Ravensbourne Incubation – A New Age of Fashion and Technology Dawns

Our wearable tech, fashion tech (including smart textiles, wearables and soft robotics) and smart cities future is something I spend a great deal of time thinking about.  How will fashion designers influence the wearable tech sector?  How will they transition from traditional practice to technology-driven practice?  How will fashion design students enter into fashion tech without the facilitation of dual science/tech and fashion training? Do fashion designers (apart from my peers and I) have a belief and genuine interest in this field?  How do we close the gap between fashion and technology?  How will we begin the speak the same ‘language’?

The questions above were answered at least in part by Farid Akmal when I interviewed him at the Ravensbourne Incubation space at the end of last year.  The first ever graduate of the MA Wearable Futures course at Ravensbourne he explained to me his involvement in devising the first ‘wearable tech’ unit to be taught as part of the Ravensbourne Foundation course commencing in January this year.  The significance of this can’t be underestimated.  To introduce a core six weeks of training spanning basic circuitry and electronics, integration of electronics into textiles, sensors and their use in capturing data and actuators as a tool for expressing this data is a leap not only in the skill-set being disseminated, but in opening up future pathways in training across disciplines and cultivating designers (accessories, fashion and product) who seamlessly integrate electronics and textiles to shape our fashion tech future.

Images from a Farid Kamal’s Couturier’s and the Art of Survival – A Technologist’s Guide

I posed to Farid that his students will have one key advantage over us (designers currently working in this space), and that is their ‘naive’ blank slate and lack of assumptions over fashion and what it means to be a fashion designer.  When we studied fashion we were trained to admire and seek to understand the work of other designers and shape ourselves as designers, accordingly.  A healthy respect for the practice and aesthetic of fashion designers underpinned our contextual fashion studies.  But if we don’t look beyond what has been done before and introduce truly new practices, where can fashion go? 

                                                  Images from a Farid Kamal’s Couturier’s and the Art of Survival – A Technologist’s Guide

One of the projects the foundation students will undertake as part of this new wearable tech unit is sourcing charity shop garments and embedding them with technology to enhance their design and functionality.  Whilst Farid (and I) are reticent about LED lights on clothing, for example, the students don’t hold the preconceptions we do given our prior fashion training and may develop a beautifully refined and symbiotic use of them in clothing – who knows? Farid’s initial feedback from the students is overwhelmingly encouraging with many of them expressing a desire to know how fashion tech garments work and how to make their own ‘wearables” – some inspired by costumes they’d seen at Burning Man.  Whilst this sounds a little ‘costumey’ rather than fashion-led, it’s important to recognise these things are subjective and take time to evolve.

Following the launch of this unit the aim is to extend this core ‘wearables’ training to a short course for students and staff at Ravensbourne, which is an exciting and visionary step in furthering the field of fashion tech and its applications across industries.

Carl Bresnahan is as inspiring as he is energetic.  Also an incubee at Ravensbourne, he introduces me to a world of haptic holograms and the future of holographic purchasing. His company Intaglow was borne out of a live brief for Paul Smith during which he created a holographic window display that transformed the Paul Smith store windows into a digital event space.

A graduate of Chelsea College of Arts and Central Saint Martins, armed with graphic design and communication credentials he teamed up with Product design graduate Harry Hope-Morley and they now create bespoke hardware, software and digital design for their clients, who range from Swarovski to Zaha Hadid.

Intaglow at Wired2016

A chance meeting with Ultrahaptics at Wired2016 posed the idea of enabling their holographic creations with haptic feedback to enable a fuller user experience by integrating touch with holographic visuals and sound.  Carl sees what he and the team at Intaglow do as storytelling, both as a form of entertainment and a way of engaging consumers.  They are resolutely focussed on the aesthetics and the experience they deliver and pride themselves on their ability to create bespoke products exactly according to their vision for their clients.  The collaborative nature of their work is evident in that they create a number of stories to present to brands to consider and refine.  They have up to ten designers and developers on hand to realise ambitious projects on lead times as short as four weeks.  Enough text.  Here are some of the results.

