Next week sees Fashion Tech take a step closer to the mainstream with the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’ showcase at the Munich Fabric Start trade show, in collaboration with FashNerd.
Top, Orange Fiber X Salvatore Ferragamo. Above, Nadi X
The showcase features a number of existing products, including the citrus waste recycler Orange Fiber’s collaboration with Salvatore Ferragamo, which proved the quality and appeal of their waste to cellulose textile. Alongside this is Nadi X by Wearable X, the yoga legging that uses sensors and an App to guide your alignment during poses.
Flair Atelier’s mass customisation
Other brands in the showcase include Flair Atelier, which offers shoppers ‘base designs’ that they can customise within a set of design parameters on their website. With mass customisation a key opportunity for product and brand differentiation, this business model looks to a changing consumer landscape, breaking the usual retail mould. Their website states that they “create a unique digital pattern with your name on it and send it to our tailors in Italy”, suggesting the use of Gerber or Lectra digital pattern cutting software, which no doubt helps them achieve the 2 week order to delivery time. It would be interesting to know if there is any other technology employed in the manufacturing process that would allow this business to scale and truly achieve mass customisation, or whether the remainder of the process is essentially manual, as per tradition.
Thesis Couture heels
Thesis Couture have used technology, broadly speaking, for R&D to design a sole for high heels that redistribute weight more effectively than standard heels, thereby reducing pain under the ball of the foot and shifting some of the weight back to the heel. Tackling the problem of foot pain by “using structural design and advanced materials” to replace the metal shank and cardboard in standard heels makes Thesis Couture’s development a smart leap in the engineering of a product that has barely changed for a hundred years.
Top, Lorna & Bel. Above, Emel + Aris
Lorna & Bel will also feature in the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’, with their bags with built-in phone chargers. London-based brand Emel + Aris, will also be presenting their heated coats.
PerFlex 3D printed composite bra.
On the speculative side, the PerFlex project bra is a ‘proof of concept’ that harnesses the customisable sizing and 3D printing of plastics by PerFlex, in collaboration with Brigitte Koch of the Technical University of Eindhoven.
The PerFlex website provides consumers with the option to combine parametric patterns made by designers with their body data to get a personalised 3D printed product at the same unit cost as a mass produced item – truly achieving mass customisation. This application of 3D printing combined with traditional textiles could be a game-changer.
The significance of this fashion tech showcase is the placement of products that have arguably been viewed as ‘futuristic’ amongst mainstream textiles at a trade show, throwing them into the commercial spotlight.
Target Open House Garage
Along with the recent launch of Target’s Open House Garage – a testing ground for new fashion tech products that are not yet ready for widespread industry roll-out – it seems like commercial retailers and the industry at large are showing increasing interest in fashion tech products and innovations and their potential to woo consumers.
The Wardrobe of the Future runs from 4th-6th September 2018 at Munich Fabric Start’s KEYHOUSE.
Before meeting Vanessa Friedman, I considered the perspective she could lend on the tension between designers’ ability to create freely and the need to choose sustainable materials. Is there a conflict? Does working with sustainable fabrics limit designers? What new technologies excite her? What does she think of ‘wearables’? I posed these questions and more to her, considering her answers in the context of the the wider fashion industry.
When discussing whether she perceives sustainability being at odds with unlimited creativity in fashion design, Vanessa told me “Fashion has always had that tension – sometimes it’s about pricing, sometimes its more practical restrictions, like the need for two armholes and a place for your head… that creates discipline for designers and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Sustainability is part of the challenge of design”. She believes that when you are making something that is functional, which fashion is, you have to wrestle with the egregiousness of the product you are making. Her standpoint is one of sustainable materials posing a challenge, rather than being a problem.
Vanessa cites the possibility that aesthetics may be shaped by the advance of new materials, smart textiles and new fibre composites – cellulosic and animal fibre blends, for example – as a huge opportunity. If such advances could result in less seams required and ultra light materials, like those used by Moncler who are “making warm coats that can by smushed into a tiny ball for carry on”, then all these advances are exciting. “Designers should embrace these challenges and opportunities as a chance for them to think differently – It should be something they look forward to”.
