Whether wearable tech is the wave of the future or a passing fad, tech-laden clothing keeps coming down the runway. Although it can be tough to separate gimmick from game-changer, this fashion show has a high-tech core that’s actually functional.
Pauline van Dongen
"When you wear solar cells on your body you can be an energy source," Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen said in describing the inspiration for a prototype coat and dress she made in collaboration with project leader Christiaan Holland, solar panel specialist Gertjan Jongerden and students at the University of Applied Sciences in Nijmegen. Wool and leather garments contain enough solar cells to help charge a cellphone.
Primitive London / Adam Harvey
New York-based artist Adam Harvey created a provocative line of clothing intended to foil ubiquitous surveillance. His anti-drone scarf, along with an anti-drone hoodie, was made from specialized materials the designer indicated could thwart thermal imaging used widely by unmanned aerial vehicles.
Toronto-based suit maker Garrison Bespoke went the extra mile to keep its jet-setting clients safe in dangerous places. The company incorporated patented lightweight and flexible armor material right into the suit jacket. During tests, the carbon nanotube fabric stopped 9 mm bullets and a hunting knife.
Wallflowers take note: Canadian fashion designer Ying Gao incorporated an eye-tracking system into two of her dresses so they transform when a fixed gaze is detected. Tiny motors in the dress activate lights inside and the fabric begins moving around.
Engineer Moritz Waldemeyer may be more well known for helping fashion designers put lasers on jackets and video displays on bikinis, but his collaboration with Cypriot fashion designer Hussein Chalayan produced robotic dresses. Servo-driven motors, pulleys and wires fed through hollow tubes sewn into the dresses allowed them to automatically change styles completely in minutes.
Design lab Sensoree's GER Mood Sweater works like a mood ring, only better -- and with more coverage. Sensors pick up "excitement levels" that change the colored LEDs inside accordingly. Different colors correspond with certain types of emotions although blue means tranquil, not necessarily down.
When consulting a smartphone for directions feels too gauche, there's the Navigate Jacket from New York-based tech company Wearable Experiments. The jacket contains connects to a smartphone app and subtly nudges the wearer to his or her destination through haptic feedback and lights in the sleeve that indicate how far until the next turn.
Mark Vorreuter / Cornell University
A team from Fiber Science and Apparel Design at Cornell University created workout clothes with fabric that loses color as the wearer's temperature rises. This thermochromic pigment-based approach to activewear could prevent athletes from over-heating.
EBbra, Flickr Creative Commons
Some bras already have wires so it's easy to see why designers would add on, allowing them to do things like send a tweet when one comes off or send out shocks to deter would-be rapists. Elena Bodnar went another direction, creating an Emergency Bra that contains a radiation sensor and can transform quickly into two face masks.
Design studio Nervous System has outdone itself with the 3D-printed Kinematic Petals Dress. Combining advanced tech with accessible fashion, the whole garment came out of the printer in one session, ready to wear.
And honestly I’d wear one of these intricate, flowy little numbers in a heartbeat.
Nervous System was started in 2007 by MIT-educated designers Jessica Rosenkranz and Jesse Louis-Rosenberg. The duo, based in Somerville, Mass., draw inspiration from natural phenomena. Previously they designed 3D-printed midsoles for New Balance and a lacy black 3D-printed dress.
For this new dress, they looked to real-life petals, feathers, and scales. Then they developed a textile language for their 3-D printing system called Kinematics, which can turn any 3-D shape into a flexible structure, according to the designers.
Using a full body scan as the starting point, the dress can be customized completely to the wearer through a dedicated design app — including the shape, size, and flow of the “petals.” Feeling like spikes? How about scales? The choices seem endless.
A process called selective laser sintering prints the petal parts by melting together layers of nylon powder with a laser. The dress the designers printed contains more than 1,600 unique pieces interconnected by at least 2,600 hinges, they explain on their site.
The overlapping petals meant they had to find a way to compress the garment for efficient printing at Shapeways factory in New York. Folding the piece like they did with the previous lacy dress wouldn’t work so the designers tried rolling it like a carpet instead. This technique allowed them to print inside a machine that’s smaller than the unfurled dress, Co.Design’s John Brownlee pointed out.
The stunning Kinematic Petals Dress debuts March 6 at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, where it will be part of the #techstyle exhibit on display through June 10. We plebes must wait to buy a real one, according to Co.Design, but the studio has started selling Kinematics Petals jewelry online. Accessories will also be sold at the museum.
Watch the dress come together here:
The nylon can even be dyed like other synthetic fabrics so the designers heated the white dress in a large dye bath to turn it that vibrant red. Hidden snap-together connections also mean you can quickly convert the dress into separates.