Top: Intaglow for Zaha Hadid, Above: Intaglow for Swarovski, Images: Carl Bresnahan

Our discussion segues into fashion tech and wearables, of which Carl is a big fan, and we muse over projects we are currently working on and potential future collaborations.  Carl benefits hugely from an infectious and open-minded design approach and confesses to loving the process of coming up with ideas and telling beautiful, holographic stories.  The future looks seriously luminous.

Further to my earlier explorations of the Hololens by Microsoft, DoubleMe, also incubees at Ravensboure alongside Karim and Carl, are pushing hard to explore fashion applications with their astonishingly good image capture technology ‘Holoportal’ combining camera capture and their proprietary algorithm devised by founder Albert Kim, that can create 3D renders for avatars, holograms or use with any other 3D design software in record time.  This gives DoubleMe the ability to capture 3D content from subjects in the Holoportal (I gave it a go – see below) and then process it with said algorithm before uploading it to the web or sharing it to any design platform or Hololens in seconds.  Here I’m holographically dancing (low resolution to allow quick image processing).

The Holoportal for 3D image capture at Ravensbourne 

The DoubleMe team are currently developing a 4K version which will render the kind of degree of detail that could benefit the fashion industry. 

But what are the applications of this technology?  Where can we expect it to be used?  We saw the early explorations of a foray into fashion presentations via Martine Jarlgaard’s SS17 collection at London Fashion Week last September.

Martine Jargaard London SS17 Mixed reality fashion show, London Fashion Week

Beyond this, Albert Kim, Founder and James E. Marks, Head of Sales, are creating holographic guided tour content that can be projected into museum and gallery spaces.  They hope that fashion design students at Ravensbourne will experiment with the technology to use it for styling and photoshoots which they can then share digitally in 3D.  They also see it as a potential sales tool for the fashion industry. 

As I wrapped these interviews I headed back east for the Ravensbourne X VF exhibition, which I have featured on the blog here.  Stay tuned for more news of fashion tech developments at Ravensbourne and beyond by subscribing to Techstyler.fashion

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Fashion as a Tool For Expressing Identity and Sexuality – Art School Gets Personal at London Fashion Week Men

Fashion as a tool for identity and freedom of expression – Art School presented a mesmerising performance-based presentation in collaboration with director Theo Adams and choreographer Masumi Saito that evolved across several scenes with intertwined couples colliding, canoodling and clashing.  Art imitating life.  It felt like a series of tender and queer moments where not just the clothing, but the personal design philosophy of Eden Loweth, a BA Fashion graduate of Ravensbourne and Tom Barratt, an Art Criticism, Communication and Curation graduate of Central Saint Martins who together form Art School, was on show.  Every vantage point showed different unfolding storylines and it was constantly engaging with only a subtle beginning and faint hint of an ending to this rolling presentation.  This was their first presentation under their label Art School, setting the scene for sexual fluidity in their clothing and an art-driven point of view.  

The show notes cited the modernist Bauhaus collective and Diaghalev’s Ballet Russes alongside Derek Jarman’s Chroma as sources of inspiration for form, colour and pattern.  The notes were accompanied by the Art School Manifesto:

Teaming up with Converse and Swarovski and championed by Vogue and Love Magazine the duo look like they are tender heavyweights already.  I can’t wait for the next chapter, but for now, I have edited down to the shots below from hundreds I took as the gorgeous presentation unfolded.

**Thoughts about how this presentation may look in the future woke me up this morning – way too early – after writing this article last night.  It occurs to me that there will be another relationship to consider if art imitates life.  The relationship between humans, bionic humans and humanoid robots.  Casting my mind to advances in artificial intelligence and the film Ex Machina, and even current robot InMoov created by french sculptor Gael Langevin, it is not difficult to imagine that we will develop emotional bonds with robots in the not too distant future.  What will the dynamic of those relationships be?  How will our behaviours change once robots share our work and interact with us socially?  Forward to a brave new world.

Top, Ex Machina, Dir: Alex Garland.  Below, Gael Langevin and InMoov, photo: Gael Langevin

Credits:

Designers: Eden Loweth and Tom Barratt

Art Director:  Siobhan Cait Farrar

Stylist:  Ai Kamoshita

Makeup:  Rebecca Wordingham and the M.A.C PRO team

Hair:  Jonathan De Francesco for Babyliss

Set Design:  Alice Kirkpatrick

Nails:  Kimberley Nkosi using Elegant Touch and Nails Inc.