I am curious to know whether (and when) Vanessa sees a future where the discussion on sustainability becomes a part of the high profile seasonal fashion discourse during fashion month, taking place in New York, Paris, London and Milan, where she sits front row in her capacity as the Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic of The New York Times. “In my dream world, you don’t need a Copenhagen Fashion Summit that’s all about sustainability – this is not a discourse that is combined with a mainstream event because it is a mainstream event and it is part of best practice – period”. Her take on the sustainability message is “we can talk about it or not talk about it. You don’t want to be an eco brand, you just want to be a brand that happens to be sustainable. It shouldn’t be the thing that sets you apart, it should be the thing that makes you part of the general conversation”.
It’s Vanessa’s opinion that using sustainability as a sales tool and part of the brand message, has an upside and a downside. The upside is the point of differentiation which can attract consumers, while the downside is that it puts the brand in a different niche for other consumers. She reflects on Vogue’s former “eco or green design section of the magazine where they would feature a different designer every month… You don’t want to be there – you want to be with Gucci, you want to be with Vuitton”. Reflecting on her comment, it seems to me that sustainability shouldn’t be a consolation or an optional brand choice – it should be quietly integrated into all fashion brands.
Moving onto the subject of textiles and manufacturing, I asked Vanessa if she has seen any ‘game-changing’ developments emerging. She highlights 3D printing and manufacturing to order, thereby eliminating stock and production processes (that have long and complicated supply chains) as the most exciting. “If you can produce a garment in a very short amount of time to order for someone, you will change everything”. Vanessa is thinking of the likes of 3D printed shoes and advances in digital knitting. It is her opinion that the biggest change for fashion as a result of advances in technology is going to be in the production process, rather than “the accessory that tests your heart rate… To me, the really exciting opportunity is in how you manufacture”. Evidence in the form of the Adidas Speedfactory and the mass customisation by NIKEiD support her comments, as do the advances in digital knitting that have led to a complete transformation of the entire footwear industry through the creation of Flyknit and Adidas Ultra Boost, amongst many other digitally knitted products with simplified supply chains, local manufacturing and short lead times.
Image: Adidas Ultraboost
When I asked Vanessa which designers or brands that she feels are doing exciting things fusing tech and fashion she is of the leaning that there is a giant gap in this area. She defines it as “A problem that no-one has quite figured out, between technology companies that can make gadgets, and they are trying to make them ‘fashiony’ – and fashion companies that make fashion and are trying to make them ‘techy’. You need a third point of the triangle, which is someone who is going to figure out how to meaningfully combine the two”. Enter a number of innovative cross-disciplinary labs and incubators emerging for the express purpose of making this happen, including Plug and Play and Mira Duma’s Fashion Tech Lab.
On the subject of ‘wearables’, Vanessa pulls no punches: “I think ‘wearables’ is the most ridiculous word I have ever heard – everything is a ‘wearable’ – my jacket is a ‘wearable’ and it has no tech in it at all. I don’t think ‘wearables’ has figured out what it is yet. It’s a catch all word for techy gadgets you wear, but that’s not really a sector”. To a degree, we may be talking semantics here, but based on the abandoned Fitbit and Google Glass, amongst others, it’s true that the gaping divide between where tech provides clever capabilities and fashion provides aesthetics and desirability to create life-enhancing products, remains wide.
Image top: Google Glass Image bottom: Fitbit
Reflecting further on the state of wearables, Vanessa reminisces about the iPhone and iPod “changing the way that everybody interacted with music”. She says that in contrast, “there has been nothing like that with fashion – no wearable has achieved that”. Considering the outcome of our discussion and my questions about sustainability playing a bigger role in fashion, it seems that to Vanessa’s mind, there is a tension between fashion and tech, but not between fashion design and sustainability.
As I wrap up this article, an invitation to the launch of Nadi X by Wearable X – the first Wearable yoga pant to ‘communicate with the user to ‘aid alignment’, hits my inbox. Perhaps our ‘Wearable’ future is about to take a new life-enhancing turn towards the perfect fusion? Stay tuned for the verdict.
