From Delivering Louboutins to Devising an Injury Detection Suit – This is Fashion Tech

It’s a refreshing start to the day to chat to an entrepreneur with two startups on the go just six months after graduating from an MA in Global Innovation Design at the Royal College of Art.  Dan Garrett is a do-er – and a resolutely practical one at that.  His recent collaboration with fashion designer Mary Benson is testament to his dynamic and collaborative approach to design.  ‘Fashion design is magical’ he says, reminiscing about his job as a bike courier ferrying Louboutins to devotees in London.  He recalls seeing women trying on the shoes in the store and paying handsome sums for what he describes as an uncomfortable and impractical object that paradoxically is utterly desirable.  Yep, that’s fashion!  Magical, sometimes confusing and utterly spellbinding.

We talk a little more about the magic of fashion and why Dan and his collaborators Elena Dieckmann, Ming Kong and Lucy Jong worked with Mary on their fascinating piece of wearable tech – the Bruise Suit. 

static1.squarespaceMary Benson’s graduate collection, University of Westminster, 2014

The bruise suit was borne out of a collaborative project at the RCA which saw Dan and his team find a problem that needed to be solved and then design and make the solution.  The project, supported by Rio Tinto, had an open brief.  The team decided to design a piece for use at the Sochi winter olympics and interviewed disabled athletes with the hope of devising a solution to a problem.  Paralympic sit-skiier Talan Skeels-Piggins complained of being injured but unaware of his injuries due to his disability and that’s when (after rejection of a number of wearables related concepts) the ‘bruise suit’ concept was borne.  The concept was that on sufficient impact likely to result in an injury, the suit would respond with a visual notification for the athlete.  Weeks of R & D in conjunction with a specialist research team at Imperial College London and collaboration with pattern cutter Raj Mistry resulted in a suit with removable sections of a polyurethane coated textile containing microcapsules of dye that shattered on sufficient impact, therefore signalling a chance of injury.  It’s best demonstrated by the video and images below.

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Bruise suit 1

The design won additional funding from Rio Tinto and the James Dyson Foundation, leading to a second phase which saw the team collaborate with fashion designer Mary Benson whose work incorporates vinyl applications on a multitude of textiles.  Dan explained to me that having researched (and launched a startup in product manufacturing for the healthcare market) he remains frustrated by the ugliness and lack of design in healthcare equipment.  There is little if any consideration for aesthetics in the creation of products for those with disabilities and the complicated process of procurement for such devices (usually by councils on behalf of those with disabilities and without their direct input) means those using the products aren’t choosing them.  The cold, beige hallmarks of medical devices and institutions carry through, he says.  Why? He asks.  Having worked in the NHS for over a decade and being a designer myself I have asked this question (in my own head and audibly) countless times.  Dan is determined to do something about it.  I sense this comes from a fascination for design, in particular fashion, having completed a stint at the Pratt Institute alongside studying at the RCA, however Dan confirms that his practical problem-solving brain’s hard wiring prevents him from moments of Mary Benson-like magic.  He delights in seeing designers, like Mary, create imaginative aesthetics but remains focussed on primarily solving problems with his design and engineering projects.    

output_xAfuF9Mary Benson’s AW14 Cruise collection

Mary, Dan and I live a stone’s throw from each other in Bethnal Green, East London, but it proved impossible to get together due to scheduling conflicts, s0 Dan explains to me that Mary devised the surface design for the Bruise suit by exploiting her much used technique of vinyl applications, which takes the suit into a different (multi-coloured) realm.  Mary’s surface design turns the suit into a fashion object in addition to a piece of technical clothing with a serious purpose.  The process of creating the microcapsule filled polyurethane strips that slide into discrete pockets strategically placed on the most at risk areas of the body (the long bones and knees, for example) was complex.  It utilised newspaper print press roller technology to ensure the two layers of film with the microcapsules were correctly structured to function on sufficient (injury causing) impact.  What Dan worked on specifically with Mary was creating pockets with teflon in between the vinyl and the film which could then be filled with the microcapsules.  Dan explains the satisfaction in developing design that serves the body and cites biomimicry as a motivator for his particular approach to such design projects.  Mirroring the structure of the body and supporting human anatomy is at the core of another of Dan’s projects, for which currently has an advisory role – Aergo, the pioneering modular disability support system. 

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Azure-DX-SmarterFasterTougher-15The Bruise Suit in collaboration with Mary Benson

Dan’s other projects have included TasteWorks, a VR sensory study focussing on appetite and dementia at Keio University and his most current undertaking, Farewill, which launches in earnest soon.  For now, I leave Dan with a buzz and heightened curiosity over what problems he might propose to solve through design next and hope they incorporate the magic of fashion.

