to finish your sartorial sentence it’s an all too abrupt ending.
Fyodor Golan have embraced technology and the changing fashion landscape more than most. By launching a smart phone skirt collaboration with Nokia Lumia and a Microsoft-powered runway show with an impressive pyramid installation displaying projections from Nokia Lumia cameras in the front row, they have been at the frontier of experimenting with how tech gadgets can interact with fashion. Their forays into combining fashion and technology have been facilitated by the Fashion Innovation Agency, spearheaded by FashionTech stalwart Matt Drinkwater.
Fyodor Golan x Nokia Lumia smart phone skirt in collaboration with research and design studio Kin
SS15 FG x Microsoft + Nokia Lumia
Both designers are at ease combining fashion and technology, but also recognise its current limitations. The limitations they cite come as a shock. Where previously I believed the lack of collaboration between technology and fashion designers lay with the designers’ lack of affinity for tech or a mismatch between the tech and the textiles or aesthetics, what it truly comes down to (at least in part) is the insistence on a new product outcome within a very short and strict timeframe. One year to innovate and create a whole new fashion tech product? “How is that possible?” asks Golan. The expectation of technology companies during pre-collaboration discussions with Fyodor Golan has been to create a new tech-driven product to sell within 12 months. There appears to be a lack of appetite for experimentation for its own sake and for exploring long-term, ambitious and integrated fashion tech innovations in this collaborative environment. Maybe that’s why fashion and technology aren’t integrating seamlessly and desirably yet – at least in the wearables space.
Fyodor and Golan are experimenters with spirit. They have a penchant for grabbing familiar references and layering textiles in a way that captures the imagination. Their clothes are bright, bold, fun and attractive. They’re highly tactile and attention grabbing. It’s hard to imagine not feeling happy and celebratory wearing their printed, vinyl, ruffled neoprene shift dress with neon trims. It’s a recognisable silhouette, making it firmly wearable, but it’s shaken off any shift-dress dowdiness by way of neon trims and chunky metal zips and the unexpectedly successful pairing of roses, ruffles and neoprene. SOLD!
Their latest SS16 collection, which launched at London Fashion Week, evolved out of an existing collaboration with toy maker Hasbro. The designers used My Little Pony as inspiration for their A/W15 ‘Rainbow Wheels’ collection and when offered the chance to delve into the Hasbro Transformer archives for S/S16 they grabbed it.
Unfortunately I’m not able to view and publish those original images, suffice to say that the bright colours and bold transformative nature of Transformers comes through at least in the spirit of the collection, and through the Transformer-inspired prints on sweatshirts. Being in the priviledged position of seeing never before published Transformer sketches the collection spontaneously erupted into a cacophony of colour and graphics.
Golan and the ‘front row’ Transformer
FG x Kat Maconie S/S 16
A smattering of Geisha-inspired silhouettes and accessories (the shoes were a collaboration with Kat Maconie) give gravity to the playful colours and prints. The indigo pieces are a personal favourite and appear to ground the collection amongst the flurry of digital prints, vinyl and colour.
S/S 16 London Fashion Week Show
Fyodor Golan is the unexpected. The designers themselves define it as ‘a spirit’. I define it as a breath of fresh air. They’re as candid as their clothes. And that’s rare.