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’
We are fully versed in the realm of our physical world and increasingly dipping into the virtual world through virtual reality experiences, but what of the space in between? What of the transition realm – a corridor, if you like, that lies next to the real world in which we transition through before arriving at a state of VR immersion? Think about the experience of entering the virtual world and the need for all of our senses to be stimulated in order for the virtual experience to feel real. Drill down even further to consider the organ through which we physically feel – the skin. Herein lies the connection and transition area of real to virtual.
The Matrix corridor – a representation of the space between the real and virtual worlds
Skin is a powerful tool that allows us to communicate on a highly intricate level. It also communicates who we our biologically and culturally, making it a potent social and physical organ. What happens when a team of curious minds consider the meaning of skin and how skin can transition us from a physical to virtual experience? Skinterface is born.
Skinterface is the work of RCA students Andre McQueen (Footwear designer and trend forecaster) , George Wright (Engineer), Ka Hei Suen (Kitchen Product Designer) and Charlotte Furet (Architect) who embarked on their MSc / MA Innovation Engineering Design course out of curiosity and a desire for collaboration outside of their immediate professional realms. An admiration for each other’s individual project work led them to work together as a team of ‘sensory architects’. The initial exploration for the Skinterface project was broad and posed months of questions about the sensory experience and perception of touch, but began with a very simple test. The test was wearing a plastic bag on the hand and immersing it in water and noting the sensory experience. Although the water doesn’t touch the skin it is still felt – the sensation of water on the hand is experienced. This underpins the working nature of the very human and very wearable piece of tech that is Skinterface.
Mood board images and the initial plastic bag test
The first question posed at the beginning of project related not to creating a defined product, but how to create something that was very human, integrated with technology. Touch is a powerful human tool and to relay this using technology seems a powerful new dimension in communication in a digital age. Skinterface is a one way communication tool – the sensory experience is delivered according to the location of the skinterface garment within a 3D mapped space by tracking its coloured surface details and delivering the sensory experience accordingly. An extension of this is a dual tool using the same tech, but allowing pressure on one part of the tool to effect the sensation delivered by the other. The implications of this are potentially to touch someone in another location, even in another country.
Skinterface at Milan Design Week, 2016
The set of garments created by the team deliver sensory pressure by essentially using a speaker in reverse, so that sounds create a varying electromagnetic field, which in turn is calibrated to produce varying sensations on the skin. These sensations are delivered via a coil and magnets encased in 3D printed caps, created at Imperial College London and adhered to the garments, which require close skin contact to accurately deliver the sensation.
Imagine the sound of a bird flying past you and the sensory experience induced by the change in air pressure caused by the bird’s movement – that’s what Skinterface delivers. In a virtual world, the sound of all manner of objects can be programmed and delivered via the coil and magnet-driven modules that apply just the right amount of pressure to mimic that same sensory experience as though it had happened in the real world. This skin beyond skin is poetically demonstrated in the video below, from beginning to end.
When asked about the aesthetic component of the design, Andre cited the current athletic lifestyle (or athleisure) sportswear evolution and brainstorming about what clothing will look like 40 years from now. Andre is a Cordwainers graduate who launched a streetwear fashion label then moved on to fashion forecasting, working extensively with global brands to evolve their trend-driven products. His curiosity for exploring the technical side of fashion and design led him to the Innovation Engineering Design Masters at the RCA, but he still has a firm grip on where the fashion market is headed.
When I ask the team about their view of this exciting innovation could be used they mention the sex industry, gaming, entertainment and fashion. The sex industry is an obvious one, as is gaming and entertainment, but fashion? Andre sees an opportunity to translate the sensation of wearing a multitude of different fabrics into a sensory ‘digital library’ that can be felt by wearing Skinterface. Wonder what your cotton trench coat would feel like in felted wool? Skinterface can give you that sensation. There is as much scope here for customer-led retail experiences as for fashion designers considering the weight and drape of various fabrics when designing garments.
A library of sounds could be created to induce all manner of sensory experiences through the Skinterface suit. The team talks about a dream open source library of thousands of compositions, and even whole scores for feature films that could be felt while they are watched. Theoretically, the score for each character could be written according to what they experience in the film and as a Skinterface-wearing viewer you could experience it too. The thought of experiencing a film dozens times from a different character’s point of view is mind-blowing.