Muse and Collaborator:  Hannah Hetherington

Couture Underwear and Personal Mentor:  Lyall Hakaraia

Theo Adams company:

Director:  Theo Adams

Musical Director:  Jordan Hunt

Choreographer:  Masumi Saito

and Mariya Mizuno, Anna Lewenhaupht, Sophia Brown

All photos by Techstyler except where othewise noted

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Ravensbourne Students X VF Corporation Collaboration – A Show of Fashion Integrity

Who doesn’t want to be spoilt?  Drawing on inspiration from Traveller culture and a fascination with DIY objects and applications, the Spoilt team crafted an illustrated story of colourful and textured characters.  The collection included a pink paint print oversized duvet coat and and over dyed geometric printed puffa jacket.  The accessories included lace-up denim cuffs embellished with dangling multi-coloured acrylic nails.  Total embellishment abandon and a whole lot of fun.

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-03-55screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-02-25screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-02-01dsc04317The Spoilt team:  Including Jodi Feddon (far right) illustrator and designer

Spoilt were one of a number of teams of Ravensbourne students working on a live brief for VF Corporation, owner of a number of lifestyle brands including Lee, Vans and Wrangler.  The teams, comprising of BA (Hons) Fashion, BA (Hons) Fashion Buying and Brand Management and BA (Hons) Fashion Accessory Design and Prototyping students working in collaboration, were charged with interpreting a design brief set around the concept of the Lee ‘BODY OPTIX’ range which “combines visual science and design to enhance certain body shapes”.  

In pulling together this article, I researched the BODY OPTIX range on the Lee website and was horrified to find this borderline racist, body shaming language used:

“Scientifically designed by vision scientists and Denim designers, BODY OPTIXTMcombines the power of VISUAL SCIENCE and design to create jeans that flatters, enhances and shapes the Asian body. The application of geodesic shaping and precise laser anatomy warping gives you perkier backside and strikingly long legs, granting you a more feminine figure that is ideally proportional and attractive.”

This branding language, product and imagery (which I will not include here, but is on their website) merits a far deeper discussion around western influence on fashion and feminism, but in the scope of this article, I really want to keep the focus on what the Ravensbourne students created and how they succeeded in reinterpreting the brief towards utilising graphics, embellishments and downright visual distractions (acrylic nail fringing) whilst developing the textural interest and surface effects of the denim to elevate the humble jean –  none of which were fitted or body contoured.  In fact many were oversized and unisex.  The Ravensbourne students showed incredible creativity and design integrity, which makes the Lee branding and campaign seem even more dated and uninspired.

Foe took a darker stance than Spoilt, looking to Japanese Samurai and armoury to incorporate rivets and other hardware to hinge together accessories and clothing.  In their brand literature they state that Foe aims to attract a different type of consumer to the VF corporation by taking the female physique and using different silhouettes and style to bring diversity to the company.

dsc04337dsc04341dsc04339dsc04342The Foe Team:  Zahra Khan, Katy Andoh, Polly Tamalia and Mary-Louise Fischer

Oneness lashed at their denim with latex and paint and created clothing and accessories with a craft/skate/patchwork theme.  

dsc04320 dsc04322 dsc04325 dsc04327Bag (and hand) by Toya Mehmet accessories design student

Deflect played with organdie and denim, creating illusionary false and hidden pockets with contrasting bleached denim. 

dsc04285 dsc04287dsc04302Team Deflect are: Ciara Kelly and Holly Lovey (Fashion Buying and Branding), Denisa Mehmeti and Kyra Chang (Fashion Design) and Anna Sabe (Fashion Accessory Design) 

Uniq 2 was represented firstly by a Korean duo who described soju (a kind of ‘Korean Sake’) as a cultural slang term meaning the desire to go wild and rebel as the starting point for the collection.  The design picked up on the current Korean trend for wearing oversized wind-proof protective layers and used the silhouette and seaming details of a traditional denim jacket in the windproof material, adding their own logo branding – quite a literal and believable interpretation not far removed from the way designs are translated quickly on the high street, albeit with less fun and flavour.