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London Fashion Week Delivers Elegance and Mathematical Proportions

In continuation of London Fashion Week‘s Films, Fraying and Frizz, the second instalment of my fashion week roundup starts at with Belstaff, in collaboration with (an elusive) Liv Tyler.

The Belstaff presentation could scarcely have been more different from the others I have experienced.  It occurred to me that a show format would have made it easier to see the clothes.  Being a bigger brand with a larger captive audience, it was in a basement sauna of winter woolies and leathers with a biker-lite /polar vibe and a melee of guests enjoying the wares and fizz.  The show notes stated that the collection was inspired by ‘female pioneers venturing into the earth’s most bleak and hard-to-reach locations in the most challenging of conditions’.  Polar pioneer Christina Franco was named as a special guest, which I only discovered after re-reading the show notes for this article.  I can think of at least a dozen questions about protective clothing and design I’d have fired off in her direction.  I bumped into a couple of old friends and had a chat with Jonathan Saunders (whose mate designed the collection) on the way out, so it was suitably fashion-y and fizzy.

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Belstaff AW16 and projected inspiration imagery

Huishan Zhang offered up the most elegant and serene of presentations at The Connaught in what felt like the coming together of two perfect halves – the romantic decadence of the location and the gently elegant and luxuriously refined clothing.  The clothes screamed, or rather elegantly asserted, a grown-up ladylike appeal and I passed Linda Fargo on my way out, further confirming their level on the elegance stakes.  Look out for Huishan Zang in Bergdorf Goodman next season?

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Huishan Zhang AW16 

Production: Rachel Pelly and Pearl Van Den Ende – Stylist: Maya Zepinic @ LGA Management – PR: Saturday Group, Beatrice Savoretti – Music: Leslie Deere – Shoes: Jimmy Choo – Casting: Shelley Durkan – Show Photographer: Piers Cunliffe – Show Videographer: Jacob Fn Photography – Backstage Photographer: Liam Fuller – Hair: Bianca Tuovi @ CLM – Makeup: Mel Arter @ CLM – Head of Nails: Roxanne Campbell

The highlight of the day came in the form of Sid Neigum‘s mathematics-inspired and mostly monochrome collection.  Chatting to Sid I learned that the starting point for silhouette development for the collection was a measurement of a shoulder line, say 30 cm for example, which was then multiplied by Da Vinci’s golden ratio (1.6), applied rigorously by Le Corbusier and a hallmark of his modulor proportions, to determine the opposite shoulder line length, creating a harmonious set of measurements that formed naturally aesthetically pleasing proportions.

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The best way to describe the experience of seeing the collection is to say that it all felt “right”.  It was at ease.  The lengths, the volumes, the textiles.  Not forced, but lovingly calculated and evolved from a series of applied multiplications, which led Sid to his final silhouettes.  Sid is a patter-cutter who designs in 2D by working back from a 3D ‘mental rendering’ of what he’s imagining he will make.  He rarely sketches his designs, but rather sketches pattern piece shapes which he can mentally assemble before doing so physically.  Brilliant.  I plan to talk in more depth with Sid and bring you a more studied summation of his technique, but until then, enjoy the collection images.

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Sid Neigum AW16. Shots of Sid and I by Moin Islam.

Finally, we dashed to the 100 Club on Oxford Street for a slice of Mary Benson magic, only to discover we’d missed the show and caught the party.  Here are the post show leftovers and gif-ified show images thanks to Village PR:

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Mary Benson AW16

Styling: Louby McLoughlin – Hair: Jose Quijano @ D+V Management using Bumble and Bumble – Makeup: Marie Bruce using Urban Decay – Casting: Aamo – Production: Lizzie Cardwell – Press Release: Ione Gamble – Music: Twin//Venus with backing vocals by Kit Brown – Set Design: Dora Miller – Embroidery Collaboration: Aniela Fidler – Millinery Collaboration: Stephen Jones – Crystals: Swarovski – Jewellery: Sarah McCormack – Shoes: Converse – Headphones: Beats by Dre – Film: Trudy Barry – DJs: Emily Rose England, Matthew Johnson, Jon Beagley, Ben Gregory, Joe Skilton, Jamie Shaw.

I’ll be popping in to see Mary and chat about a very special collaboration she did on a Bruise suit  – cue geek-out technical textiles session.  More Techstyling soon.  Stay tuned.

Header Image: Sid Neigum AW16

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