I leave the team with just five weeks remaining before they complete their studies and exhibit the work arising from two intense years of exploration, research and experimentation. On my way out of the Darwin Building at the RCA, Andre and I muse about a common paradox in fashion design – final design decisions are often made at the beginning of the design process, leaving little room for curiosity, exploration and design evolution. Educational institutions including the RCA are a unique breeding ground for such curiosity and I look forward to seeing where this has taken the IED students, both physically and virtually.
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.
Mary 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.
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.
Mary 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.
The 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.
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.
Continuing in the theme of Artificial Intelligence (covered in part 1), Carlo Ratti presented some exciting work from the MIT Senseable Cities Lab. Standouts were a trackable waste project where members of the public brought in 3000 pieces of garbage which were then fitted with GPS sensors and tracked, with alarming results. Some objects made it across America and were still on the move after two months. The project increased awareness of recycling and changed participants’ garbage disposal behaviours.
Carlo then demonstrated that the implication of self-driving cars in the future will extend beyond safety (eliminating human error – the cause of over 90% of road traffic accidents) to reducing congestion. Traffic lights would be eliminated and a slot-system used by interconnected cars sensing each other’s position to avoid collision. The potential use of one self-driving car to drive all the members of a family (and their friends/neighbours) to their respective destinations, blurring the lines between private and public transport, is an interesting prospect too. With such a system, cities could meet all residents’ current transport requirements with only 20% of the number of cars that are currently on the road, based on journey research done in New York. Imagine the reduction in traffic, congestion and improvement to air quality?! Lastly, Carlo showed us a video of UAV-enabled app, SkyCall, created to respond to requests from MIT visitors to guide them to whichever room number they tap into their app. The UAV talks the visitor though the sights on campus along the way. On a campus with hundreds of rooms scattered over a vast area it’s a cool idea. I wonder if it could be used for events; Directing people to the correct seat at a fashion show, or the theatre, perhaps. Check it out here:
The afternoon session was opened by Rene Redzepi and brought culinary adventure to proceedings with a detailed foray into the scientific experiments of the famous Danish restaurant he co-founded, Noma.
Noma create flavours. They seek not to use ingredients for dishes but to make building blocks of flavour that can then be combined to create either a sauce, or a dish. It’s akin to writing a new food language, with the building blocks being new words (new flavours) and the combination of them (the sentence) being the dish, as explained by Noma R&D chef Lars Williams, accompanied by Arielle Johnson, flavour scientist. Fermentation is what underpins this language, and through a series of taste tests they demonstrate that fermentation is a cooking utensil at Noma, rather than simply a technique. It is their chief mode of experimentation and gives rise to new and complex flavours that develop over time. Lars explains that these new flavours cannot be manufactured. The ingredients are controlled precisely in DIY vessels they made out of shipping containers that have a range of minus 50 to plus 60 degrees and exacting humidity control. It’s a fascinating insight, and given that it’s a non-profit initiative serving only 45 covers for each of their lunch and dinner service, it’s admirable.
Cute illustrations by flavour scientist Arielle Johnson
We were given a goodie bag of vials from the Noma kitchen to taste during Lars and Arielle’s talk, one of which contained fermented grasshopper garum, which had a fishy miso-like flavour. Here’s how Lars makes it:
Here’s Noma’s story in the words of Rene Redzepi:
The food-inspired architects responsible for the following imagery, Christopher Pierce and Christopher Matthews take food and turn it into materials, shapes and schematics for buildings and landscapes. Their imagination runs riot and gives rise to a world of food-based experiments that result in fantastical architectural plans.
The moving urban farm plan, Copenhagen
Architectural plan for a city decomposing left to right
The images below are from a project to create architectural plans from leeks. The leeks were dehydrated in an oven and into which porcelain was poured to reveal the dried layers inside, to stunning effect.