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Gyal Dem looked to Grime, the music sub-genre drawing on multiple influences including drum and bass and UK Garage, made famous by Wiley and Dizzee Rascal, for stylistic and brand references, adopting a unisex sportswear aesthetic to appeal to their target audience.  A specific target market and design point-of-view led to on-point branding and a strong website including the brand story, look book and a behind the scenes look at how the products were designed and made.  

dsc04268dsc04271dsc04276The Gyal Dem team are:  Celine Polidori and Alexia Amaning (Fashion Design), Raji Bagary, Laura Holloway and Katie Vincent (Fashion Buying and Brand Management)

Analogy created the first luxury brand to utilise biodegradable materials throughout the collection.  They used Algix, an algae and PLA composite 3D printing filament that biodegrades after 50 years, replacing the 100% PLA and ABS alternatives which biodegrade after several hundred years, not unlike the pleather and plastic-based fabrics made as leather alternatives, raising questions over the true sustainability and environmental impact of these alternative materials.  Analogy are posing interesting questions by using this composite filament and replaced a full collection of sample garments with a mixture of life-size printed garment cut-outs alongside denim samples.  Their resin and denim swatches and experimentation with subtracting warp threads leaving weft ‘floats’ as a denim detail added interest to the denim.  With impressive branding and use of Algix sourced (and physically collected) from the US, these students could pass for a professional outfit, pardon the pun.

dsc04260dsc04245dsc04246 dsc04257dsc04249The Analogy team: India Martin (Accessories Design), Eleanor Maylin (Fashion Design) and Elle Morlang and Nicole Keitch (Fashion Buying and Branding)

SoNNE presented an altogether different proposition to all the other teams, using subtle variations in sublimation print to create painterly designs on denim canvases, exploring the colours and textures conjured up by varying their printing technique.  The colours brought a sophisticated palette and softened the denim foundation, until they were subverted again into big, bold, unisex boiler suits.  I’ve got my eye on one and am ready place an order.  I’m not alone, so it looks like fashion design students Isabel Hibbert and Grace Flood have a busy Christmas ahead.

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The exhibition serves as a reminder of the diversity and cultural richness design, buying and branding students in London have.  They are tapping a broad range of cultures, languages, subcultures, art movements and belief systems.  Sadly I couldn’t cover the work of all of the teams in this article, but the integrity and creativity of the students featured spanned the other teams too, leaving no doubt in my mind that the ‘Rave’ students have enriched and enlightened the VF Corporation teams they worked with on this collaboration.

Header Image featuring swatches by Oneness

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Superhuman – The Ravensbourne Postgraduate Show

Off the back of a frantic London Fashion Week I attended Superhuman, an exhibition of work by the MA and MSc graduates of Ravensbourne, spanning the degrees Communication Design, Interactive Products Features, Fashion, Wearable Futures, Applied Technologies (rapid prototyping and digital technologies), Interactive Digital Media, Moving Image and Environment Design.  The titles of these degrees alone fills me with wonder and optimism and gives anecdotal support to a claim I saw in a tangential teaser video by Future Hub, claiming that ‘40% of the top jobs in 2027 have not even been invented yet’, suggesting that the old educational silos and linear career paths of the past will not fit the bill of the future.  Step up Ravensbourne…

With the work of 29 graduates presented in a compact exhibition space it was a great deal to review and as such, my overview focuses on fashion and digital technologies.

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Farid Bin Karim is the first student to graduate from the MSc Wearable Futures degree and has created a body of written work entitled “Couturier and the Art of Survival: a Technologist’s Guide”.  This work is the result of Farid’s ambitious attempt to explore the appetite within the ‘closed-shop’ of couture for current and future technologies.

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His guide looks into the hypothetical future of the aesthetic embellishments of couture and the couturier in their struggle to remain relevant in an ever-changing and digital future.  Farid seeks to explain how technology can aid in this endeavour and affect the human perception of adornment as a wearable. It is an exploration in updating crafts and disciplines to add dimensionality for wearables of the future.

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MSc Applied Technologies graduate Jason Taylor’s  project “The Bionic Toolkit” explores the idea of changing the way amputees interact with the design world by creating intuitive design tools.  It begins from the basis that the human hand has shaped the way we use traditional tools to design, meaning that such design tools are difficult to use with a prosthetic limb, as these devices are not kinematically accurate.