For more information about the two Christophers projects click here
The perfect punctuation for these meaty (sorry, I couldn’t resist) talks was live music curated by Denzyl Feigelson, founder of AWAL, including breakthrough Brit artist Izzy Bizu, who is currently touring with Rudimental. She came over to say hi after her stunning performance of White Tiger to let me know my knitted outfit and multi-coloured platform trainers had caught her eye whilst she was singing. I promptly dispensed my card so keep an eye out for Izzy Bizu in Brooke Roberts Knitwear.
A medical imaging treat came in the form of Neuroscientist Sophie Scott’s MRI scan of Reeps One beatboxing. It’s a fascinating insight into the function of the brain during execution of complex sounds and the areas of the brain most active while generating them. It satisfied my craving for medical images as an ex-radiographer of two months.
The theme of Intelligence runs throughout all the talks at Wired 2015, whether derived from the application of AI or applied following analysis of Big Data, the future looks set to provide better healthcare, safer roads, cleaner cities and a more connected global community. The day wraps up with a softly-spoken but defiant instalment by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot notoriety. Although she didn’t speak on digital activism as billed, she lent a voice of independent thought and personal struggle. She spoke of her belief in a life without borders and declared herself a citizen of the world. Opening with a joke that went something like “When travelling, at border control the officer asks ‘Occupation’? I say no, just a holiday”.
Wearing a dress inscribed “Non Stop Feminist” and “My body is a battleground”, apparently echoing the words in artist Barbara Kruger‘s 1989 piece ‘Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground)’ – a visual commentary on women’s rights over reproduction and the continued feminist struggle – she has an aura of rebellion and delivered a mandate based on living and acting outside the parameters of what she described as slow inert governments. She cited technology as a tool for rebellion and free speech, which seems refreshingly simple after a day of high-concept tech and rampant futurism (not a complaint, it’s just a welcome grounding moment to think of the here and now and reflect on where we are).
Reflecting on the talks and ideas shared today by the world’s game changers and askers of questions most of us have never come close to contemplating (until now), it strikes me how readily members of the art, architecture, science and technology communities collaborate across disciplines. A chemist working with a chef at Noma, artist Eyal Gever collaborating with NASA on art in outer space, architects working with chefs to develop concepts for buildings and landscapes based on food, and the greatest thing is, the sum of the parts is richer, more surprising and arguably more legitimate for having sought beyond the boundaries of its own discipline. It makes me wonder; why isn’t the fashion industry more eager to collaborate with those from other disciplines – scientists, architects, engineers? The idea of legitimacy is a complex one, but it does seem that having outside input and therefore sharing credit for the design and presenting a collective rather than singular ‘vision’ is something fashion designers and perhaps the industry at large is very uncomfortable with. In fashion, the Creative Director / Design Director is seen to possess the singular vision and takes all credit, making collaboration from an equal (and opposite) professional seemingly unwelcome. I feel fashion’s the poorer for it. You only have to look at the discomfort and awkwardness of the current FashTech/wearables offering to see that the fashion and technology industries are not really collaborating yet. The most innovative strides being made in the fashion industry are in sportswear brands like Nike with their groundbreaking “Flyknit” trainers, which are a fusion of shoe design, creative coding, digital industrial knitting and engineering. Another example is retailer Marks and Spencer, with their technical textiles and antibacterial, non-iron, machine-washable, teflon coatings that withstand years of abuse. For all the hype about ‘creativity and innovation’ in the fashion industry, the visible and lauded designers aren’t leaping into the future, innovating or really questioning what is possible and trying something new. They are not ready, or willing, to take the collaborative steps to do so, it appears. The open source aspect of science and technology is a practice fashion could benefit from. How do we learn and grow if we don’t share and question what we do? How do we solve complex problems when only looking within the realms of what we already know rather than seeking the perspective and skills of other professions?
As I finish writing this article I get confirmation that Hussein Chalayan has agreed to an interview with me to discuss his contemporary dance collaboration at Sadlers Well, Gravity Fatigue and his work as a fashion designer. So I’ll prepare to eat all of the last paragraph’s words, thankfully!
Nadezhda closes Wired 2015 with a world exclusive of the new Pussy Riot music video for “Refugee In” shot at Banksy’s Dismaland.