Taylor began by deconstructing an MRI scan of his own arm to create a 3D digital model. This model then served as a template in which myoelectric sensors, servos, and microprocessors were inserted and arranged so as to preserve kinematic function.  Using an open source robotic arm by InMoov (created by friend of Techstyler, Gael Langevin) for initial testing allowed Jason to explore how tools could be incorporated directly into the arm, reducing the need for sensors that would usually grip an existing tool.

Jason explained that “Rigorous testing has allowed me to explore the most efficient ways in which an amputee could draw, write, paint, sculpt etc… typically by attaching existing tools to each phalanx and recording the level of control, and ease of use. This allows for varying DOF’s (degree’s of freedom) depending upon the tool being used”.  “Using Ravensbourne’s state of the art prototyping facilities has allowed me to 3D print many iterations of mechanisms and prototypes, using a combination of FDM and polyjet 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D CNC machines.”

He plans to continue with the project now that he has graduated, and wishes to design more tools that amputees can attach to the Bionic Toolkit.  “The next step would be to make my project open source, so that other designers can freely edit my designs, and improve the quality of lives of others.” 

Update: 13/10/16 “The Bionic arm now allows the user to not only draw, sculpt, paint etc… but also to interact with digital environments (great for 3D modelling, VR and AR), sculpt dense materials (acting as a dremel-like tool), and 3D print direct from the ‘finger tips’.  Actions and movements can now also be recorded and repeated for iterative designs – lots of improvements since we last spoke!”

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Siyue “Lulu” Xu’s designs propose that denim’s prevalent, cheap, fast fashion reputation can be reshaped by elevating denim design through craft.  The collection challenges the perceptions of environment-friendly fashion design and aims to show that smart design can both be aesthetically sleek and pleasing and at the same time reduce the rate of pollution from industrial manufacturing in a post-humanist future.

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Lulu prints, embroiders and enhances new and second-hand denim fabrics and garments, transforming them from ubiquitous items into rare collectibles.  Her re-worked denim seeks to challenge the polluting reputation that denim carries and is inspired by rebellion and anarchy, taking its manifesto from punk and 1980’s western club culture.  For more of Lulu’s work check out her collection book and Instagram antics.

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Zoe Alexandria Paton Burt’s work in progress is “Neither/Nor” (she is due to graduate from the MA fashion degree next year) and looks into the gender divide in clothing and how it perpetuates inequality amongst different genders.  She is seeking to highlight modern day use of language that is ingrained in western society that she feels undermines individual behavioural traits, expecting men to behave in ‘masculine’ and women in a ‘feminine’ ways.

Zoe’s collection synopsis goes on to explain that “the collection will encompass the use of 3D modelling and printing, textile manipulation, embroidery, a broad range of fabrics from the traditional to the techno”. The final outcomes will be a collection, fashion film and a documentary aiming to raise awareness of the fight for equality.

ZAPB PG04 DesignsZAPB PG04 Designs

The garments presented by Zoe under the name “Alexandria Paton” contain components that have been 3D scanned and modelled using Rhino, then realised with large format 3D printing.  Zoe is also experimenting with 3D printing directly onto fabric using the Ultimaker 2 and Faberdashery PLA. She prints on to both Velvet and PolyUrethane fabrics and plans to further experiment with 3D modelling and printing, incorporating traditional textile techniques to create a new and unique amalgamations of the two.  

ZAPB PG04 DesignsZAPB PG04 Designsscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-17-03screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-16-23screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-15-53Zoe Burt’s garment prototyping, MA Fashion Degree in progress

For more information on the Ravensbourne MA/MSc graduate show visit superhuman2016.uk

More information on Ravensbourne courses can be found here.

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Fashion Tech and Speculative Wearables in Imminent Space Travel

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.

https://youtu.be/4dETQQVrwoo

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.

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‘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.

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DSC02298Heat applied by the palm of the hand causes the ink to temporarily disappear

DSC02300UV source applied to printed fabric

DSC02299Visual 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.

IMG_1283DSC01973Sam 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.

DSC02070DSC02181Designs by students from Politecnico di Milano

DSC02158Designs 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’

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